National cabinet agrees to fast-track AstraZeneca vaccinations for over-50s | Health

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A plan to fast-track vaccinations for the over-50s will be finalised this week after state and territory leaders agreed “in principle” to change the national rollout strategy.

Amid calls for the federal government to hasten the rollout, the national cabinet also canvassed options for the states to operate mass vaccination hubs once supplies increase later in the year.

Following Monday’s meeting of leaders, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, said changes to the strategy would be put forward on Thursday for approval by the national cabinet, which is now meeting twice a week, as the Coalition attempts to get the troubled national vaccine strategy back on track.

Morrison said the leaders would look at “options to bring forward the commencement of vaccinations for over-50-year-olds”, and would further explore the “readiness of more state- and territory-operated vaccination sites, including mass vaccination sites, as vaccine supplies increase”.

“The priority of the Australian Covid-19 vaccination strategy remains to vaccinate vulnerable populations under priority groups 1A and 1B,” Morrison said.

“The medical advice remains that the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is safe and recommended for Australians over 50 years old and all states will continue to be prioritised AstraZeneca for Australians over 50 years old.”

Earlier on Monday, Morrison hosed down hopes of a swift escalation of the vaccine program to allow the reopening of borders, while flagging the likely fast-tracking of the program for the over-50s.

He also suggested states could implement different quarantining regimes once international travel resumed, but warned it would be “many months” before borders would be relaxed, given the pandemic was “raging” overseas.

Amid calls for the government to ramp up the vaccination program, Morrison said any change to the program needed to happen in an “orderly way”.

“There are strong, strong arguments for the bring[ing] forward of over-50s with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is a safe and effective vaccine for those aged over 50 and particularly important for those aged over 70 who are already in that priority,” Morrison said.

“We know if you’re aged over 70 you’re at terrible risk … but the option of bringing forward over-50s is being discussed.”

The government has been forced into a “recalibration” of the vaccine program following health advice of a low risk of blood clots from the AstraZeneca vaccine for people under 50. Following the decision to recommend the Pfizer vaccine for the under-50s, the government ordered an extra 20m doses of the mRNA vaccine, which are expected to arrive in the final quarter of this year.

However, in response to a call from the New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, for a “less rigid” rollout program that allowed for mass vaccination hubs for all age groups – including with the AstraZeneca jabs for those who want it – Morrison pushed back.

He said mass vaccination hubs for the under-50s would be better suited for an anticipated “12-week sprint” in the lead-up to Christmas once supplies of the Pfizer and Novavax vaccine became available.

In the meantime, he said, his “gaze will not shift” from the priority groups who remained at a “terrible risk” from a possible virus outbreak.

“There’ll be no lessening of effort on focusing on that most important vulnerable group,” Morrison said.

“But we don’t want to see one vaccine that’s rolling off the line and going through the approval processes and the batch testing sitting in a fridge. If there is someone over 50 who is there and wants to take that vaccine, we’ll be looking at how that can be achieved today and in what type of timeframe we might commence that process.”

He also said that while the pandemic was “raging” overseas, he would not countenance relaxing Australia’s border restrictions.

“The thing we need to be very clear about is the pandemic is raging globally, it is raging. Here in Australia, that is not happening and I’m quite certain Australians want to see that continue.

“What I’m focused on is ensuring that we maintain the trajectory we currently have, that we continue to ensure Australians can continue to live the life we are living in Australia right now. We are the envy of the world and so I don’t intend to do things that might get in the way of that.”

About 1.5m vaccinations have been dispensed in Australia so far, with about 700,000 of these delivered through the GP network since the primary care rollout began on 22 March.

Earlier, Berejiklian said there was sufficient supply of vaccines to “really crank on with it”. She called for vaccination hubs to be set up for all age groups using current available supplies.

“The vaccination rollout will change our lives and we have to accept that, and I’m looking forward to getting on with it and making sure that we get on with it as quickly as we can,” the NSW premier said.

“Both for our health and our economic wellbeing, it is in our interest to have the vaccine rolled out as safely and as quickly as possible. It is in our interest, our state interest and our national interest, and that goes for a health perspective, and also from an economic perspective.”

The Victorian government also called for more “urgency” from the national cabinet on the vaccine rollout.

“We want to see change, we want to see action, and most importantly we want to see a sense of urgency coming out of our national cabinet,” the acting premier, James Merlino, said.

Victoria wants to see the Pfizer vaccine available only to those under the age of 50 and is offering to give some of the state government’s share of AstraZeneca vaccines to GPs.

He said the “greatest risk” to Australia was currently the prospect of inbound travellers causing outbreaks. The only defence for that, he said, was vaccination.

“Once we’ve successfully vaccinated, then, of course, we can open up, whether that’s the number of flights, whether that’s home quarantine, whether that’s further easing of restrictions. We can do all of that once we have successfully rolled out, to a large extent, our commonwealth vaccination program.”

On the prospect of home quarantining, Morrison said it was conceivable that states could each have different arrangements once international travel resumed, but that was “many months away from being achieved”.

“I would seek to achieve as much national consistency as we possibly could but …public health is a matter of state jurisdiction and the commonwealth is not in a position to direct that in any way, shape or form.”

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: National cabinet agrees to fast-track AstraZeneca vaccinations for over-50s | Health

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