COVID-19 health response

Budget Review 2021–22 Index

Amanda Biggs, Rebecca Storen and Elliott King


Funding the ongoing public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic remains a high priority of the Australian Government, with the cost of the health response now estimated at over $25 billion since March 2020. According to the Treasurer’s Budget speech, the 2021–22 Budget provides a further $1.9 billion for the vaccine rollout and another $1.5 billion for other COVID-19 related health services, giving an estimated total of $3.4 billion. The Portfolio Budget Statements 2021–22: Budget Related Paper No. 1.7: Health Portfolio (p. 15) and the Health Portfolio 2021–22 Budget Stakeholder Kit (DoH Budget Kit, p. [1]) both state that the total is $1.9 billion for the vaccine rollout and $1.1 billion for the COVID-19 health response, suggesting a total of approximately $3.0 billion. The different basis for these figures is unclear on the information available.

Budget Measures: Budget Paper No. 2: 2021–22 includes three measures under the COVID-19 Response Package:

  • $1.9 billion over five years from 2020–21 to distribute and administer COVID-19 vaccines (Budget Paper No. 2, pp. 108–109), including:
    • $777.8 million over two years for the COVID-19 Vaccination Program
    • $510.8 million over two years for the National Partnership on the COVID-19 Response for the states and territories to administer vaccines.
  • $879.0 million over two years from 2020–21 to extend Medicare and access to medicines (Budget Paper No. 2, pp. 105–106), including:
    • $557.1 million to extend temporary Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) pathology items for the testing and detection of COVID-19
    • $204.6 million for the extension of the temporary telehealth MBS items from 1 April 2021 to 31 December 2021, with revised billing arrangements from 1 July 2021.
  • $845.3 million over two years from 2020–21 to extend the government’s emergency response, including:
    • $487.0 million to expand quarantine services in the Northern Territory
    • $271.5 million to extend activities under the National Partnership on the COVID-19 Response.

Budget Paper No. 2 notes partial funding for the first two measures has already been provided for by the Government.

The cost of advance purchase agreements for the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine and provisions to purchase additional vaccines including mRNA vaccines is not reported as these agreements are commercial-in-confidence.

Further detail on selected measures is provided below.


Vaccine administration

The Budget provides $777.8 million over two years from 2020–21 for the COVID-19 Vaccination Program. This funding expands the capacity of the surge workforce to assist with the provision of vaccine services to priority populations, including people living in residential aged care, disability accommodation and remote and Indigenous communities (DoH Budget Kit, p. [56]). This builds on the announcement in January 2021 to engage an additional vaccine workforce to provide high throughput and in-reach vaccination services. This funding also includes:

Under the National Partnership on COVID-19 Response the Commonwealth is committed to providing a 50% contribution towards the cost of public health activities undertaken by the states and territories to manage COVID-19. The Budget provides $510.8 million over two years from 2020–21 for the state and territory governments to administer the vaccine (Budget Paper No. 2, p. 108). The Vaccination Program Delivery Package factsheet states this will be for a new Vaccines Schedule, for which the Commonwealth will make a 50% contribution towards the agreed price for each vaccine dose delivered (p. [56]).

The Budget also provides funding for other programs and initiatives to support the COVID-19 Vaccination Program, including:

Storage, distribution, monitoring and manufacturing

The Budget provides $358.8 million over five years from 2020–21 for the implementation, monitoring and reporting of the vaccine rollout (Budget Paper No. 2, p. 107). This may include funding for data and digital capabilities and solutions that manage and monitor the performance of the Program, such as the Vaccine Data Solution software which monitors coverage and logistics for COVID-19 vaccines and the National COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility Checker (DoH Budget Kit, p. [57]). Notably this measure extends over a five-year period, unlike most of the other vaccine budget measures which are for two years.

Funding of $233.8 million over two years is provided for the safe distribution of vaccines, including for cold chain storage, logistics and the supply of vaccine consumables (DoH Budget Kit, p. [57]).


The Australian Government announced a new Medical Research Future Fund funding round of $15 million over three years from 2021–22 for COVID-19 Health Impacts and Vaccination Schedules grants, across three streams (DoH Budget Kit, p. [191]). This grant opportunity opened on 12 May 2021.

mRNA vaccine manufacturing

There is also a related budget measure COVID-19 Vaccine Manufacturing Capabilities reported under the Industry, Science, Energy and Resources portfolio (p. 134) which is to develop an onshore mRNA vaccine manufacturing capability in Australia, discussed elsewhere in this Budget Review. Funding for this is not for publication due to commercial-in-confidence sensitivities.


Extension of temporary MBS items

The Guaranteeing Medicare and access to Medicines – extension measure provides funding to extend several temporary MBS items and dispensing arrangements for medicines (pp. 105–106).

Temporary MBS pathology items have been extended, with $557.1 million provided for the continued testing and detection of COVID-19 (Budget Paper No. 2, p. 105). This funding includes:

  • $493.5 million for the COVID-19 microbiology test for the general population and items associated with testing for some essential workers
  • $63.6 million for the extension of the dedicated ‘in-reach’ pathology service for residential aged care facilities (DoH Budget Kit, p. [60]).

