SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia has doubled its order for Pfizer Inc COVID-19 vaccine, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday, as the country rushed to revise its inoculation plan amid concerns about the risks of blood clots with AstraZeneca Plc vaccine.
Until Thursday evening, Australia based its vaccination schedule largely on one injection of AstraZeneca, with an order of 50 million doses – enough for the two injections required for all of its 25 million. inhabitants – to be done nationally by biopharma CSL Ltd.
But Australia has now joined a host of countries in restricting the use of the vaccine due to clotting issues. Local health officials changed their recommendation to say that nearly 12 million people under the age of 50 should take the Pfizer product instead.
As a result, Australia doubled a previous order from Pfizer to 40 million shots, enough for four-fifths of the population, which would be delivered by the end of the year, Morrison said.
Pfizer’s policy change effectively ends plans to have the entire population immunized by the end of October.
This is not an AstraZeneca vaccine ban, Morrison told reporters in Canberra after a national cabinet meeting to discuss the response to the virus.
For those who are over 50, there is a strong encouragement to take this AstraZeneca vaccine.
After Australia opened a quarantine-free travel zone with neighboring New Zealand, Morrison said he hoped to make similar arrangements elsewhere in the region, and the more Australians vaccinated, the more. likely to be able to have the types of arrangements that I mentioned.
Health Secretary Brendan Murphy called the policy change very cautious given the low rates of possible side effects associated with the AstraZeneca injection.
More than a dozen countries have at one time suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but most have resumed, some including France, the Netherlands and Germany, recommending a minimum age.
Australia’s most populous state New South Wales, home to nearly a third of the population, said it was suspending the AstraZeneca deployment to update informed consent documents to ” inform patients of the risks.
Ahead of the announcement of the updated Pfizer order, AstraZeneca said it was respecting the Australian decision and working with regulators around the world to understand individual cases, epidemiology and possible mechanisms that could explain these extremely rare events. .
CSL said it remains committed to honoring contractual agreements to manufacture the vaccine.
EGGS IN A BASKET
In addition to the AstraZeneca and Pfizer contracts, Australia has ordered 51 million doses of a vaccine being tested by US pharmaceutical giant Novavax Inc, but local authorities say they do not plan to approve the product until the end of 2021. .
Australia has also embarked on a local option – as opposed to locally manufacturing the AstraZenecas product developed abroad – with the University of Queensland undertaking a trial of its own vaccine. This trial was halted in December when the product was associated with false positives in HIV testing.
The government said in January that it planned to vaccinate four million people by the end of March, to have 600,000 by then. The number was just over one million on Friday, authorities said.
Australians will not forget who is responsible for failing to keep their own promises and commitments, Labor opposition leader Anthony Albanese told reporters on Friday.
They should have listened to the expert advice that has been given to government, and indeed all governments, about not putting all of our eggs in one basket.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the country is still evaluating the AstraZeneca vaccine, without specifying whether the Australian decision would affect it.
The Pfizer vaccine is the only vaccine approved by New Zealand, which says it has ordered enough for its five million people.
Australia started vaccinations later than some other countries due to its low number of infections, which stand at just under 29,400, with 909 deaths, since the start of the pandemic.
Reporting by Byron Kaye, with additional reporting by Praveen Menon in Wellington; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Michael Perry
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