CMO Paul Kelly says vaccine hesitancy levels are ‘concerning’

Figures showing more than a quarter of Australians will delay receiving a COVID-19 vaccine just a week before the country’s rollout are “concerning”, according to the nation’s chief medical officer.

A Department of Health survey shows less that half of Australians are prepared to receive the vaccine as soon as it becomes available, though 71 per cent plan to get immunised by October.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) granted AstraZeneca vaccine approval for use in Australia on Tuesday after approving the Pfizer jab last month.

But chief medical officer Paul Kelly conceded the level of vaccine hesitancy was “concerning” just a week before the first Pfizer vaccines were administered in Australia.

“That demonstrates we need to continue to stress the vaccine as being safe and effective,” he said on Wednesday.

RELATED: Coronavirus Australia: Elderly urged to receive AstraZeneca jab as TGA plays down fears

“The great news yesterday was that we now have a second vaccine that has had the full approval from the TGA.

“Please, when your turn comes, line up and get it. These vaccines will save lives.”

The survey shows 27 per cent of Australians would delay receiving the jab, while a further 9 per cent would refuse to get immunised altogether.

The largest factors motivating against the vaccine are fears of unknown side effects and that it has been developed too quickly and concerns over allergic reactions.

Professor Kelly conceded the 9 per cent would be “difficult to shift” and the number of Australians prepared to wait for the vaccine was “higher than we’ve seen before”.

But he said a sharp drop in hospitalisations across the UK, where both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines have been administered, showed Australians’ hesitancy would be assuaged.

“It will be a challenge to get high rates of vaccination, but I am very confident that Australians will see the effect of this vaccine,” he said.

The first Pfizer vaccines are set to be administered next week after a shipment of the jab landed in Australia on Monday.

The rollout will begin with the most vulnerable, including the elderly and frontline workers.

The bulk of Australians will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, with 3.8 million doses to arrive from overseas before another 50 million are produced onshore.

Concerns have been raised over the jab’s effectiveness against COVID-19 strains emanating from South Africa, Brazil, and the UK.

Recent studies show the vaccine has an 82 per cent efficacy when administered in two doses spaced 12 weeks apart, as recommended by the TGA.

Professor Kelly confirmed that figure was an average from a study that included the three variants and showed it was 100 per cent effective against severe symptoms, illness, and death.

“More important, we know that for the AstraZeneca vaccine … the severe end of the spectrum is not affected … That includes in the variants of concern,” he said.

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