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Greg Hunt says Australia will accelerate its Covid-19 vaccine rollout from late to early March and has left the door open to bring it forward again in line with medical advice.
The federal health minister made the comments on Wednesday after weeks of political pressure from Labor to hasten the rollout, a call now echoed across the political spectrum and by independent experts who want faster vaccination to respond to the UK super strain.
Hunt had previously misrepresented Labor’s call as an attempt to rush Therapeutic Goods Administration approvals.
On Tuesday Scott Morrison, weighed in to the vaccine debate, with the prime minister arguing the time between the anticipated late January approval and the March rollout was needed to test every batch and arrange logistics to deliver the Pfizer vaccine, which must be kept at -70C.
Morrison said the UK is “not testing batches of vaccines before they’re disseminated” – a claim apparently contradicted by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.
The agency reportedly told the Sydney Morning Herald that batch-testing is taking place, and the National Institute of Biological Standards and Control has “scaled up its capacity to ensure that multiple batches can be tested simultaneously, and that this can be done as quickly as possible, without compromising quality and safety”.
January is considered the earliest possible date for full TGA approval, as Australia has opted against granting emergency approval as the US and UK have done.
On Wednesday Hunt told News Corp that 80,000 doses a week of the Pfizer vaccine were set to arrive in Australia each week from late January and would be administered from early March; while the AstraZeneca vaccine would be available from late March.
“We will continue to review the medical advice,” Hunt reportedly said.
“In the same way that advice has allowed us to bring forward the time from the first half of the year to late March, and now early March, we will be guided by the medical advice.
“Not to do so would be utterly irresponsible and would risk the health of Australians.”
The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, seized on the development, arguing the government had done what it had said “was impossible a couple of days ago”.
“So, this shows once again a government that follows, doesn’t lead,” he told reporters in Sydney.
The federal government has signed contracts with logistics companies DHL and Linfox to deliver vaccines from March. Accenture will track vaccines and PwC has been contracted to administer the rollout.
In December Albanese set off the vaccine debate by arguing it made “no sense” to delay the rollout after approval was granted.
On 4 January Prof Raina MacIntyre warned in a YouTube video presentation that delaying vaccinations until March “may be costly and may lose us the opportunity for herd immunity [before] mutant strains become more dominant”.
That view was endorsed by Nancy Baxter, the head of the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, who said Australia needed to rethink its vaccination approach, and former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.
“Prof Raina MacIntyre makes [a] powerful case for accelerating vaccination and NOT waiting until March,” Turnbull said. Lucy Turnbull said Australia needed “to act fast, go mass, and access a diversified range of vaccines”.
The former Labor South Australian premier Mike Rann has said: “It makes no sense, Australia has been a world leader during Covid, why would Australia push the pause button now?”
Business figures including Western Sydney Business Chamber executive director, David Borger, have also called for an accelerated approval.
Borger told Radio National “there is an economic consequence to red tape and if we can somehow find a way to compress that time and make those decisions appropriately but quicker, that’s going to have a huge impact on confidence and businesses”.
Hunt said that in jurisdictions such as California, uptake of the vaccine had been harmed by concerns about the approvals process.
“That’s why, for genuine safety, and for the perception of safety, and therefore the vaccine uptake, we are following the regulatory approval pathway as quickly as possible.”
On Monday the Australian Medical Association president, Dr Omar Khorshid, said he did not think “an early rollout of the vaccine would be dangerous, but what it could do is undermine public confidence”.
“We want Australians to know that when the vaccine’s approved that it has been through all the processes and we are confident – very confident – that it’s safe, we know how to give it, when to give it, in which people to give it.”
Khorshid said time was needed for logistics because “you cannot underestimate just how hard it’s going to be to actually get it out into people’s arms”.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Greg Hunt faces mounting pressure to hit accelerator on vaccine rollout | Australia news