Stop hoarding vaccines: How 10m Aussies can get jabs
Exclusive: Australia should stop hoarding AstraZeneca vaccines for second doses and instead use every dose available to speed up the rollout, experts are urging.
Unless we do this, they say it will be almost impossible to vaccinate 20 million people by October with only 14 million likely to be vaccinated at current rates of 80,000 vaccines per day.
Pursuing the UK strategy of using every vaccine to hand - and giving every person a single dose - could see nearly 10 million Australians jabbed within three months.
"For the Pfizer vaccine it is a good idea to keep back second doses which need to be delivered within a month but for AstraZeneca there is a three month gap and keeping doses back for three months doesn't make sense," University Sydney vaccine expert Professor Robert Booy said.
Using all the doses available would "take the pressure off" the vaccine rollout which is running behind schedule, Deakin University epidemiologist Professor Catherine Bennett said.
New evidence shows a single dose of AstraZeneca's vaccine is 94 per cent effective at reducing hospitalisations from COVID-19, four weeks after it is administered.
And within three months the Australian-based CSL production of the AstraZeneca jab is likely to have ramped up sufficiently to provide for second doses anyway, the experts said.
Yet Health department Chief Professor Brendan Murphy repeatedly told Senate Estimates "our plan was always to administer according to vaccine availability, keeping back second doses and contingency".
The strategy change is one of a number experts have suggested that could help speed up the vaccine rollout which is millions of doses behind targets.
Former Health Department chief Professor Stephen Duckett said it was vital we used all available vaccines to protect quarantine workers and those treating patients with COVID before inoculating anyone else because they were the most likely to catch and transmit the virus.
Professor Duckett, Professor Booy and Professor Bennett all backed opening mass vaccination centres.
"We have to be going with mass vaccination centres, that's what they've done in England and in the States where last week they got 4 million people a day vaccinated, and England a million a day," Professor Duckett said.
They also called on the government to do more to purchase other types of vaccines.
Professor Booy said the government should investigate getting CSL to also produce the Janssen vaccine which has a similar production method to the AstraZeneca shot, needed only one dose and was more effective against new virus variants.
The US will go from vaccine shortage to oversupply in the next few months and Australian officials "should start thinking about whether we can source more from them once they hit a situation of oversupply," former health department chief Jane Halton said.
Monash University's Professor Colin Pouton who is developing an mRNA vaccine against COVID-19 said the government should provide the money to fast track a factory that could make mRNA vaccines.
It is much faster to produce mRNA vaccines and these will be needed to cope with COVID-19 variants in future years, he said.
"It is definitely the case that mRNA will be a very important part of that future, so we should be thinking in terms of our health security, whether that's the kind of infrastructure that we should be actually having onshore," Ms Halton said.
Royal Australian College of General practitioners president Dr Karen Price said the government needed to improve the ordering and distribution system for the vaccines.
Some GPs have missed out on supplies because of cut offs in the ordering system in other cases the deliveries have occurred without notice and after hours, she said.
WHAT THE GOVERNMENT CAN DO TO SPEED UP THE ROLLOUT
*Stop hoarding vaccines for a second dose and give more people a first dose. Pursuing the UK strategy of using every vaccine to hand and giving every person a single dose could see nearly 10 million Australians jabbed within three months.
*Use all available doses now to vaccinate all hotel quarantine workers and frontline medicos immediately because they are the most likely to catch and spread the virus. It does not make sense to be vaccinating the elderly and others in phase 2 of the rollout before everyone on the frontline has received their dose first.
*Open up mass vaccination centres. The US is managing to vaccinate 4 million people a day using mass vaccination clinics, Israel successfully used the strategy to quickly immunise 58 per cent of its population.
*Buy more vaccines. For example, the US has stockpile of unused AstraZeneca jabs; purchase Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines, consider asking CSL to make the Johnson and Johnson jab which uses a similar production method as the AstraZeneca shot it is already making.
*Improve vaccine ordering and delivery system for GPs. Doctors have to order vaccines two weeks ahead and if they miss the cut off they can't make appointments for weeks. Better communication is needed about when vaccine deliveries will reach clinics, many come after hours when no-one is there.
*Provide funding now to start building an mRNA vaccination manufacturing plant in Australia so we can quickly make vaccines against emerging variants. It will take 1-2 years to get such a project off the ground we need to prepare now.
Originally published as Stop hoarding vaccines: How 10m Aussies can get jabs