Australian PM holds national cabinet meeting amid vaccine upheaval
Australia had ordered 20 million imported doses of the Pfizer vaccine, enough for 10 million people, but had banked on the AstraZeneca product for the majority of shots with biopharma CSL Ltd contracted to make 50 million doses domestically. Pfizer remained committed to delivering all 20 million doses by the end of 2021 and the Australians were already talking to the company about upping its order, Kelly noted.Reuters | Updated: 09-04-2021 06:33 IST | Created: 09-04-2021 06:33 IST
Australia is holding a national cabinet meeting on Friday to devise a new COVID-19 vaccination programme after abruptly changing policy and recommending people under 50 take the Pfizer vaccine not AstraZeneca due to the risks of blood clots.
The move sees Australia now seeking tens of millions of extra doses of Pfizer's vaccine as Australia had based its vaccination programme predominately on AstraZeneca, with imported and domestically produced vaccines. Plans to vaccinate the entire 25 million population by the end of October would now be pushed back, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday in announcing the policy change.
"Today we need to work through what the implications are for that changed circumstance," Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly told cable television station Sky News. "Nothing's off the table. We're continuing to talk with multiple vaccine (manfacturers) around the world, particularly those that have completed their trials," added Kelly.
Australian authorities switched their recommendation after European regulators reiterated the possibility of links between AstraZeneca's shot and blood clots. Australia had ordered 20 million imported doses of the Pfizer vaccine, enough for 10 million people, but had banked on the AstraZeneca product for the majority of shots with biopharma CSL Ltd contracted to make 50 million doses domestically.
Pfizer remained committed to delivering all 20 million doses by the end of 2021 and the Australians were already talking to the company about upping its order, Kelly noted. AstraZeneca said in a statement that it respected the Australian decision and was working with regulators around the world "to understand the individual cases, epidemiology and possible mechanisms that could explain these extremely rare events".
As well as the AstraZeneca and Pfizer contracts, Australia ordered 51 million doses of a vaccine being trialled by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Novavax Inc, but local authorities say they do not expect to approve the product until late 2021. Australia also embarked on a home-grown option - as opposed to local manufacture of AstraZeneca's offshore-developed product - with University of Queensland undertaking a trial of its own vaccine. That trial was aborted in December when the product was linked to false positives in HIV tests.
After saying Australia had 150 million vaccine doses on order, enough for several times the population, the government said in January that it planned to have four million vaccinated by the end of March, only to have 600,000 by that time. "Australians won't forget who is responsible for failing to deliver on what are his own promises and his own commitments," opposition Labor leader Anthony Albanese told reporters on Friday.
"They should have listened to the expert advice that was given to the government, and indeed to all governments, about not placing all our eggs in one basket". Health Minister Greg Hunt told Sky News the government had intentionally spread its exposure to several vaccines under development because of the unusual nature of the coronavirus.
"Nobody knew which vaccines would be successful," he said. Jane Halton, a former health department secretary and chair of the global Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, called the change "a conservative position and we like it when our regulators are conservative".
"This is a hiccup. This is not a fundamental road block," she told the ABC. Australia began vaccinations later than some other countries because of its low number of infections, which stand at just under 29,400, with 909 deaths, since the pandemic began.
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