Scott Morrison has dropped a big clue as to where the next threat to Australia’s COVID-19 rollout could come from and it’s not just down to Europe hoarding supplies.
The Prime Minister has moved to reassure Australians that the best weapon the nation has to deliver vaccines to the masses is the decision to develop local production at CSL, conceding if he had not insisted on that there wouldn’t be a vaccine program.
But he’s warned there are still risks to that supply and one potential factor is any updated medical advice on vaccines. The only locally produced vaccine at this stage is the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“The other point that I’d make is this – there are still risks to that supply,’’ he said.
“Those risks occur in one of two ways. Obviously, what we’ve seen in terms of import restrictions and those that we’re bringing in.
“But even domestic production – there can be impacts on domestic production. There is always the conditioning factor right across the vaccination rollout of the medical advice and the development of medical evidence that can in any way affect any of the vaccines.
“And so, there are no absolute guarantees when it comes to this. We will follow the medical advice. We will continue to ramp up production here in Australia. And we will continue to move through the distribution channels that can deliver the supply of vaccines that we have.”
Overnight, a senior official at the European Medicines Agency confirmed a link between the jab and rare blood clots, and said a more definitive statement would be made this week.
Dozens of cases of clotting have been reported worldwide since the vaccine was rolled out. Seven people have died from blood clot complications in the UK, as well as two in Norway and one in Denmark.
Oxford University has now halted its trials of the AstraZeneca vaccine on children and teenagers while the regulator in the UK urgently investigates the blood clot risk.
The AstraZeneca shot is Australia’s main vaccine, comprising almost all of the doses purchased by the Federal Government – 50 million of which will be produced locally by CSL.
Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said that while the blood clot cases were extremely rare, Australian officials were working closely with overseas counterparts to assess the risks.
“I just want to mention the issue in relation to vaccine safety,” Professor Murphy said.
“There has been some attention related to this issue with clots potentially associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine, and clearly there’s been the reports of a possible case in Australia.
“One case is not a strong signal, but we are working very closely with our counterparts in UK who have now done well over 18 million doses of this vaccine, and in Europe that have done many millions, to look at the data that they’re getting from their signals and their regulatory bodies and their vaccine advisory committees, and that’s what’s going to give us the true picture of whether this is a real problem and whether it has any significance.
“So our expert advisory panels, the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration), ATAGI (Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation), are meeting regularly this week. We’re having joint meetings with the Europeans and with the UK regulators and we are taking this matter very seriously at the moment. Our regulator and our ATAGI are advising we continue with our program, that the benefit of vaccination outweighs any potential risk. But we are continually reviewing the situation.”
It comes after a war of words erupted overnight between Australia and Europe over COVID-19 vaccines, with the PM saying millions of vaccine doses ordered by Australia simply “did not turn up”.
“Three-point-one million of the contracted vaccines that we had been relying upon in early January when we’d set out a series of targets did not turn up in Australia,” Mr Morrison said.
“That is just a simple fact. It’s straightforward maths – 3.1 million out of 3.8 million doses did not come to Australia.
“That obviously had a very significant impact on the early rollout of the vaccination program until we got into a position when the domestically produced AstraZeneca vaccine would be in place.”
The Morrison Government has sought to blame the European Commission for a shortfall in Australia of millions of vaccines as criticism mounts over the speed of the rollout at home but the PM diplomatically insisted at his press conference he had not directly criticised Europe.
This was despite a government spokesman accusing Europe of “playing semantics” over claims it had not blocked vaccines.
Back in January, the PM predicted that four million Australians would be vaccinated by the end of March, but two months later only about 855,000 people have received the jab as of April 5.