Plans for Australia’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout have been abandoned, as Scott Morrison admits that many may be forced to wait until next year to get even their first jab.
Despite earlier assurances on Sunday from Trade Minister Dan Tehan that the government aimed to vaccinate all Australians by the end of 2021, Mr Morrison took to social media to clarify ‘such targets’ had not been set.
‘While we would like to see these doses completed before the end of the year, it is not possible to set such targets given the many uncertainties involved,’ the Prime Minister wrote on Facebook.
‘We will just get on with the job of working together to produce, distribute and administer the vaccines as safely and efficiently as possible.’
The government has already implied on several occasions that Australians will be be unable to fly abroad for the first time since March 2020 without being fully vaccinated, with airlines including Qantas set to demand customers have their jabs.
Scott Morrison has warned some Australians may have to wait until next year to get their first coronavirus vaccination. Pictured is a Townsville nurse getting the jab in early March
The Federal Government has been forced to change its Covid-19 vaccine timetable after concerns over the AstraZeneca jab through the rollout into doubt (pictured, a nurse in Tasmania receives her Covid-19 vaccine in February)
The Federal Government’s heavily-criticised Covid-19 vaccine rollout had already been thrown into further chaos amid confusion over a revised timeline to have every Australian inoculated.
Blood clot fears over the AstraZeneca jab forced a rethink of the nation’s vaccine program, but a further 20 million doses of the Pfizer jab are due to arrive in the last few months of 2020.
‘That is definitely the aim, that is the goal we have set – trying to have all Australians have a dose by the end of the year,’ Mr Tehan told Sky News on Sunday afternoon.
But Health Minister Greg Hunt also appeared to walk back Mr Tehan’s comments just hours later while holding a press conference by refusing to commit to a timeframe.
‘There’s been no change in our permission as the Prime Minister said and our goal is to ensure that every Australian is vaccinated as early as possible,’ Mr Hunt said.
The Government’s vaccine program – criticised for being too slow – suffered a major setback last Thursday after health authorities recommended the AstraZeneca vaccine should only be given to people over 50 due to the risk of blood clotting.
Australian health authorities recommended the AstraZeneca vaccine (pictured) should only be given to people above 50 due to the risk of blood clotting. Those aged under 50 should instead get the Pfizer vaccine, authorities recommended
The AstraZeneca jab was the vaccine the government was relying heavily on, but it has since secured an additional 20million Pfizer vaccine doses that will be shipped from overseas later in the year.
The Pfizer vaccine is now the preferred vaccine for those aged under 50.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison originally planned to have all Australians vaccinated by October.
Mr Tehan had warned while speaking to Sky News the world was still under the cloud of a pandemic and things could quickly change.
‘But I think Australians understand… when you’re dealing with the pandemic, there are a lot of unknowns and you have got to make sure you set your goals and are prepared to adjust those as things occur,’ he said.
‘While we would like to see these doses completed before the end of the year, it is not possible to set such targets given the many uncertainties involved,’ Scott Morrison (pictured on Saturday) admitted on Sunday night
The Prime Minister’s admission comes after Trade Minister Dan Tehan (pictured) tried to assured the government aimed to vaccinate all Australians by the end of 2021
In an indication of just how quickly things can change, a government spokesperson also told AAP there had been no change in the government’s position from last week, where there was a reluctance to commit to a timetable for delivering the vaccine.
‘We await further advice from the medical experts about potential timeframes, but our goal is to ensure every Australian is vaccinated as early as possible,’ the spokesperson said.
Australia has just passed the one million mark in terms of vaccinations, well short of the four million Mr Morrison originally promised by the end of March.
In the last 24 hours, 88,500 new vaccine doses were administered, bringing the total number inoculated to 1.16million.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison (pictured, flanked by Department of Health Secretary Dr Brendan Murphy) had been aiming to have every willing Australian receiving their first Covid-19 vaccine dose by the end of October
Mr Hunt said there were now 4000 GP clinics across the nation taking part in delivering the vaccine.
