Australians aged 18 and above can get the AstraZeneca vaccine, but a senior minister has denied an oversupply has forced the government’s hand.
The Health Minister has denied an oversupply of AstraZeneca has forced the government’s hand, with younger Australians now eligible to receive the jab after consulting with their doctor.
Greg Hunt has also urged states to maintain their quarantine intake, after Queensland and Victoria pushed to slash the number of international arrivals allowed into the country.
The federal government had intended for AstraZeneca to make up the bulk of its vaccine rollout, signing a deal to have around 50m doses produced onshore.
That plan was thrown into chaos by medical advice warning against the use of AstraZeneca in people aged under 60 where possible, though the government confirmed on Monday younger Australians would be able to receive the jab after consulting with their GP.
With just seven per cent of the population fully vaccinated, Mr Hunt denied an oversupply of AstraZeneca, and an undersupply of Pfizer, had forced the government’s hand.
“What we’ve done is ensure that we have very significant supplies of domestically made vaccine, sovereign vaccine manufacturing here in Australia,” he said.
“In terms of the Pfizer, we’re doubling the number of doses that are arriving in Australia on a weekly basis over the course of July.”
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) this month recommended the AstraZeneca jab only be administered to people aged over 60, up from 50, over its link to a rare but deadly form of blood clotting.
The federal government announced on Monday a new indemnity scheme, allowing GPs to administer the vaccine to anyone aged over 18 without the threat of legal action.
But Mr Hunt on Tuesday played down suggestions the government had dramatically shifted its strategy, insisting the medical advice “has not changed”.
“There’s simply a recognition that the access for those who wish to make an informed, consent decision can be broad and consistent with the supply,” he said.
The Health Minister was also pressed on demands from Queensland and Victoria to slash the number of international arrivals, as every jurisdiction across the country imposed some form of Covid-19 restrictions.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on Tuesday called for international arrival numbers to be dramatically cut until a “critical mass” of Australians had received the Covid-19 vaccine, in a bid to prevent leakages from hotel quarantine.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk publicly backed the call just hours later, saying the pair had raised reducing intake at national cabinet on Monday evening.
“Hotel quarantine is just not the answer. We need a massive reduction in overseas arrivals because the overseas arrivals are bringing in these contagious strains,” she told reporters on Tuesday.
“We are having lockdowns in major cities because the overseas arrivals are bringing the virus here. They are going into hotels and all of our staff are having to deal with it.”
Mr Hunt did not answer when pressed on whether the Commonwealth would attempt to block the move, but said stronger testing and tracing mitigated the risk.
He noted NSW had made no noises about slashing arrivals despite the state being in the grip of a serious outbreak.
“We would encourage every state and territory to help bring home as many Australians as possible, to bring families back together, to allow people to come home,” he said.
“We recognise and respect their decisions ultimately, but NSW has done the heavy lifting on behalf of the nation. They’re continuing to do that.
“We know that we can bring home Australians (and) we should bring home Australians.”