Australian officials are insisting they won’t take “short cuts” on the COVID-19 vaccine as pressure mounts to roll out the vaccine as soon as possible.
Hospitals in the United Kingdom have started offering the vaccine today after the UK government approved the COVID-19 jab.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese has urged the Morrison Government to reconsider the timeline for the COVID-19 vaccine as fresh outbreaks in NSW and Victoria prompt border closures and summer holiday chaos.
But Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly insisted today that safety must be paramount as officials observe the rollout in the United Kingdom and the United States and learn the lessons of any potential adverse reactions or logistic issues.
“We have zero people in intensive care and no-one, of course, therefore on ventilation. That is, again, a major difference between us and the rest of the world,’’ he said.
“There has been a lot of discussion, as they should be, around the vaccination policy and strategy here in Australia compared to other countries.
“The approvals will happen when all the information we need to make those approvals is available, and that will be fast tracked as much as possible but no shortcuts will be made.”
Professor Kelly stressed that even if the vaccine is approved in January, it might not be rolled out until late March. After it’s imported, further tests will need to be conducted.
“The safety check has to be there before anyone gets this vaccine in Australia,’’ Professor Kelly said.
“Then we will be starting, so we have said all along that by the end of March we will have a vaccines here in Australia, if some of these things end up being a bit earlier that will be great but we are not promising anything there, we need to get through all of those processes that need to happen.”
Labor leader Anthony Albanese has urged the Morrison Government to reconsider the vaccine timetable for Australia.
Rubbishing the Prime Minister’s claim that his vaccine strategy puts Australia at the “front of the queue” Mr Albanese said the current time frame wasn’t fast enough.
“Well, quite clearly, we’re not at the front of the queue,’’ Mr Albanese said.
“The fact is that it makes no sense for the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) to have recommended, as it is likely to do, in January, the approval of the Pfizer vaccine, but then for the rollout to not occur until March.
“What we know is that Australia is not at the front of the queue. We have never been at the front of the queue. No-one is calling for a shortcutting of that process. What we are saying, though, is that if you have confidence in the TGA processes, once it’s approved it should be rolled out.”
Asked why the vaccine cannot be rolled out as soon as it’s approved by the TGA, Professor Kelly said it would be rolled out as quickly as it was safe to do so.
“We will be making more announcements about that process, and we’re just being cautious in terms of the late March, time late at this stage. Hoping that it may be shorter than that, but at this stage we are being upfront that that is our plan for the end of March to be a time when we started,’’ he said.
Officials are particularly concerned about the impact of families travelling across state borders and attending large family gatherings.
“We are always new from the beginning of this that a respiratory virus does generally spread with people, so where people are more mobile and gathering together, and that is the way that the virus is spread that is the typical way that things happen in summer in Australia, Christmas gatherings and so forth, as it is playing out in the Victorian outbreak in relation to that Black Rock restaurant,’’ he said.
“Most of the secondary cases have been in Christmas gatherings, people coming together in their own homes. That is why we, and also the Victorian and New South Wales Health authorities in particular, have been making those pleas about gatherings in private homes as well as other venues, and indeed making adjustments to the public health orders in relation to that. It is a risk.”
The call for a faster rollout of the vaccine comes as businesses relying on JobKeeper to pay workers’ wages face a cut of $ 100 a week for every eligible worker from today.
This means some workers face a reduction in pay as the changes kick in from Monday, January 4.
The payment was originally devised at the beginning of the pandemic as thousands of businesses including cafes, restaurants and childcare centres closed their doors or scaled down services.
“There are millions of Australians who continue to do it tough. And at the very time that restrictions are going up, and therefore economic activity going down, the Government support goes down today,’’ Mr Albanese said.
“This is a premature withdrawal of support. Just as the cutting of JobSeeker payments to those who are unemployed was premature when it occurred three days ago. The Government can’t have it both ways. They want to say that the economy is doing it incredibly well, but at the same time they say that we can make these cuts when restrictions are coming in.”