Australia will not achieve herd immunity by relying on the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, experts have warned, leaving the country at risk of rolling coronavirus epidemics that will prevent us from returning to normal life.
The government has ordered 53.8 million doses of the vaccine developed with Oxford University, with jabs set to be administered from March.
But doctors are concerned the nation is ‘short-changing itself’ by leaning too heavily on the AstraZeneca option in its coronavirus response.
Trials show the vaccine has a much lower efficacy than the Pfizer and Moderna jabs already in use in countries including the United Kingdom and United States.
Dr Andrew Miller, the head of Australian Medical Association in Western Australia, urged the government to hit pause on nation’s vaccine rollout plan and re-assess its plans, as it will be too late to correct course once jabs start to be administered.
Medical experts are concerned Australia is relying too heavily on the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine as it has a lower efficacy than the Pfizer and Moderna jabs. Pictured, a general view of analytical chemists at AstraZeneca’s headquarters in Sydney
Dr Andrew Miller (pictured), the head of Australian Medical Association in Western Australia, said Australia was unlikely to get herd immunity by simply relying on the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine
‘With the AstraZeneca vaccine, on current data, if we rely on that vaccine we’re not going to get to herd immunity,’ Dr Miller told The Australian.
‘Current expectation is we’re going to be able to get back to normal life, but if we don’t get herd immunity there’s no guarantee that we won’t have rolling epidemics.’
Dr Miller said it was important to get the vaccine strategy right because once an individual is inoculated with one vaccine, they may not be able to have another.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine has a 62 per cent efficacy rate, compared to Moderna’s 94 per cent and Pfizer’s 95 per cent.
The United Kingdom, United States, France and Israel are among the countries already administering Pfizer and Moderna jabs.
None of the vaccines have yet been proven to stop transmission of coronavirus but instead were designed to prevent the most serious symptoms.
Experts say herd immunity would more likely be achieved in Australia with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines
Prime Minister Scott Morrison (pictured) has flagged the possibility that it may be a legal requirement for certain types of people to get the Covid-19 jab
Michelle Ananda-Rajah, an infectious diseases physician and professor at Monash University, said Australia was ‘short-changing itself’ with the AstraZeneca push.
‘Here we have the opportunity to do that because we have two highly efficacious vaccines at our disposal, Pfizer and the Moderna, and we have a population that more or less is willing to be vaccinated,’ she said.
She noted herd immunity was the prize and Australia ‘should be going for broke’.
The head of the biosecurity program at the University of NSW’s Kirby Institute, Raina MacIntyre, said the virus would still be circulating in the community even if everyone is vaccinated because of the lower efficacy rate.
Alex Morton, 27, receives her Covid-19 vaccine along with other health and social care workers in Newcastle, England last week
The vaccine will be rolled out in five stages. Quarantine and border workers, frontline health workers and aged care staff and residents will be first
WHO WILL BE VACCINATED FIRST?
The vaccines will be rolled out in five stages. Quarantine and border workers, frontline health workers and aged care staff and residents will be first.
Next will be anyone over 70 years old, other healthcare workers, people with medical conditions, emergency service workers, some high-risk workers like meat processing workers, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are over 55.
After that, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 18 to 54 will get the jab, as well as Aussies over 50 and other high-risk workers.
Medical experts are also reportedly fuming the Pfizer vaccine has not been granted emergency approval by the government like in other countries.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration is not due to approve the vaccine until later this month.
The government is then expecting begin administering the vaccine in mid-February.
The American company ships the vaccine two weeks after approval and then another week will be spent testing the batch when it arrives in Australia.
The vials will then be sent to hospitals around the nation.
Hotel quarantine workers, healthcare workers and aged care staff and residents will be vaccinated first.
Elderly people, indigenous Australians over 55, people with clinical conditions and high-risk workers will be next.
Despite repeatedly insisting that a Covid-19 vaccine will be voluntary, Prime Minister Scott Morrison flagged the possibility that it may be a legal requirement for certain types of people to get the jab.
Initially, between 30 and 50 hospitals will be used as hubs to distribute the Pfizer vaccine.
A healthcare worker holds a vial of the AstraZeneca coronavirus COVID-19 vaccine at the Pentland Medical Practice in Currie, Scotland last week
WHICH VACCINES HAS AUSTRALIA SECURED?
Due to arrive early 2021, but is already being rolled out in countries such as the UK.
Australia secured a deal for 10 million doses, if it proves safe and effective and is approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
Each person would need two doses, meaning Australia’s initial order would only cover five million Australians.
Australia has ordered 51 million doses but it is still in the trial phase.
University of Oxford/AstraZeneca:
There have been 53.8 million million doses secured for Australia, which are expected to be administered from March.
University of Queensland:
Australia had ordered 51 million doses. However, the deal has been scrapped after trial participants returned false positive results for HIV.
Then general practice clinics, existing Commonwealth GP respiratory clinics and a number of other state run vaccination clinics will be used.
Each person will receive two jabs of the same vaccine about a month apart.
Mr Morrison is targeting 80,000 vaccinations a week in February and wants this number to rapidly increase to issue four million jabs by the end of March.
The Pfizer jab is much more difficult to distribute because it must be stored at -70C so the AstraZeneca jab will be the one distributed to remote populations.
The prime minister said he and Health Minister Greg Hunt will get the vaccine on TV early to improve public confidence.
‘It’s important for public confidence for leaders around the country and I’ll make myself available to do that. I’ve had no discussion with the premiers but I’m sure they would as well,’ he said.
The government expects regulators to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine and roll it out in March.
Imported doses will initially be used before Australia begins producing its own vials at the CSL factory in Melbourne.
The government expects every Australian who wants a jab to get one by October.
But Mr Morrison said Covid safe practices will continue throughout 2021 even with the vaccine.
‘Vaccination is not a silver bullet… Covid safe practices do not end, they continue,’ Mr Morrison said this month.
‘Covid safe practices will be a 2021 lived experience. It will still be a fight over the course of 2021 but this will add a very significant further defence and offence I should in combatting the virus around the world.’
Mr Morrison said the Theraputic Goods Administration was working overtime to approve the vaccines but was not cutting any corners.