Health Department boss Brendan Murphy has conceded all Australians will not be vaccinated by October, which was the deadline proposed by the government.
But Professor Murphy said a solitary shot of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 jab – rather than two – will be enough to ‘completely vaccinate’ the population over the coming months.
The federal government had said all Australians would receive two doses of the vaccines – Pfizer and AstraZeneca – by the end of October.
Health Department Secretary Brendan Murphy has conceded all Australians will not be vaccinated before October
Speaking on Thursday, Professor Murphy admitted the target of four million vaccinations by next month also won’t be achieved.
He said ‘global supply issues’ with a number of European countries – including Italy blocking the export of a shipment of 250,000 doses to Australia – was the reason for the delay.
Australia had been expecting 3.8million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine from Europe in March, but so far only 700,000 doses have arrived – leaving a 3.1million shortfall.
‘It would be impossible to predict exactly when we (Australia) will hit four million (vaccinations) until we actually know what the international supplies will be like,’ Mr Murphy said.
‘But it will be done as quickly and safely as we can with the available vaccines.’
About 125,000 Australians have so far received the jab.
Doubt over the inoculation time-frame comes as a number of GPs said the October target was unrealistic, according to The Australian.
Many private and public practices are anticipating they will struggle to vaccinate the hundreds of people per day required to meet targets set by the federal government.
A number of GPs believe a more viable target is the early months of 2022.
Australian Medical Association president Omar Korshid said having the population fully vaccinated by October is unlikely.
‘It will be very difficult to achieve,’ he said. ‘Aiming to have the first dose administered by the end of October is more realistic.’
Australian GP Alliance deputy chairman Mukesh Haikerwal went a step further, declaring ‘phones will literally melt in front of us with the calls coming through once a vaccine is readily available’.
Meanwhile, recent evidence has shown the AstraZeneca vaccine works most effectively when there is a 12-week delay between doses, according to the Herald Sun.
Professor Murphy said in a Senate inquiry in Canberra this week that the first dose was ‘highly protective’ before stressing the importance of a follow up dose.
Nucleus Network medical director Professor Paul Griffin said he will be interested to see if the second dose proves to be vital.
‘It still remains to be seen whether that second dose confers other benefits such as longevity of protection,’ he said.
Globally, the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is being administered across Australia, is said to be performing better than it did in early clinical trials.
Recent studies also revealed after two doses AstraZeneca’s effectiveness is an encouraging 82.4 per cent.
Health chief on back foot over vaccines
The boss of Australia’s health department has come under fire for ‘dangerous’ suggestions one coronavirus jab offers full protection against the disease.
Brendan Murphy clarified his evidence after telling the Senate’s coronavirus response committee that one dose was akin to being fully vaccinated.
‘Don’t you think it’s a bit dangerous for you to be sitting here saying ‘well one shot gives you protection’?’ Labor senator and committee chair Katy Gallagher told the hearing in Canberra.
‘Part of what we need to do here with the rollout is making sure people get two shots.’
Professor Murphy, who was chief health officer at the onset of the pandemic, said one dose was ‘fully protective’ but needed to be topped up.
‘Of course we want everyone to get two shots,’ he said.
He dismissed concerns the government would not reach its original goal of offering all adults two doses by the end of October as a ‘semantic’ argument.
‘In practical terms, they are fully vaccinated because they’ve got that highly protective first dose,’ Prof Murphy said.
He said one dose ‘doesn’t last as long’ and should be topped up.
The health chief denied he was providing political cover for the Morrison government’s lofty vaccination targets.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration has pointed to two unpublished studies looking at the real-world effectiveness of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines, which are being used in Australia.
In Scotland, a single dose of either prevented 85 to 94 per cent of coronavirus-related hospitalisation 28 to 34 days after vaccination.
Public Health England found people with a single dose aged over 70 were a 60 to 70 per cent lower risk of symptomatic infection 28 days after receiving the jab.
Updated advice on the AstraZeneca vaccine, which the vast majority of Australians will receive, recommended it is more effective with a 12-week gap than four weeks as initially advised.
Prof Murphy said it was unlikely every adult would have the chance to receive two doses by the end of October.
‘We don’t know whether we’ll be able to achieve two shots by October,’ he told the committee on Thursday.
‘All I’m saying is that with a 12-week interval it’s going to be difficult.’
At this stage, only close to 100,000 Australians have been inoculated, well short of government forecasts (stock image)
Globally, the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is being administered across Australia, is said to be performing well (stock image)
Denmark suspends AstraZeneca vaccine over blood-clotting fears – as nurse’s death that prompted ban in Austria is ruled NOT to be linked to the jab
Denmark has suspended the AstraZeneca vaccine after cases of blood clotting, despite the EU ruling that a death in Austria had not been caused by the jab.
Copenhagen’s health minister said authorities were probing whether there was a link between having the jab and blood clots, after several cases and one death.
