The federal government will roll out the first phase of CCP virus vaccinations in the coming weeks; however, there are concerns over Pfizer’s limited supply as primary vaccine choice Oxford-AstraZeneca faces scrutiny.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly has stressed that it is not a question of whether one vaccine is better than the other but one of availability under the circumstances.
“(W)e’ve had so few cases in Australia, so there will be very few people with the immunity that comes from having had the illness … in many ways, Australia is at more risk from that point of view.” Professor Kelly said in a press conference on Wednesday.
He said it comes down to which vaccine is available to save lives and protect lives this year and “the answer to that is one we can make here.”
The federal government has been forced to respond to criticism about the rollout strategy again, after several infectious disease experts cast doubt on the AstraZeneca jab’s effectiveness, leading to worry that the 10 million doses agreed with Pfizer/BioNTech will cover all of Australia.
Currently, Australia has agreed to purchase 53.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The federal government will import 3.8 million doses with the remaining 50 million to be manufactured at the CSL Melbourne facility in Victoria.
This is enough to vaccinate the entire Australian population, but the AstraZeneca has a lower efficacy score averaging 70 percent compared to Pfizer’s vaccine which has a reported efficacy of 95 percent.
Kelly also objected to claims that emphasis was only put on one CCP virus vaccine.
“We have from the beginning looked at a diversified portfolio of vaccines,” he said noting that negotiations are still ongoing with 12 other vaccine manufacturers.
Close up image of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination vial at The Falmouth Health Centre during the first phase of COVID-19 vaccinations in Falmouth, England on Dec. 20, 2020. (Hugh Hastings/Getty Images)
Australian Technical Group on Immunisation Co-Chair, Professor Allen Cheng said on Twitter vaccine manufacturers are unlikely to priorities Australia given our low virus transmission.
“I understand that there are ongoing discussions with vaccine manufacturers,” he wrote. “But if you were in charge of a vaccine manufacturer, would you send your supply to a country where there are thousands of deaths a day or to Australia?”
That said, I understand that there are ongoing discussions with vaccine manufacturers. But if you were in charge of a vaccine manufacturer, would you send your supply to a country where there are thousands of deaths a day or to Australia?
— Allen Cheng (@peripatetical) January 12, 2021
Australia’s agreement with Pfizer dwarfs that of Europe, the UK and the United States who have agreements for 10 to 20 times more doses.
Currently, these regions are distributing it on an emergency status in response to rising COVID-19 death rates.
Kelly said, looking at the situation these countries need it more.
Vaccinating against COVID-19 will be a long term strategy he said, “we have no evidence yet about how long any of the vaccines … last in terms of immunity,” he said
Kelly also noted that the Novavax vaccine looks like a strong option for later this year and beyond.