Millions of Pfizer Jabs to Arrive as More Australians Cancel Second AstraZeneca Dose

By Nina Nguyen
Nina Nguyen
Nina Nguyen
June 22, 2021 Updated: June 22, 2021

Australia’s vaccine rollout plan will be undergoing a major overhaul within weeks as millions more Pfizer doses are set to arrive in the upcoming months.

The review was announced at the national cabinet on Monday following the recommendation from Australia’s vaccine safety body to limit AstraZeneca use to people over 60 only.

Lieutenant General John Frewen, the coordinator-general of the national COVID vaccine task force, told the national cabinet on Monday he had been brought in to test “all planning assumptions”.

“We are now looking at all aspects of the rollout plan and looking for any opportunities we will have to accelerate the rollout through the year as supplies come on line,” he said.

The taskforce head suggested that “other players” such as pharmacists could be included to assist GPs in providing vaccines.

While only people aged over 60 have access to the AstraZeneca vaccine, Australians aged 50-59 are encouraged to book an appointment for the Pfizer vaccine.

He said Australia had 2.3 million doses of Pfizer vaccine on hand and was expecting another 3.4 million over the next six weeks. However, the extra two million people aged 50-59 who now need the Pfizer for their second doses is causing supply shortages of the jab.

At the hearing, the commonwealth acknowledged that supply is a major constraint of the rollout, but said it is sufficient for Australians who are already eligible.

“But on current forecasts, we are looking … to ramp up availability of Pfizer through August into September and into October,” Frewen said.

While Australia had relied on AstraZeneca to be its main jab vaccinating the nation, officials admitted they have been facing difficulties convincing people to take the second dose as the reputation of the jab is being tarnished for its link to rare blot clotting syndrome.

Dr Christopher Blyth from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation said there had been 60 cases suffering clotting issues from 4 million AstraZeneca vaccines administered, including two deaths.

That means one-in-2-million chance of death is linked to the jab in Australia.

Dr Blyth said some of those 60 people had experienced harmful side effect and he saw “those harms” to be “as important as deaths” in decision making.

Despite reports from GPs showing a surge in the number of patients cancelling their second Astra Zeneca dose, Chief Health Officer Paul Kelly said that most people “are going to get the second dose”.

Health Department Secretary Brendan Murphy said it was too early to say whether the new advice on AstraZeneca being limited to over-60s would hinder the vaccination process but confirmed that the blood clotting risk following a second dose was “minuscule”.

But GPs say statistics aren’t enough to allay public fears.

“All across the country people are cancelling appointments or asking about whether they should even have their second dose,” says Dr Karen Price, president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.

“It has definitely put a big barrier on the vaccine rollout,” she told the BBC.

“What we really need is an easy-to-understand national advert campaign, where the message doesn’t necessarily come from authorities but people that other people can relate to,” says Dr Price.

To date, 48 per cent of the country’s over-50s had received a first jab, while 65 percent of over 70s had their initial shot, and one in four of people aged over 16 had.

More than 723,440 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered across the country in the past week, taking the total delivered to more than 6.59 million, said Commodore Eric Young from the federal Health Department.

By the end of July, all 136 commonwealth vaccination clinics, 40 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services and 1,300 GPs will be administering Pfizer.

Many more primary care providers will be offered the chance to administer mRNA vaccines as the supply of Pfizer significantly increases and the first supplies of Moderna arrive in September/October.

Nina Nguyen
Nina Nguyen