Magnus Heunicke said: ‘At present it can not be concluded whether there is a connection. We are acting early, it must be thoroughly investigated.’
Denmark joins five other countries – Austria, Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Latvia – who suspended the vaccine after a 49-year-old Austrian woman died of ‘severe blood coagulation problems.’
But Boris Johnson today defended the vaccine, calling it ‘both safe and effective’ and insisted Britain would continue with its own rollout.
It comes after the EU’s medicines watchdog yesterday announced that it had found no link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and the woman’s death.
Denmark’s health minister Magnus Heunicke said authorities were probing whether there was a link between having the jab and blood clotting, after several cases and one death
‘There is currently no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions, which are not listed as side effects with this vaccine,’ the EMA regulator said.
As well as the woman’s death, another three cases of blood clotting issues had been reported in Austria from people who had taken the vaccine.
One of those patients, a 35-year-old woman, developed a pulmonary embolism – a blockage of an artery on the lung – but is now recovering.
The EMA said that the batch which had been singled-out in Austria, labelled ABV5300, comprised one million doses and had been delivered to 17 EU countries.
The EMA said: ‘Although a quality defect is considered unlikely at this stage, the batch quality is being investigated.’
It said the Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee (PRAC) were investigating the thrombosis conditions linked to the same batch as well as all other reports of thrombosis and related blood clotting conditions reported post-vaccination.
‘The information available so far indicates that the number of thromboembolic events in vaccinated people is no higher than that seen in the general population,’ it said.
The EMA said as of Tuesday, there had been 22 reports of such conditions among the three million people to receive the AstraZeneca jab in the European Economic Area.
It said further information would be released as the investigation progresses.
Denmark said today it was suspending the vaccine for 14 days while it investigates whether there is any link between the blood-clotting cases and the jab.
They did not say how many reports of blood clots there had been or give details of the person who died.
‘Both we and the Danish Medicines Agency have to respond to reports of possible serious side-effects, both from Denmark and other European countries,’ the director of the Danish Health Authority, Soren Brostrom, said in a statement.
Today, the UK government defended the vaccine and insisted it would continue with its own rollout.
‘We’ve been clear that it’s both safe and effective… and when people are asked to come forward and take it, they should do so in confidence,’ Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman told reporters.
‘And in fact you’re starting to see the results of the vaccine programme in terms of the (lower) number of cases we’re seeing across the country, the number of deaths, number of hospitalisations,’ he said.
Britain began the world’s first mass vaccination drive against the coronavirus in December, underpinned largely by the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab and another from Pfizer-BioNTech.
EU regulators on January 30 approved the AstraZeneca vaccine, saying it was effective and safe to use.
Adverse reactions seen in trials were short-lived for the most part and blood clotting issues were not reported.
An AstraZeneca spokeswoman told MailOnline: ‘We’re aware of the statement made today by Sundhedsstyrelsen [the Danish health authority] that they are currently investigating potential adverse events related to vaccination against COVID-19.
‘Patient Safety is the highest priority for AstraZeneca. Regulators have clear and stringent efficacy and safety standards for the approval of any new medicine, and that includes COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca.
‘The safety of the vaccine has been extensively studied in Phase III clinical trials and Peer-reviewed data confirms the vaccine is generally well tolerated.’
The investigation by the EU comes after a humiliating U-turn by European leaders who have given their backing to the vaccine after claiming it was ineffective at the height of their row with the vaccine-maker and Britain in January.
During the ongoing row, the EU has furiously blamed Britain for its woeful vaccine rollout, blocked doses from leaving to Australia and begged the USA to give them its surplus doses.
Last week, Italy stood at the European vanguard as it embargoed 250,000 doses which were destined for Sydney.
The agency confirmed it had received two reports ‘in a temporal connection’ with a vaccine from the same batch in the district clinic of Zwettl, Lower Austria, but said the suspension was a precautionary measure. Picture: File image
The move raised eyebrows Down Under, as Australia’s finance minister Simon Birmingham said it is ‘a reminder of the desperation that exists in other parts of the world, compared with the very good position we found ourselves in here’.
‘We are obviously disappointed and frustrated by this decision,’ he added.
Over the weekend, it was reported that the EU had gone cap in hand to Washington to beg them to provide some of their surplus AstraZeneca.
It’s a humiliating U-turn for Brussels whose leaders had wildly claimed that the AstraZeneca vaccine was ineffective earlier this year.
Emmanuel Macron was accused of anti-vax propaganda when he claimed the jab was only ‘quasi-effective’ for elderly patients.
French PM Jean Castex has since endorsed the vaccine, saying it is just as effective as any other approved in the EU.
Austria, Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Latvia have all suspended of AstraZeneca jabs while they wait for the full findings of the investigation by PRAC.
Yesterday’s ruling by the EMA was based on PRAC’s preliminary findings.