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Anthony Albanese has called for a faster, larger rollout of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine in Australia, citing images of world leaders receiving it.
On Wednesday the Labor leader said the rollout should begin immediately if the Therapeutic Goods Administration approves the vaccine in January, rather than in March as stated in Australia’s procurement agreement.
The intervention is a major break from the Morrison government’s position that Australia’s need for the vaccine is less urgent due to low coronavirus case numbers and has time to ensure approval and rollout is as safe and as effective as possible.
January is considered the earliest possible date for full TGA approval, as Australia has opted against granting emergency approval as has occurred in the US and UK. Europe’s regulator also approved use of the vaccine this week.
The health minister, Greg Hunt, has argued Australia has no need to rush the vaccine, with daily case numbers barely in double digits compared with hundreds of thousands in the US and tens of thousands in the UK and other European countries.
Albanese told ABC News Breakfast it was a problem that the federal government was saying the TGA would make a decision on the Pfizer vaccine in January, but the rollout would not start until March.
Albanese reiterated that Labor supported the TGA being able to do its work “without interference” but it made “no sense” to delay rollout after approval was granted.
“Also there’s only been provision made for 10 million doses [of the Pfizer vaccine] – quite clearly we’re going to need more than that. And so we need more vaccines, more quickly.”
The chair of the independent advisory committee on vaccines, Prof Allen Cheng, told Guardian Australia the March date “isn’t cast in stone”.
Cheng said in addition to efficacy and safety, regulation would have to ensure the quality of vaccines to prevent contamination or spoilage moving in and out of cold storage.
“There are also implementation issues – the distribution chain, training of staff who will be giving the vaccine, working out where the distribution points will be, making sure we have the safety systems in place to pick up and assess any side effects.”
Cheng said in comparison to the delivery of 18m flu vaccines, Covid-19 would require “40 or 50m doses of a vaccine as quickly as possible, where we will need to give two doses, with an uncertain supply schedule, difficult cold chain requirements, vaccines of different types and using new vaccines where we will want to monitor any side effect that occurs”.
Albanese argued Covid-19 was having an impact on people’s lives and mental health, so it was “incredibly complacent” not to accelerate the rollout.
“Surely, we should be making it available as soon as possible. We had president-elect Biden take the vaccine on national TV in the United States just yesterday.”
Albanese said the world’s “best practice” was to have as many vaccine deals as possible, currently six, but Australia only had three, after the University of Queensland vaccine project was shut down.
Hunt and Scott Morrison have so far held the line on accelerating the vaccine rollout, reiterating that neither the northern beaches outbreak in Sydney nor a potentially more infectious strain affecting the UK justify it.
On Monday Hunt said the threat of Covid-19 in Australia was “nowhere near serious enough to authorise a rollout of a vaccine before the full approval process is complete”.
“The one thing that we are absolutely certain about is making sure that our vaccination program is safe,” Hunt said.
“There will be enormously powerful learnings that come from the UK and the US, but for Australians, given the circumstances, we are 100% committed to a full, thorough, but rapid assessment.”
On Wednesday Albanese also indicated Labor would seek to argue it deserved to be elected because it had been “responsible” and “constructive” during the pandemic, but had a better plan to leave fewer Australians behind in the economic recovery.
Albanese said he would “absolutely” see out 2021 as Labor leader, arguing the party was competitive in the polls and ready to govern because it had “put the national interest first” rather than making “outrageous claims” and attacking the government “for its own sake”.
Despite facing internal dissent over climate policy, Albanese ended the year with a three-point rise in his personal approval (up to 43%) and a four drop in his disapproval (down to 29%) in Guardian’s Essential poll.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Labor calls for Australia’s Covid vaccine rollout to be accelerated | Vaccines and immunisation