'Need to pause': Dire warning after Australia's 53 million vaccine plan

Experts are concerned Australia’s coronavirus vaccine strategy won’t allow the nation to return to life as it was before the pandemic.

Four million Australians, including the elderly and health care workers, are expected to be vaccinated against Covid-19 by the end of March, as a super-infectious strain from the UK threatens the globe.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last week officials had advised him approvals for the Pfizer vaccine would be completed within weeks.

A group of people walk through a Westfield shopping centre wearing masks in Sydney.
Experts fear a vaccine to be rolled out in Australia may not achieve herd immunity. Source: Getty

The government had earlier signalled early March as the start date for vaccinations.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration approval process regarding another vaccine, made by AstraZeneca, is due to be completed in February.

Experts slam AstraZeneca Covid vaccine

However, experts worry the AstraZeneca vaccine is simply not good enough to stop the spread of coronavirus.

With 53.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine ordered, scientists say trials show it has a lower efficacy than the other vaccines already rolled out in the UK and the US.

A health worker injects a patient with the coronavirus vaccine in England.
A patient receives an injection of a Covid-19 vaccine in England. Source: Getty

“We need to pause and look at what the outcomes are going to be before we take any further steps,” the head of the Australian Medical Association in WA, Dr Andrew Miller, told The Australian.

“With the AstraZeneca vaccine, on current data, if we rely on that vaccine we’re not going to get to herd immunity. Current expectation is we’re going to be able to get back to normal life, but if we don’t get herd immunity there’s no guarantee that we won’t have rolling epidemics.

“Once you have one vaccine, you may not be able to have other ones. That’s why it’s very important to get it right the first time.”

AstraZeneca vaccine ‘not as effective’

In a statement released by Pfizer, a vaccine already being administered in the UK and the US, it claims the vaccine is 95 per cent effective against Covid-19 beginning 28 days after the first dose.

Morderna, another vaccine secured by the US, is about 94 per cent effective, according to a press release from the biotech company.

While preliminary trials of both those vaccines show a promising efficacy level of above 90 per cent, the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca is less than 70 per cent.

A health worker holds a vaccine as she prepares to administer it.
Vaccines have already been rolled out in the UK and the US. Source: Getty

Findings from a full trial published in medical health journal The Lancet show the efficacy level was 90 per cent in just a small group who had a half-dose of the vaccine before receiving the whole jab.

In the majority of people however, the efficacy level was just 62 per cent.

The head of the biosecurity program at the University of NSW’s Kirby Institute, Raina MacIntyre, reiterated to The Australian herd immunity would not be achieved if the majority of the nation received the AstraZenaca vaccine.

“This vaccine is unlikely to be able to achieve herd immunity,” Professor MacIntyre said.

“You’re not going to have enough people immune. Even if everyone’s vaccinated, we’ll still have the virus circulating because its ­efficacy is not high enough.”

Vaccine rollout will be done in five phases

Secretary of the Department of Health Dr Brendan Murphy spoke last week about who would be eligible to receive the vaccine in the first two phases, but declined to elaborate on the other three until a later date.

In February, the first phase of the rollout will benefit quarantine and border workers, frontline healthcare workers, residential aged care and disability staff and residents, he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison reacts during a press conference about coronavirus vaccines.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced vaccines would come to Australia in the coming months. Source: Getty

After the AstraZeneca vaccine is registered and approved, Australia will be able to manufacture it on home soil so will therefore have a guaranteed supply line.

“That will lead us to a rapid ramp up within weeks of that initial start, and we will expand the rollout to a significantly broader range of the at risk population,” Dr Murphy said.

Phase two will include the elderly population, Indigenous Australians over 55, people with clinical conditions that make them a higher risk of Covid, and a number of critical and high risk workers who are much more prone to be exposed, he said.

The Australian and state governments will work together to establish sites where people will be able to get the vaccine free of charge.

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