COVID-19

Australia won’t stop AstraZeneca rollout

Department of Health secretary Professor Brendan Murphy said local authorities were in touch with Europe and UK regulators about potential issues with AstraZeneca overseas. His comments came as a trial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in British children was paused while regulators investigate possible links to rare blood clots in adults.There was also confusion over whether the European Medicines Agency (EMA) had found a link between the vaccine and the clots, which have been associated with the deaths of seven vaccinated people in Britain.“We are very closely (working) with our counterparts in the UK … and in Europe … to look at the data they’re getting,” Professor Murphy said in Canberra today. He said it was unclear “whether it’s a real problem and whether it has any significance”. “We are taking this matter very seriously at the moment,” he said, adding that the AstraZeneca vaccine would continue to be given in Australia despite concerns overseas. It came as the Morrison government as put the European Commission on notice over the supply of millions of internationally manufactured vaccine doses.A war of words erupted overnight after the commission – the European Union’s executive branch – rejected claims it blocked 3.1 million AstraZeneca doses from being sent to Australia.The commissions’s chief spokesman, Eric Mamer, said he could not confirm any new decision to block vaccine exports.But Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 3.1 million doses had not come to Australia in January and February as per its contract with AstraZeneca.“That is just a simple fact,” Mr Morrison said today.The federal government argues that not responding to requests for vaccines or asking Australia to withdraw applications was the same as blocking them.Australia pre-purchased 3.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from overseas supplies.The government revealed only 700,000 had been delivered to date because the EU had not given AstraZeneca an export licence.The vaccine manufacturer in February made an application for 500,000 doses being manufactured in Italy.However, AstraZeneca was advised by the European Commission to withdraw their application and resubmit a revised application for 250,000 doses.COVID VICTIM NAMED The man who died in a Brisbane hospital from COVID-19 complications has been revealed as Mal Kela Smith, a respected former governor and businessman from Papua New Guinea. PNG Health Minister Jelta Wong confirmed that Mr Smith, 77, a former governor of the Eastern Highlands, had passed away in the Redcliffe hospital on Monday after he was evacuated from PNG on an emergency flight on March 28. Mr Wong told News Corp Australia that Mr Smith’s death was “a sad day for Papua New Guinea” and proved that COVID-19 “does not discriminate”. “Mal Kela Smith was an institution of Papua New Guinea,” Mr Wong told News Corp Australia.“He was one of the first to push into the aviation industry, he did a lot of work around the country but he ended up living in the Eastern Highlands.”Mr Wong said Mr Smith’s business, Pacific Helicopters, helped transport people living in rural areas to medical appointments. “He helped a lot of people through his business, his chopper business, in very rural areas – he used to be very good at bringing people out of remote areas to get hospital checks.” Mr Wong said Mr Smith, who was born in the UK, had been elected governor of the eastern highlands twice and served as chairman of the provincial hospital board. PNG officials are now in the process of repatriating the respected leader’s body back to the Eastern Highlands. PM DEFENDS VACCINE ROLLOUTPrime Minister Scott Morrison said supply of the COVID vaccine has been an issue in achieving Australia’s rollout plan, with millions of doses never arriving on our shores. “It is pure and simple. There were over three million doses from overseas that never came,” Mr Morrison said yesterday. “And that’s obviously resulted in an inability to get three million overdoses out and distributed through the network. “I think it is really important that these points are made very clearly when we are talking about the rollout of the vaccine.”Mr Morrison said there would have been “no way” a mass vaccination program could have been implemented but now, with local manufacturing by CSL in Melbourne, the vaccinations being produced are matching the distribution network.“You are assuming vaccines were here that were not here,” he said. “The vaccines that we have available to us are being distributed and they are being administered, and so you are suggesting that they would have been other vaccines that could have been used at a larger scale,” he added. Pharmacists were never meant to be involved in the rollout at this stage but GPs were.