Daily vaccination rates will likely drop as people make “informed decisions” and alter their appointments in the wake of new advice on the AstraZeneca vaccine, authorities concede.
The government has moved to head off vaccine hesitancy after the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) advised against the AstraZeneca vaccine being administered to people under 60 over its links to blood clotting.
Covid-19 Task Force commander Lieutenant General Frewen accepted the daily vaccination rate would drop in light of the announcement, but played down the chances of a long-term impact.
“We will see a likely temporary reduction in daily vaccination rates, as people make informed decisions around what they want to do,” he told reporters on Friday.
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“They then change their bookings and they then get access to a Pfizer provision point. But this potential reduction should be short-term, and then we would see a return to the more regular daily vaccination rates.”
He remained confident all Australians would be offered a vaccine dose by the end of the year, saying there were “sufficient Pfizer stocks” to adjust to the expanded demand.
“What we need from the Australian public is some patience, particularly in the 50-to-59 cohort, across the next couple of weeks as we get the bookings in place and we get those additional points of Pfizer availability in place,” he said.
Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed a new bulk-billed Medicare item had been authorised for people aged over 50, allowing for general practice consultation, costing $38.75.
“(The) goal is very simple, and that is to ensure that everybody in the 50-60 category comes forward to have their second dose, and those that haven’t had a first dose come forward over the coming weeks and months to have a first dose,” he said.
Federal authorities will meet with state and territory leaders for talks over the recalibrated rollout, at an urgent national cabinet on Monday.
Mr Hunt praised the states for fast action shifting from AstraZeneca, initially set to make up the bulk of the national rollout, to Pfizer.
He revealed WA had already turned its Pfizer attention from the 30-39 age bracket to 50-59, opening up another 42,000 places over the next six weeks.
“Both the premier and deputy premier are in that category of people who have had a first dose of AstraZeneca but not their second yet,” he said.
“They reaffirmed that when their time comes to be vaccinated, they’ll be stepping up to have that second dose.”
The comments were a direct plea to the 815,000 Australians aged 50-59 who had received their first AstraZeneca dose, but were still waiting on their second.
That group will not be offered Pfizer as their second dose, with chief nursing and midwifery officer Alison McMillan warning the “the evidence is very low at this point in time on the efficacy” of mixing vaccines.
Authorities said the threat of blood clotting was significantly smaller after the second AstraZeneca dose, but Thursday’s development had sparked alarm over hesitancy.
Dr McMillan reiterated the fatality rate among over-60s who contracted the virus was 14 per cent.
“It’s a really important message: this vaccine will protect you from this virus, but you do need to get the vaccine. If you’ve had your first dose of AstraZeneca, please don’t hesitate to get your second dose,” she said.