Australia held a national cabinet meeting on Friday to launch a new COVID-19 vaccine after a sudden change in policy and recommending that people under the age of 50 take Pfizer and not AstraZeneca vaccines because of the risk of blood clots.
The move sees Australia joining countries around the world setting limits on one of the most accessible anti-coronavirus vaccines due to concerns about links to rare blood clots. Australia will now demand tens of millions of volumes of Pfizer’s product.
Australian vaccination programs for 25 million people by the end of October will be postponed, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Thursday.
“Today we have to deal with what is affecting the changing situation,” Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly.
“There is nothing left on the table. We continue to discuss many vaccines (handicrafts) around the world, especially those who have completed their trials,” Kelly said.
Australian authorities have changed their minds after European authorities reiterated that there may be links between AstraZeneca’s gun and blood clots. More than a dozen countries have suspended the use of the drug at one time, but most of it has resumed, with some, including France, the Netherlands and Germany, recommending a lower age.
Australia has ordered 20 million doses of Pfizer vaccine, enough for 10 million people, but it has been banked on AstraZeneca’s product in bulk and biopharma CSL Ltd with a contract to make 50 million doses in the country.
Pfizer remains committed to providing all 20 million volumes by the end of 2021 and Australians are already talking to the company about implementing its plan, Kelly said.
AstraZeneca in a statement said it respected Australia’s decision and worked with regulators around the world to “understand individual cases, infectious diseases and ways to explain these rare cases”.
CSL said it was still committed to meeting its contract plans with Australia and AstraZeneca to make the vaccine “extremely important in protecting our most vulnerable people”.
In addition to AstraZeneca and Pfizer’s contracts, Australia has ordered a total of 51 million doses of vaccine tested by a U.S. pharmaceutical company. Novavax Inc, but local authorities say they do not expect to approve the product until the end of 2021.
Australia has also begun to grow a home-grown choice – in contrast to the local production of a product made across AstraZeneca – and the University of Queensland is testing its vaccine. That experiment was released in December when the product was linked to false positives in HIV testing.
After stating that Australia had 150 million vaccinations in a row, enough for a number of people, the government said in January that it planned to have four million vaccines by the end of March, and then by then 600,000 by then.
“The people of Australia will never forget who is responsible for failing to deliver on his promises and commitments,” opposition leader Anthony Albanese told reporters on Friday.
“They should have heeded the expert advice given to the government, and to all governments, about not putting all our eggs in one basket.”
Health Minister Greg Hunt told Sky News that the government had deliberately publicized its discovery of a number of vaccines that were being developed because of a rare form of coronavirus.
“No one knows which vaccines will be effective,” he said.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who this week agreed to allow out-of-state visits by tourists from neighboring Australia, said the country was still testing the AstraZeneca vaccine, without specifying whether Australia’s decision would affect it.
The Pfizer vaccine is the only vaccine approved by New Zealand, which claims to adequately order its population of five million.
Australia has started a vaccine later than other countries due to its small number of infections, just under 29,400, and 909 deaths, since the outbreak began.