“Now, as CSL are ramping up their production and their systems are becoming even more efficient as they get into the rhythm of their production systems, there is also the approvals that they must follow once batches are produced,” Mr Morrison said. “That involves both AstraZeneca internationally, it involves the TGA batch testing as well. “I think it is very important that people understand the feel and finish process doesn’t involve the little while coming off the production line and then go straight to the courier and the GP or the hospital whether states may be administering doses — fill and finish. It is not how it works.”MORRISON’S APPROVAL DOWN: NEWSPOLL The Prime Minister’s approval rating has plummeted amid a war of words with premiers over the COVID vaccine rollout and sexual assault allegations involving parliament, a Newspoll has revealed. The Coalition has lost significant electoral ground across Western Australia and Queensland and is facing collapse in South Australia, The Australian reports. Demographic and state-based analysis of Newspoll data, The Australian reports, suggests the Coalition would need to restore support in the ­resource states to retain government.On a two-party-preferred basis, the Coalition now trails Labor 49-51 per cent averaged over the past four Newspolls compared with a lead of 51-49 in the December analysis.The analysis has also revealed that the Coalition has suffered a flight of male voters rather than ­female over the past three months, The Australian reports. It comes as Australia is falling well behind in the race to vaccinate its people against COVID-19, opposition health spokesman Mark Butler warns. Labor has ramped up its attack on the federal government’s vaccine rollout, saying protection against different variants is being put at risk if people have not even received a jab. More than 840,000 vaccines have been administered so far, with authorities forced to abandon their initial goal to inoculate four million Australians by the end of March due to supply shortages. “We are way behind schedule here and it’s becoming very serious,” Mr Butler said on Tuesday. “Although the Prime Minister said that this is not a race, it is a race.“There is a time imperative in getting vaccinations into people’s arms.”Mr Butler told ABC RN that the jabs were not only needed to build confidence and reopen the economy. “We need to get the current generation of vaccines into people before we have to consider the possibility of booster shots,” he said. “This virus is mutating. We’re seeing that with a range of different variants, now the dominant strains around the world.“If we don’t get out skates on, we’re not going to be ready for those booster shots.” Mr Butler has called on the commonwealth to agree to a push for large vaccination centres operated by state governments – something that is already earmarked for phase 2a of the vaccine rollout. He also wants pharmacists to be brought on before June to assist the rollout. “There is just not enough hands at the wheel,” Mr Butler said. Deputy chief medical officer Michael Kidd previously said the international approach of vaccinations at sporting stadiums and churches was not necessary.However, Professor Kidd on Tuesday said that was not being ruled out. “We’re working with the states and territories on the additional sites,” he told ABC Breakfast. “We’re told the Americans are delivering a million doses a day.“Population wise, we’re actually delivering the equivalent of more than that here in Australia, and it is continuing to rise.”The number of GP clinics offering vaccine services is due to double to 3000 by the end of this week. Professor Kidd said health experts were “very concerned” about international reports of blood clots following the AstraZeneca vaccine and had held talks with European and UK drug regulators. Australia is expected to receive more advice on Wednesday. But Professor Kidd said the benefits of the vaccine and its rollout “far outweighed the risks of this possible side effect”.State and territory leaders will on Friday meet for national cabinet, where the vaccine rollout will be discussed. Prime Minister Scott Morrison is understood to be supportive of daily vaccine data to be made public following calls from Queensland and NSW.Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles on Monday hit back at vaccine rollout criticism directed at the states, accusing the government of trying to distract from allegations of rape and sexual harassment at Parliament House. Former Labor leader Bill Shorten told Today that the Morrison government was “embarrassed” by the time it was taking to roll out the vaccine.