Victoria’s deputy chief health officer has conceded he “does not know” when more coronavirus vaccines will arrive in Australia.
It comes after Italy blocked the export of a shipment of 250,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia overnight, with the European Commission backing the controversial move.
It follows a stoush between the European Union and AstraZeneca, where the vaccine producer failed to meet the production targets set out in its contract.
Professor Allen Cheng said the move “reinforces how lucky we are to have local production of it”, but could not foresee when more vaccines would be rolled out.
“We don’t know,” he told 3AW on Friday morning.
“I understand we do have a little bit of AstraZeneca onshore and that will be off to South Australia today.”
About 50 million doses of the vaccine are expected to be grown at a plant in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.
When asked why CSL’s Broadmeadows plant had not begun production, Professor Cheng also could not shed any details.
“I’m not exactly sure. I do understand they have to go through some regulatory processes,” he said.
“I suspect there is stuff sitting there, but it obviously has to get tested and go through checks before they can release it.”
Professor Cheng received the first jab this morning – the Pfizer vaccine.
He said Australians who weren’t frontline workers were destined to receive the vaccine in phase two of the rollout in the “middle of the year”.
“We have more vaccines than our capacity to deliver at the moment. There’s vaccines, there’s vaccinators and there’s people who receive vaccines and they all have to line up,” he said.
Victoria recorded no new coronavirus cases for a seventh consecutive day on Friday.
A total of 19,846 tests were returned.
ITALY’S VACCINE MOVE ‘DESPERATE’
Italy’s decision to block a shipment of the AstraZeneca vaccine is a sign of “desperation” as Europe grapples a devastating COVID-19 outbreak, the Finance Minister says.
Rome refused to ship about 250,000 doses of the jab to Australia on Thursday evening, listing Australia as “not vulnerable” amid ongoing vaccine shortage across the European Union (EU).
The bloc has vaccinated under 10 per cent of its citizens, despite suffering nearly 550,000 fatalities since the pandemic began.
And with just under 100,000 of those deaths reported in Italy, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said the move was a “reminder of the desperation that exists” elsewhere.
“We’re in a good position when it comes to COVID transmission compared with the rest of the world, with the country now recording remarkably low incidences, in fact no incidences, in recent times,” he told Sky News.
“This is a demonstration of really how well Australia continues to do, compared with the desperation of other countries.”
And with 50 million AstraZeneca doses to be manufactured onshore, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said “good governance” had diversified Australia’s vaccine portfolio to ensure supply.
“(It) was great prudence in us sourcing a number of vaccines but also starting domestic production as well,” he told Today.
“This 250,000 dose issue is not going to affect the rollout.
“The way in which (Health Minister) Greg Hunt has devised this plan which includes domestic production, really gives us assurance around supply.”
It comes with Australia’s AstraZeneca rollout to begin today, with South Australian residents to become immunised.
Labor has criticised the lag time between the Therapeutic Goods Administration approving the Pfizer vaccine in January, and its rollout the following month.
Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles said the government would struggle to vaccinate 4 million people by the end of the month as promised.
“We are far from leading the world in terms of vaccinating our population, but (it’s) good news to hear from Peter this won’t stall the rollout,” he told Today.
About 300,000 doses of the vaccine, produced in Europe, landed in Australia on Sunday.
In January, the European Union implemented rules allowing member states to block the shipment of vaccines produced in their territory.
Italy’s move on Thursday was the first time the rules were invoked.
The country’s new Prime Minister Mario Draghi has repeatedly voiced his preference for the EU to be prioritised when meting out vaccines made within the bloc.
The European Commission retained the power to reject Rome’s move, but approved it.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is packaged in Italy.
EU ambassador to Australia Michael Pulch claimed the rules were not targeted at Canberra, which could “rely” on the bloc.
But he refused to guarantee Australia would not be caught up in brawls between European member states and drug manufacturers.
“The mechanism that we introduced … is one of these rules that you introduce in order not to use them,” he said.
“It is temporary, it ends at the end of March. So it really addresses a specific situation at this point in time.”