Australia plans to shelve AstraZeneca Covid vaccine by October
The federal government has announced it will shelve the controversial AstraZeneca vaccine by October, suggesting it will have enough supplies of other vaccines to meet “allocation horizons” for vaccinating the population by the end of the year.
The government released a revised planning document on Wednesday outlining how it intended to direct supplies over the rest of the year.
At the same time, the chief health officer, Prof Paul Kelly, said he was “worried” about the growing Bondi cluster and declared seven local government areas in Sydney would be recognised as national hotspots.
The vaccination document, titled National vaccination allocation horizons, suggests in July and August AstraZeneca will continue to dominate the vaccination program, with up to 2.6m doses being administered each week, predominantly to those over the age of 60, through state and territory clinics and the primary care network.
But as the vaccination of this age group nears completion, it is anticipated AstraZeneca will be used only “subject to request” from October.
The commonwealth last week announced changed health advice for the AztraZeneca shot restricting it to over-60s because it has been linked to an extremely rare blood clotting condition.
In the “Horizon 2” phase in September, supplies of the Moderna vaccine come on stream, with up to 125,000 doses per week to be made available to the primary care network, the document foreshadows.
By this stage, Pfizer supplies will also be ramping up, with up to 1.3m doses a week available, up from the 750,000 a week available in July and August.
The Pfizer supplies are expected to increase again by the end of the year to between 1.7m and 2.3m doses a week, as the government races to meet its pledge to allow every Australian access to a vaccine by the end of 2021.
The Covid-19 commander, Lt Gen John Frewen, said the release of the planning data, which had been presented to national cabinet on Monday, would allow states to better plan the rollout.
“This is giving the states all of the best information we can to to help them plan to get all of the vaccines that we can provide to their citizens as quickly as possible,” Frewen said on Wednesday.
He said the release of the document was in line with a pledge to provide “as much transparency” as possible about the vaccine supply data. Frewen was confident the states would be able to administer the available doses.
The Covid commander also said he intended to release more detailed data about first and second doses in various age cohorts to keep the public informed.
Kelly said he was worried about the high risk of transmission from the Delta variant in the latest Sydney outbreak, with the hotspot definition triggering additional support for the NSW government.
If the state government declares a lockdown lasting longer than seven days, the declaration will also trigger federal emergency payments for affected workers.
Kelly said while NSW contact tracers were the best in the country, the health department was facing “three different complex settings” – dealing with cases in a school, on a plane and at a party.
“We are concerned about the situation in Sydney,” Kelly said. “I am worried. There has, up to now, been a very strong linkage between the cases but that has changed over the past 24 hours.”
The coalition has come under sustained pressure over the vaccine rollout, with just 3% of the adult population fully vaccinated.
Labor’s shadow health minister, Mark Butler, said on Wednesday Australians were “paying the price” for Scott Morrison’s “ongoing stubborn incompetence on vaccines and quarantine”.
Morrison in parliament said Labor had been invited to join the government in combatting the virus “but throughout the pandemic they have chosen time and again to just pursue political point-scoring rather than joining and supporting the national effort”.
In the Senate, the aged care minister, Richard Colbeck, revealed just three in every 20 nursing home staff had been fully vaccinated, while only one-third of aged care workers had received their first dose.