“I also think that they have spent a lost time putting the boot into the Queensland government, and now the Queensland government returned fire and they don’t like it,” Mr Shorten said. “At the end of the day Steven Miles has got a truth in what he says.”Mr Shorten has called on the government to pay people penalties to work after hours and on weekends so vaccines can be administered around the clock. “It’s time to treat the vaccination as a national emergency,” he said. VACCINE ROLLOUT ‘A DISTRACTION FROM SCANDAL’Queensland’s deputy premier has accused Scott Morrison of using the vaccine rollout delay as a distraction from the “Brittany Higgins, rape and sexual harassment” scandal in Canberra.Steven Miles said the federal government’s recent criticism of the slow rollout of the vaccine has been fuelled by the criticism of the treatment of women at Parliament House.Mr Miles said he expected the Prime Minister would continue to highlight issues about the vaccine in the lead up to the national cabinet meeting on Friday.“There’s been a lot of issues around since the last national cabinet,” Mr Miles said.“No doubt the Prime Minister will continue to try to use the vaccine rollout and COVID more generally to distract from the government’s other problems.“That’s been a very orchestrated campaign to try to stop you all (the media) talking about Brittany Higgins and rape and sexual harassment and all of the things that have happened in Canberra.”Mr Miles criticised Defence Minister Peter Dutton’s comments claiming last week’s three-day lockdown of Brisbane was an over-reaction from Annastacia Palaszczuk.“They were in fact so eager to distract everybody from those topics that they put at risk confidence in their own vaccine rollout program that continued yesterday with Peter Dutton’s outrageous attack on our premier,” he said.“If Scott Morrison stays true to form, then I’d expect over the coming days they will continue to find lots of distractions so people are talking about that and not the treatment of women in Canberra.”Mr Miles said the proposed use of a quarantine facility to be built near the Wellcamp Airport in Toowoomba was a priority for the state government.National’s Deputy Leader David Littleproud defended the federal government’s approach to the vaccine rollout amid rising tensions with the states, saying there was always clarity about vaccine supply and that Australia has been “badly let down” by the EU.“It’s about being transparent and honest,” he told Nine’s Today show on Monday. “This is the biggest vaccination program our country has ever seen and it’s important we understand what’s happening with it. The arithmetic is simple on this. We are three million short because of the EU, who cut us short”.VACCINE ARMY ON THE WAY The number of medical clinics administering the COVID-19 vaccine will double this week, as the Morrison Government tries to speed up the program. Vaccinations are on track to top one million “within days”, The Australian reports.Health Minister Greg Hunt said there had been a record take-up last week with 79,283 immunisations on Thursday alone.Mr Hunt backed the NSW government’s announcement that it would establish 32 “super clinics” to boost vaccinations, after Canberra was criticised for missing the target of four million inoculations by the end of March. “We welcome all of the states and territories setting up large vaccination centres; that has always … been part of the plan and was included in the national partnership agreements as an option and NSW is now activating it,” Mr Hunt said. National Vaccine Rollout‘ENORMOUS PROGRESS’Australia marked Easter Sunday with no new locally acquired COVID cases, as the nation edged closer to one million people vaccinated since the vaccine rollout started.A record 79,000 vaccines were delivered across the country on Thursday before the Easter long weekend, federal health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed. He said 841,885 vaccinations have been administered across the country, including more than 111,000 in aged care homes.“We are making enormous progress on that, so that progress is very, very heartening,” Mr Hunt said.The state-by-state breakdown is: NSW (126,000 vaccinations); Victoria (116,000); Queensland (86,000); Western Australia (56,500); Tasmania (17,500); South Australia (28,700); the ACT (12,500) and the Northern Territory (8600).Mr Hunt said the vaccination program was on track to reach the target of one million Australians vaccinated this week, especially given the fact that the number of places offering vaccines would increase to 3000 by the end of this week.He welcomed the involvement of state governments and territories in delivering vaccination programs.