Victorians aged 40 to 59 seeking to book their first jab face waits of several weeks because the Covid-19 vaccination rollout has hit another hurdle.
Under new health advice, 2.1 million Australians in their 50s yet to be jabbed are now being told they should not have AstraZeneca.
Seven new cases of an extremely rare blood clot in AstraZeneca recipients in their 50s have prompted an expert immunisation panel to instead recommend the Pfizer shot for those aged 40 to 59, who are now eligible for a shot.
The shock move is expected to slow the rollout for several weeks, with Pfizer supplies significantly stretched, especially in Victoria.
Medical chiefs are still urging the 840,000 people in their 50s who have already had one AstraZeneca shot to return for their second dose, with UK data suggesting just one in every 666,666 people had a clot after the follow-up jab.
But doctors were reporting on Thursday that they were already getting cancellation calls.
Of 3.8 million AstraZeneca doses administered in Australia so far, there have been 60 clots reported. There are 22 people in hospital and two have died.
3.8 million AstraZeneca doses have been administered in Australia so far. (Photo / NCA)
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt acknowledged that while the new advice was a “conservative position” compared to many other countries, it factored in Australia’s low risk of widespread Covid-19 transmission.
“It is a change, and we recognise that that does bring some challenges. But the only thing to do is to follow that medical advice,” he said.
“Are we on track to offer every Australian a vaccine, who is eligible, during the course of 2021? The answer remains, in the advice we have, yes,” he said.
Australia’s vaccine rollout has been plagued with issues, with a delayed launch, an overhaul eight weeks ago limiting AstraZeneca to those under 50 amid clot concerns, and widespread hesitancy.
Critics have slammed the lack of a major national advertising campaign, with only about 3 per cent of the population so far vaccinated.
Victorians spurred to get the jab by the state’s latest outbreak and lockdown have endured hotline meltdowns and waits of up to seven hours at vaccination centres, or been turned away. An online booking system was only launched this week.
Biotech giant CSL will continue pumping out 50 million AstraZeneca doses at its Melbourne factory but said it was open to talks with the government about how it could support the ongoing rollout.
CSL cannot simultaneously manufacture two types of vaccines but it is understood it would be capable of switching to producing the Novavax jab.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt visit the CSL plant responsible for making and delivering the AstraZeneca vaccine. (Photo / Supplied)
Australia has ordered 51 million Novavax doses, with the nation’s drug regulator expected to consider final evidence to approve it for use here in September.
Another 10 million doses of Moderna – an mRNA vaccine like Pfizer – are also expected to arrive this year.
Covid-19 task force commander, Lieutenant-General John Frewen, said the new health advice required a “relatively minor” logistic overhaul which would take a couple of weeks to sort out.
From next month, 1300 GP clinics will begin giving Pfizer to those aged 40 to 59. Mr Hunt said Pfizer had promised to deliver 2.8 million doses in July – up from 1.7 million in June – with 560,000 going to Victoria, including 380,000 to clinics and 180,000 to GPs.
Health Department secretary Professor Brendan Murphy encouraged Australians over 60 to keep getting the AstraZeneca jab, saying it was a “highly effective vaccine”.
He conceded the new advice could raise fears but maintained the community wanted transparency about the risks.