Scott Morrison has slammed Anthony Albanese’s call to fast-track the COVID-19 vaccine as “very dangerous”, warning Australians don’t want the jabs rolled out “willy nilly” before imported batches are tested.
The Prime Minister has issued a detailed explanation this morning of the vaccine timetable, insisting that we have “choices” that the United Kingdom doesn’t have.
The UK is rapidly rolling out the jabs as an emergency response to the devastation of some 58,000 coronavirus daily cases. Britain today entered a snap six-week national lockdown.
The current timetable for Australians to receive the vaccine is from late March onwards, despite the fact that the vaccine could be approved and imported several weeks earlier.
Mr Morrison told 3AW this morning that even after the vaccine is approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, Australia still needs to complete a fortnight of “batch tests” to check dosages and adverse reactions.
“Those processes don’t just end when the TGA approves the vaccine. You then need to go and test the batches that are coming in that will be administered across the country,’’ the PM said.
“And so, these suggestions that I’ve heard about trying to rush the process I think can be very dangerous. We should let the health officials do their jobs here.
“I mean, I don’t think Australians would want us to just willy nilly to be sending out vials of vaccine that haven’t had their batches tested which is the normal process.”
Labor is calling for the process to be rolled out faster as modest outbreaks in NSW and Victoria spark border chaos and leave thousands locked out of their home state.
But the PM said there’s no need to take “unnecessary risks” given Australia has largely got the COVID-19 situation under control.
“There were 58,000 cases in the UK the other day. If you look at the UK, they are in the early stages of that and they have had quite a few problems,’’ he said.
“They are doing it on an emergency basis, they are not testing batches of vaccines before they are disseminated across the population, is my understanding. They are the processes that we have in Australia.
“Now, we have our scheduled timetable. We are moving this as swiftly as it safely can be done.”
In a later interview on 2GB, the PM also said Mr Albanese’s views were “misinformed” and claimed the Opposition knocked back an offer of a briefing on the vaccination strategy.
Mr Morrison also said Labor’s health spokesman Chris Bown hadn’t attended a COVID-19 briefing since November.
Rubbishing the Prime Minister’s claim that his vaccine strategy puts Australia at the “front of the queue” Mr Albanese said this week the rollout wasn’t happening 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.”
Hospitals in the United Kingdom have started offering the vaccine after the UK government approved the COVID-19 jab and thousands of citizens have been vaccinated in Israel.
But Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly insisted on Monday 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.
His warning was echoed overnight by Victoria’s deputy chief medical officer Allen Cheng who is also intimately involved in the vaccine rollout as the chair of the Advisory Committee for Vaccines.
“An example of side effects only picked up later are the cases of anaphylaxis that have been reported in the UK and the US,’’ he said.
“We want to know that there is the correct amount of vaccine in each dose. We want to know they are free from contamination. That there are no differences between different batches or those made in different factories. We need to know the shelf life under different conditions.
“That’s not all – there are questions about toxicology of the vaccine or its components (such as the lipid layer used in mRNA vaccines, or adjuvants used in protein vaccines).
“Whether they can be used safely in pregnant or breastfeeding women. Whether they can be given with other vaccines such as the flu vaccine.
“For COVID vaccines, we have published papers that report that the vaccines appear to be effective and generally safe. Many people think that published papers are the gold standard in evidence, but they just scrape the surface of what we want to know.”