Bowen: Government should shop around on vaccines, amid AstraZeneca doubts

By Matthew Elmas

Wednesday January 13, 2021

Shadow Minister for Health Chris Bowen. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas).

Opposition health spokesperson Chris Bowen has criticised the federal government for an over reliance on the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, after health experts poured cold water over its ability to generate herd immunity.

The crux of Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination plans, the AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration next month and will be distributed alongside the Pfizer jab in the first wave of inoculations Down Under.

While the federal government hopes to vaccinate four million Australians by the end of March, medical experts yesterday questioned the capacity of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which trials showed was between 62% – 90% effective (pooled results were about 70%).

Bowen told ABC radio on Wednesday the federal government had erred by not securing a broad enough range of vaccines to inoculate the country against the virus.

“It would be better if the Morrison government had more deals, more advanced supply agreements in place … Australia has three, international best practice is 5 or 6,” he said.

“We don’t know yet whether AstraZeneca will even pass the TGA test. We hope it will, it probably will, but there’s always risk, and that’s why the federal government should have been spreading that risk more thinly with more deals.”

Under existing plans the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs will be rolled out at an initial rate of 80,000 doses a week, starting next month.

The rate of vaccinations is then expected to pick up, with the AstraZeneca inoculation expected to be given to most Australians, according to chief medical officer Paul Kelly.

That’s because there’s a much more limited supply for the Pfizer vaccine, which was the first to be approved for emergency use around the world.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is also easier to store and transport, because the Pfizer vaccine must be kept at -70 degrees celsius at all times.

Australia has so far secured 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 53.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab.

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