Australia’s drug regulator has given Pfizer vaccines the green light to be stored at freezer temperatures.
The development will make storage and distribution of the COVID-19 jabs more flexible, with Australia doubling its order to 40 million doses.
A second case of rare blood clotting has also been detected in a woman aged in her 40s, after health advise was updated last week to no longer recommend the AstraZeneca vaccine for people aged under 50.
Previously, Pfizer’s world-first messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccine needed to be kept at -70C.
This was achieved using “sophisticated eskies” containing dry ice that lasts for 14 days.
But Therapeutic Goods Administration deputy secretary Professor John Skerritt said it had approved for the Pfizer vaccine to be stored for up to two weeks in normal freezer temperatures.
“It doesn’t mean you can spend its whole time in Australia, it still requires that ultra cold storage,” Prof Skerritt said.
“But it does mean a shipment could be made from Sydney to Broken Hill, or other places like that, at normal freezer temperatures.
“We also approved shorter periods of time but acceptable periods of time at refrigerator temperatures.
“The good news is we have more flexibility than we thought we had in how it can be stored and transported.”
A second case of rare blood clotting in a person who has received the AstraZeneca vaccine has been detected in Australia.
Health experts are investigating the case involving a woman aged in her 40s, who was vaccinated in Western Australia.
Prof Skerritt said the woman was in a stable condition.
“We have a second case of this syndrome that we call thrombosis clotting, a short and low level of platelets that is unusual,” Prof Skerritt said.
“That means that two from 700,000, one in 350,000.
“Your chances of winning Lotto a much higher.”
Australia has also recorded its 910th COVID-19 related death, the first since October last year.
An 80-year-old man who tested positive for COVID-19 on day five of hotel quarantine in Queensland was transferred to the Prince Charles Hospital on March 25 for treatment but died this month.
“Each life lost is a reminder of the global challenge,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
More than 1.2 million vaccines have now been administered across Australia.
Mr Hunt revealed on Monday the Commonwealth would not buy the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for the national rollout because it was the same type of vaccine as the AstraZeneca.
Australia is also awaiting trials of the Novavax vaccine – which it has a supply agreement for – with data expected to be available in June.
“Subject to clinical trials and regulatory approval they are looking at a third-quarter commencement in Australia,” Mr Hunt said.
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Earlier on Tuesday, Opposition leader Anthony Albanese attacked Scott Morrison for going on Facebook to talk about the vaccines after telling Australians not to get their advice from the platform.
“Scott Morrison had one job, which was to get the rollout of the vaccine right, and it is a shambles,” Mr Albanese said.
“Now he is saying that they won’t even have a timeline or a target for when people will be vaccinated.
“The fact that there’s no timeline being given by Scott Morrison just shows an absolute failure when it comes to delivery.”
Concerns have been raised about that Australia’s vaccine setback will affect the reopening of the international border.
But Mr Hunt said this was an issue he’d been discussing with Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy.
“Vaccination alone is no guarantee that you can open up,” Mr Hunt said.
“If the whole country was vaccinated, you couldn’t just open the borders, we still have to look at a series of different factors.”