Health Minister Greg Hunt and his team moved quickly yesterday to obtain access to a further 20 million Pfizer Biontech doses for Australians. That brings the company's commitment to Australia to 40 million doses before the end of the year, enough to inoculate 20 million people. It means this country can draw upon a vast reservoir of 170 million doses of the Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and the, as yet to be approved, Novavax vaccines. The additional Pfizer doses are expected to start arriving around October.
The Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, said about four to six clotting events appeared to be occurring with every million doses of AstraZeneca administered. "It's only been found in the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, usually within four to 10 days after that vaccine," he said. "But it is serious and it can cause [an] up to 25 per cent death rate when it occurs."
That had led to ATAGI recommending the use of the Pfizer vaccine over the AstraZeneca vaccine in adults aged under 50 who had not already received the first dose of AstraZeneca. While Pfizer is not without issues of its own given 11.1 people per million have reportedly suffered an anaphylactic reaction, it is considered safer for the younger cohort in which the risk of clotting is highest.
Australia's decision to go with 50 as the minimum age for AstraZeneca is a cautious one based on our low rates of virus circulating in this country. In the United Kingdom, where the virus is actively spreading in the community, the risk of clotting versus the risk of dying from COVID-19 is a different equation, explaining that country's minimum age recommendation of only 30. While this latest development, in conjunction with well-documented vaccine shortages and delivery and local production delays, has trashed the original timelines, that does not mean the entire vaccination roll-out is in tatters.
The Phase 1a and Phase 1b cohorts who are currently being vaccinated are predominantly made up of over-50-year-olds. They include an estimated 190,000 aged and disability care residents, and almost three million ambulatory adults aged 70 and above. The Phase 2a cohort includes almost six million people aged between 50 and 69. It will be quite some time, at the current rate of vaccinations, before the inoculation of the Phase 2b cohort, the balance of the population aged between 18 and 49, begins. By the time that stage of the roll-out commences, with any luck additional Pfizer doses will have started to arrive and Novavax should have been approved.
In the meantime, Australia remains a good place to be. Not only is there no community transmission, there is also what Ms Halton described as the "fantastic luxury" of being able to go to the pub, to go out for a meal, and even to go to the football. Life here, even with these setbacks, is far closer to "normal" than what the vast majority of the global population is experiencing.