Minister downplays concerns about vaccine

Daniel McCulloch and Rebecca Gredley
·2-min read

Health Minister Greg Hunt has downplayed concerns about the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine as medical professionals begin training to administer jabs.

South Africa has suspended its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine after data showed it gave minimal protection against mild to moderate illness caused by the country's new strain of the virus.

However, Mr Hunt still has confidence in the jab based on the latest UK data.

"There is currently no evidence to indicate a reduction in the effectiveness of either the AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccines in preventing severe disease and death," he told reporters in Melbourne on Monday.

"That is the fundamental task to protect the health of not just Australians, but people all around the world."

AstraZeneca is working with developers at Oxford University to try to adapt the vaccine to the South African strain, but the process could take several months.

The South African health minister is hopeful the vaccine rollout will only be paused temporarily while authorities seek more information.

Australia is expected to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine within weeks and has more than 50 million doses on order, with the vast majority to be produced locally.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said Labor would always take the advice of Australia's medicine regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

"You don't want politicians second-guessing science and medical expertise," he told reporters in Cairns.

Healthcare workers tasked with administering coronavirus vaccines will soon receive mandatory training.

With supplies at a premium, vaccine providers will undertake free training to minimise wastage from multi-dose vials.

Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid says the training is critical.

The World Health Organisation has estimated a wastage rate for vaccination doses of between 20 and 30 per cent in some places.

"That's already an unacceptably high number," Dr Khorshid told the ABC.

Nobody will be allowed to administer vaccines unless they have completed the online course.

The first vaccinations are expected to be rolled out within weeks.

Australia will initially prioritise administering the Pfizer vaccine to quarantine workers, frontline staff, and aged and disability workers and residents.

Australians will receive a certificate to prove they have been vaccinated when the national rollout begins.

Vaccinations will be recorded on the Australian immunisation register.

Certificates proving vaccination, which could be required for overseas and interstate travel, would then be available either digitally or as a hard copy.

Meanwhile, a returned traveller has tested positive for coronavirus in NSW, two days after finishing 14 days of hotel quarantine.

While the nation's expert health panel has not recommended extending the mandatory two-week period, Mr Hunt believes states and territories should follow the lead of NSW and test people for the virus after leaving hotel quarantine.

"They have provided a model for the rest of the country," he said.

Further south, Victorian authorities are waiting for the results of genomic testing to see how a second hotel quarantine worker tested positive to the virus in Melbourne.