‘General practices have flocked to participate,’ Mr Hunt said on Sunday.
‘We’ve reached that figure of 4000 (general practices and Aboriginal controlled health services administering vaccines) earlier than expected and that’s because of the heightened level of participation of our GPs.’
Mr Hunt added the Government had indemnity agreements for vaccines.
‘Our advice is very clear that doctors are protected by the government indemnity agreement, against any side effects which flow from the blood clots themselves,’ he said.
Labor’s health spokesman Mark Butler said the Government should have secured more vaccine deals to ensure there was a backup when something like the AstraZeneca situation arose.
‘We are now in a very difficult situation,’ Mr Butler told ABC’s Insider program.
Health Minister Greg Hunt (pictured left while a woman receives her Covid-19 vaccine) said there were now 4000 GP clinics across the nation administering the vaccine
‘Australia was already way behind schedule in the vaccine rollout, not in the top 100 nations in the world and a bad situation has been made far worse by these unforeseen events around the AstraZeneca vaccine.’
Meanwhile, Mr Tehan will embark on a ‘vaccine diplomacy’ trip to Europe from Wednesday.
He will speak with the European Union and his ministerial counterparts in France, Germany and Brussels.
‘I will also be meeting the director general of the World Trade Organisation to talk about what we can do to ensure supply of the vaccine, not only for Australia, but globally,’ Mr Tehan said.
HOW SAFE IS THE PFIZER VACCINE?
Scientists have carried out extensive clinical trials on the Pfizer vaccine and established that it is safe to use.
And the UK regulator rubber-stamped it with a seal of approval, saying it was safe to administer, after evaluating data from 44,000 volunteers in the trials.
But they issued an advisory notice saying that those with a history of allergies should not get the vaccine.
Concerns have been raised over the speed with which the vaccine was approved – in a matter of months – but scientists have said no corners were cut and this was possible due to the enormous number of volunteers that signed up for the clinical trials.
Pfizer and BioNTech both said they found no serious safety concerns during their four-month long trials.
A spokesman for Pfizer said their jab was ‘generally well tolerated with no serious safety concerns reported’.
‘The trial has enrolled over 44,000 participants to date, over 42,000 of whom have received a second vaccination.’
Professor Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading, said that the vaccine was ‘extremely safe’ and that he would be cautious about attributing the allergic reactions to the jab.
‘I think it’s probably safer in my view than many other vaccines currently available,’ he told MailOnline. ‘It really is very clean technology.’
‘I would be cautious about attributing the allergic reactions to the vaccine at this moment, especially as it hasn’t cropped up in clinical trials,’ he said.
‘The big allergic reaction to vaccines normally is an egg allergy, because historically influenza vaccines and several others have been grown in hens eggs and you inevitably get a bit of egg protein coming through with the final product.
‘But there’s nothing like that in the mRNA vaccine. The only addition is the lipid coating that they put on the mRNA before it goes into cells – but there’s no history of allergic reactions to that.’
He added that the MHRA had been ‘cautious’ in saying that those with a history of allergies should not get the vaccine.
Professor Heidi Larson, director of the Vaccine Confidence Project, told Sky News the vaccine was approved so quickly due to a ramping up of its clinical trials.
‘The safety regulatory process is still there but the time frame between things, they’ve tried to shorten, just in terms of it’s not sitting in a pile of things to be approved,’ she said.
Pacific nations will soon have shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in Australia to distribute, with the Government promising to export 10,000 doses a week.
The Government said it will start with hard-hit Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste.
Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu will also begin to receive doses in the coming weeks.
In a joint statement, Mr Hunt, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja said: ‘Our region’s health security and economic recovery is intertwined with our own.’
Queensland on Sunday reported no new Covid-19 community transmission cases.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said there was one case believed to be an historic link to the recent Byron Bay cluster and was under investigation, adding it was not a risk to the community.
Victoria and NSW have reported no new Covid cases in the past day.