An additional $204.6 million is provided for the extension of 300 temporary telehealth services until 31 December 2021, for the following types of services: specialist, GP, nursing, midwifery, allied health and allied mental health consultations. Some changes will be implemented to provide exemptions from the requirement to have a pre-existing relationship with a doctor to access telehealth for certain consultations, including smoking cessation and pregnancy counselling (DoH Budget Kit, p. [79]).

The Budget provides $11.5 million to extend the Home Medicines Service, which was first offered in March 2020. This home delivery service for Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (RPBS) prescriptions is available for people in home isolation or for vulnerable patients wishing to limit their potential exposure to COVID-19 (Budget Paper No. 2, p. 105). The Home Medicines Service has enabled more than 2.4 million deliveries of medication to patients’' homes (DoH Budget Kit, p. [59]).

In addition, $11.2 million is provided to continue the remote response to COVID-19 in regional and remote Indigenous communities (Budget Paper No. 2, p. 106). The Point of Care Testing for remote communities will continue until the end of 2021 (DoH Budget Kit, p. [58]).

Respiratory clinics

$87.5 million is provided to extend the operation of 150 GP-led Respiratory Clinics (GPRCs) that treat patients (p. [58]). The GPRCs, which cover 99.6% of the population, have conducted more than one million assessments and one million tests for COVID-19. The extension of GPRCs is intended to keep pressure off hospitals and GPs during the pandemic by seeing patients with mild to moderate respiratory ailments.

Other measures


Budget Paper No. 2 states that $487.0 million is being provided over two years from 2020–21 to expand quarantine services for returning Australians at the Howard Springs facility (also known as the Centre for National Resilience) in the Northern Territory (p. 107). The cost will be partially recovered from people who quarantine at the facility.

Federal Financial Relations: Budget Paper No. 3: 2021–22 (p. 34) states that $513.5 million will be provided to the Northern Territory Government over two years from 2020–21 for increased capacity at the Centre for National Resilience, including the capital expenditure, health services and operational costs to accept Australian repatriations.

According to the Portfolio Budget Statements 2021–22: Budget Related Paper No. 1.7: Health Portfolio, $581.8 million has been provided to ‘support the safe quarantine of returning Australians at the Howard Springs Quarantine Facility’ (p. 17). This includes funding provided in the 2020–21 MYEFO measure ‘COVID-19 Response Package – quarantine arrangements in the Northern Territory and Tasmania for people returning from overseas’.

National Medical Stockpile and National Incident Centre

The Budget provides $86.8 million over two years from 2020–21 to expand the activities of the National Incident Centre and support the National Medical Stockpile (Budget Paper No. 2, p. 107). The National Medical Stockpile acquires, stores and distributes medical supplies including ventilators, face masks, gloves, goggles, gowns, hand sanitiser and medicines. Additional funding of $29.9 million will allow for the commencement of the first phase of work to enhance the long-term capability of the National Medical Stockpile (DoH Budget Kit, p. [86–87]). The Portfolio Budget Statements 2021–22: Health Portfolio note an investment of $63.7 million for the National Incident Centre to continue its work monitoring and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic year (p. 17); it is unclear if this includes funding provided for by the Government prior to the 2021–22 Budget.

Mental health

The Budget allocates $7.1 million to continue mental health support provided through Beyond Blue’s Mental Wellbeing Support Service (p. [154]). This is in addition to the $10 million provided over 2019–20 and 2020–21 and allows the program to continue until 31 December 2021. The Support Service offers 24/7 professional mental health counselling, a web chat service, self-help tools, and advice on navigating the mental health system and is designed to minimise the impact of high levels of mental distress associated with the pandemic and prevent more serious mental illness. Since April 2020, 60,000 services have been provided.

Stakeholder responses

Funding for the extension of temporary Medicare services such as telehealth has been generally welcomed, although as noted in the separate Health Overview Budget Review, some stakeholders continue to call for the temporary services to be made permanent. The president of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) said in a statement ‘RDAA will continue to work with other peak bodies and the Government to develop a long-term, sustainable telehealth model that provides a high quality and safe service to meet the needs of rural and remote patients, with an announcement anticipated in the Government’s December MYEFO statement’. The Royal Australian College of GPs also welcomed the extension of telehealth services, the continued role of GPs in vaccinations and news that GP clinics will also be delivering the Pfizer vaccine. President of Australian Pathology (representing private pathologists) Mark Neeham welcomed the commitment and ongoing Commonwealth support for COVID-19 pathology testing.

Some have criticised the absence of funding for new quarantine facilities. Both Queensland and Victoria have reportedly expressed disappointment there was no money forthcoming in the budget for new quarantine facilities. The Australian Medical Association has called on the National Cabinet to introduce interim measures to improve existing quarantine arrangements and to establish dedicated quarantine facilities to manage the ongoing risks of COVID-19.