For our free coronavirus pandemic coverage, learn more here.
Health authorities are ready to give all adults under 50 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine or change advice on who can get AstraZeneca if Victoria’s growing coronavirus cluster makes an overhaul of the national vaccination strategy necessary.
Amid growing calls to speed up the vaccination program, Premier James Merlino announced Victoria’s mass COVID-19 vaccine centres will administer Pfizer shots for anyone aged 40 to 49 as the state’s coronavirus outbreak spread to 26 people and swelled to more than 10,000 close contacts and more than 150 exposure sites.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly is open to giving adults the first dose of Pfizer if it will help vaccinate the nation faster.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
It comes as Qantas revealed it is planning to offer Qantas Frequent Flyer points or flight vouchers to Australians who have been vaccinated, in a bid to encourage people to get immunised.
Associate Professor Chris Blyth, co-chair of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, said the group’s advice has not changed on the use of AstraZeneca for under 50s, or the spacing between vaccine doses. However, the panel was actively monitoring the outbreak in Victoria and may update its advice as the situation changes.
“With the situation in Victoria, it appears that risk is increasing,” he told this masthead. “ATAGI will be watching the unfolding situation in Victoria very closely.”
The associate professor supported Victoria’s move to make Pfizer available to people aged 40 to 49, and said the state could lower the age of vaccination even further depending on supply.
“The real challenge at the moment is trying to make sure that we’ve got sufficient supply. And as of today, clearly, we don’t have sufficient supply to vaccinate the whole adult population,” he said.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly said it was possible the government could stop holding back second doses and focus on getting first doses into more younger adults.
“That’s worth consideration,” he said. “We haven’t changed that approach, which has generally been for every person that has a first dose, a second dose is in reserve to give to them after three weeks. But let’s see how it goes over the next week in terms of cases and numbers.”
Infectious diseases physician Paul Griffin said there is a strong argument for Australia to follow Singapore and Germany and move to prioritise first doses to the wider adult population, allowing limited supplies to be used more broadly.
“There is the argument that Australia has the facilities and capabilities to go full speed ahead and give a vaccine to everyone who wants one as soon as possible,” he said.
Super Blood Moon, Super Blue MoonCredit:Matt Golding
Greens leader and Melbourne MP Adam Bandt said vaccines should be made as widely available as possible. Opposition health spokesman Mark Butler said if additional doses were available it would be great to get as many injections into peoples’ arms as possible, but older people had to be the priority.
To help encourage people to get vaccinated, Qantas and Jetstar want to give Australians either frequent flyer points or flight vouchers for getting immunised. The idea, which has been taken to the federal and NSW governments, would be retrospective and run until the end of the year.
Qantas chief customer officer, Stephanie Tully said the company relied on travel so it was keen to help with the national vaccine effort and get its people and planes back to work.
“The demand for domestic travel has been really strong and we know a lot of people can’t wait to see family overseas,” she said.
“There are already a lot of good reasons to get a vaccine as soon as you’re able to, and we’d be happy to add another one to the list. Hopefully, other companies are looking at incentive options as well.”
Epidemiologist James McCaw said with outbreaks of increasingly infectious coronavirus variants inevitable, the country’s vaccination program may need to be overhauled to target young people who were more likely to be infected and transmit the virus.
“All of these questions need to be revisited. It may be that those sorts of strategies, which target those who are most likely to spread the virus, make more sense,” said Professor McCaw, who is leading a research team providing modelling on the pandemic to the federal government.
Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid said the current approach focusing on older Australians first was the right way to continue the vaccine rollout.
“They suffer so much worse from COVID, and we’ve vaccinated just over 50 per cent of over 70s, so they’re still the priority. We’ve got to get them done,” he said.
The decision to limit AstraZeneca to people over the age of 50 was always open to being overturned if there was a significant outbreak, but on Thursday the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation released a statement saying it stood firm on its existing advice.
ATAGI’s co-chair Professor Blyth said the group had to remain nimble.
Asked about whether clinical advice around the AstraZeneca vaccine should change as now that outbreak spread through Victoria was putting millions at risk, Professor Russel said anyone who wants to access the vaccine should be able to.
“My view is that we’ve got plenty of AstraZeneca so if people of any age want to have AstraZeneca and are fully informed and consent to the risk then I have no problem with that.”
With Lucy Carroll
Most Viewed in Politics
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article