“I thank all the Australians who have come forward and our GPs, states and territories and all those involved in the vaccinations,” Mr Hunt said.Mr Hunt said he expected the next phase of the vaccine rollout, known as 2A, would be on track to start in the middle of the year. The news came as Adelaide health authorities confirmed a man aged in his 40s, with a mutant strain of COVID contracted overseas, was in a critical condition.The man, who has the South African variant of the virus believed to be more contagious, has been admitted to the Royal Adelaide Hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU).It is the first time a COVID patient has been admitted to the hospital’s ICU since May last year.Australia has not recorded a COVID death since December, 2020.ASTRAZENECA VACCINE ROLLOUT TO CONTINUE Australia’s locally-made AstraZeneca vaccine rollout will continue as an investigation into the jab is under way after a Melbourne man went to hospital with blood clots.Acting Chief Medical Officer Professor Michael Kidd said the Therapeutic Goods Administration held a meeting with independent experts to look at the case. “Importantly, this review has determined that there is no evidence that improper storage or administration of the vaccine could be implicated in this, or other similar events,” he said.“While at this time, we don’t have evidence of causality, the clinical features of this case, are consistent with what we have seen in international reports of similar cases. “And it is likely that the case reported yesterday is related to the vaccine.“This would be consistent with international experience.”Prof Kidd said they would continue to consult with international regulatory agencies in coming days and there would be more information available Wednesday next week when members of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) meet again.It comes as seven people have died from unusual blood clots after getting the AstraZeneca vaccine in the UK.In total, 30 people out of 18 million vaccinated by March 24 have had these clots.It is still not clear if they are just a coincidence or a genuine side effect of the vaccine.“At the moment, we are working closely with the regulators in the European Union and the UK which other places where millions of doses the AstraZeneca vaccine have been administered and we are working in concert with them, looking at these cases and will provide further advice over the coming few days,” Prof Kidd said. The man who presented to Melbourne’s Box Hill Hospital on Good Friday with fever and abdominal pain received his AstraZeneca vaccine dose on March 22.He was found to have abdominal clots with a very low platelet count when he arrived at hospital.Prof Kidd echoed the same view as experts from the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which has stated the benefits of the vaccine continue to outweigh any risk.Dr June Raine, the chief executive of the MHRA, said: “The benefits … in preventing COVID-19 infection and its complications continue to outweigh any risks and the public should continue to get their vaccine when invited to do so.”Earlier this week, the European Medicines Agency said it was “not proven, but is possible” the vaccines are causing blood clots.Queensland’s chief health officer, Dr Jeannette Young, insisted the vaccine is safe for the vast majority of people, but warned those getting the jab to be aware of the symptoms of rare but serious side effects like blood clots.“It is very, very unlikely, but if you do (become unwell four to 20 days after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine), then you should seek urgent advice. That’s important,” Dr Young advised, adding that at this point in time, “people shouldn’t be concerned”.“We know that all vaccines have some very, very rare side effects that can be serious, and we know if we are giving the same vaccine to large numbers of people across the whole world, we would expect to see those rare side effects because we’re giving the vaccine to millions and millions and eventually billions of people.When you can get the COVID vaccine?“People just need to be aware of any symptoms and just come forward if they do have them.”It came as a new warning informs patients who received either of the COVID-19 vaccines to be aware of common side effects which include fever, sore muscles, tiredness and headaches usually 24 hours after the dose.“The reports from overseas of rare clotting disorders have occurred later than this. Between day four and day 20, after vaccination, and have generally caused severe symptoms requiring hospitalisation,” the warning reads.“People should be particularly alert to severe persistent headaches occurring 4- 20 days after vaccination and which are different to the usual pattern of headaches that people may experience at other times and which do not settle with paracetamol or other over the counter painkillers.” The AstraZeneca vaccine is currently being produced by CSL in Melbourne. As of midday Friday, Australians had received over 750,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccines. This includes 74,000 vaccines delivered on Wednesday alone, which is a record for the national COVID-19 vaccination program. This includes over 425,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with over 133,000 doses of this vaccine having been delivered to people aged under the age of 55 years. – with Evin Priest, Maria Bervanakis

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