The Health Minister has played down concerns over the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine after South Africa temporarily halted its rollout of the jab.
AstraZeneca revealed on Sunday that data from an early trial showed its vaccine could prevent serious illness brought on by the South African COVID-19 variant but offered “minimal protection” against mild illness.
South Africa had planned to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to frontline workers soon but will offer them doses of the Pfizer jab following the result.
But Australia’s federal Health Minister Greg Hunt insisted he had no concerns over the jab’s effectiveness, saying the data showed it effectively prevented death.
“In terms of particular variants (from) particular countries, the world is learning about those with all vaccines,” he told 2GB Radio on Monday.
“But all up, what we’re seeing are very significant results from the vaccines that have been approved.
“(It provides) up to 100 per cent protection on the early data we’ve seen in the clinical trial results for serious illness and hospitalisation.
“So that’s the critical thing and that’s the protection. Ultimately, this is about saving lives and protecting lives.”
Modifications were being made to cope with the South African strain, and AstraZeneca expected an updated vaccine to be available by the end of the year.
The highly infectious strain has sparked alarm among global health experts and is one of three – along with ones from the UK and Brazil – that could become the dominant variant of COVID-19.
But the study has not yet been peer reviewed and, with an average participant age of 31, offered limited insight into how the jab would protect older patients.
Mr Hunt confirmed the development had not altered Australia’s rollout plan, which he expected to be complete by the end of October.
The first Pfizer vaccines will administered in late February.
Australia also has an order for 53 million AstraZeneca doses, almost all to be produced onshore.
“I was also in contact with AstraZeneca on the weekend, indeed their Australian and global heads, and they remain on track for early March,” he said.
It comes as mandatory training on properly administering COVID-19 vaccine becomes available to healthcare workers from Monday.
The federal government has partnered with the Australian College of Nursing to develop training modules for all COVID-19 vaccine providers.
Health providers in hospitals will be the first group to receive training, which was prompted by fears improper practices could spark high levels of vaccine wastage during the rollout.
“That will help make sure that we‘ve got training on the vaccine administration and vaccine handling storage, those elements which are part and parcel of inoculating a population,” Mr Hunt said.
He confirmed a database listing adverse effects to the vaccines would be made public on a Therapeutic Goods Administration database.