Half of Defence personnel have received their first COVID-19 vaccine but members are warning mixed messaging and shortages have complicated the rollout with some taking matters into their own hands.
All Defence personnel were originally slated to be given the Pfizer vaccine as part of phase 1B of the rollout to frontline workers when the government first announced the rollout plan earlier this year.
But as the government's timetable for phases collapsed and the expert panel's advice recommended Pfizer for those under 60 and later for those under 50, some members eager to receive their jab resorted to taking alternative measures.
By the end of June, the Department of Defence said it had an "appropriate supply" of vaccines for its rollout and was prioritising doses for members with a higher risk of exposure or an increased risk of severe disease if infected with the virus.
While the department said around 50 per cent of its 65,000-strong force had received the first vaccine as of June 30, it refused to provide additional information on how many members had received both doses, or its intended timeline for the rollout.
It comes as some members have claimed not all units in Defence required to travel internationally or interact with foreign forces have been given priority for the Covid vaccine by their base health centres.
Members of those Defence units have told The Canberra Times they booked in vaccines at state-run clinics in an effort to get vaccinated ahead of international activities.
They allege they were grilled by the department and told to feel lucky they were not being punished for taking matters into their own hands.
The department declined to answer questions about the claims.
The Pfizer rollout in Australia had been plagued by shortages as a result of high global demand.
A member, who was not authorised to speak for the department, said the Pfizer rollout had been slow in Defence too, with shots for personnel only recently ramped up.
"If you're given Pfizer they automatically book your second dose [appointment] because the Pfizer rollout in Defence really only started in earnest in [May]," the member said.
"The stats for the second dose will be pretty good in August because a lot of people in Defence will have had Pfizer."
Priority lists for who ought to receive vaccinations first were compiled by managers and commanders, with Joint Health Command centres responsible for the rollout.
Less than 10 per cent of permanent service members are over the age of 50, for whom AstraZeneca is the federal health advice's preferred vaccine, increasing the pressure on Pfizer supplies for the remaining 90 per cent.
ADF members have been encouraged to take the Covid vaccine when offered an appointment by Joint Health Command.
"Vaccinations are strongly encouraged but not mandatory. For Australian Defence Force members, the COVID-19 vaccine will be incorporated as part of routine immunisation and will become a mandatory requirement before deploying," stated the advice to Defence personnel.
Soldiers gearing up for a large-scale combat training activity between the Australian and United States military are also expected to receive their two doses of the Covid vaccine over the course of June and July.
The Talisman Sabre exercise will be held in locations across Queensland, with most of the activities occurring in the latter half of July.
All members involved in exercises and operations already receive routine vaccinations for the flu, Japanese encephalitis, tetanus but the Covid vaccine has not yet been added to the policy.
Instead, it has been made a requirement for specific exercises and operations for this year.
"Defence will keep the public well-informed of planned activities and movements, implement COVIDSafe plans agreed to with the states and territories to mitigate the risks of COVID-19," said joint operations chief Lieutenant General Greg Bilton.
Around 1800 foreign military personnel coming to Australia for the exercise, or the US Marines posting rotations to Darwin, have been vaccinated and voluntarily undertaken a two-week isolation upon arrival in facilities approved by the state chief medical officer. They are tested again after completing the quarantine.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it had been working with Defence to provide vaccine access to ADF personnel and Foreign Affairs staff posted overseas.
The departments said they had provided staff and personnel with access to host country vaccination programs as well as department and private clinics using vaccine supplies from Australia.
Phase 1B of the rollout commenced in March this year, which included 196,000 critical and high-risk workers such as Defence personnel, along with a further approximately six million other Australians deemed to be particularly vulnerable to the virus.
Of those other groups included in Phase 1B, progress has come faster.
Among those aged over 70, for instance, 72.5 per cent have had one dose of vaccine, with 22.7 per cent having had two doses as of last Friday.
Many of these vaccines are from the AstraZeneca dose, which has a three-month wait between shots.
The national total sits well behind with 32.2 per cent of the eligible population having received the first dose while 10.6 per cent had received both.