Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly has defended the decision to roll out the AstraZeneca vaccine in the wake of concerns about its effectiveness.
Infectious diseases experts have joined medics in calling for authorities to halt the rollout in favour of coronavirus vaccines with higher efficacy rates to ensure herd immunity.
This follows results from several trials that showed that the Oxford University-AstraZeneca jab had an efficacy rate of between 62-90 per cent depending on the doses.
But Professor Kelly told Sky News it was a high quality vaccine that was effective and safe.
“I am worried when some people come out strongly in this way with a small amount of information,” Professor Kelly told Sky News.
“The pooled results were 70 per cent. That well exceeds what the World Health Organisation sees as the minimum efficacy (50 per cent) required for vaccination.”
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is expected to approve the Pfizer vaccine by the end of January, with a rollout pencilled for mid to late February for five million Australians in priority groups.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to have completed the approval process in February.
Professor Kelly said the jab would prevent death and severe illness 100 per cent of the time, like the Pfizer vaccine.
He said both vaccines would only be rolled out if they had the full tick for safety, efficacy and production quality.
“We are not alone in the world for choosing AstraZeneca,” he said, adding the UK was immunising people with the jab under emergency approvals.
Most Australians are expected to get the AstraZeneca vaccine because it can be made in Melbourne, unlike the Pfizer vaccine that has to be imported from overseas due to its mRNA technology.
Infectious diseases physician Professor Peter Collignon told Sunrise that the AstraZeneca vaccine might not be as good as the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
But he said those would be in short supply because they were not readily available and had to be stored in minus temperatures.
“I would be all for rolling out this (AstraZeneca) vaccine because it is much better than anything that is going to be available for quite a while,” Professor Collignon said.
Health Minister Greg Hunt on Tuesday refuted claims the government was conceding its vaccine strategy would not provide herd immunity.
“This is what the medical expert panel of Australia, the one that has helped keep us safe, has recommended,” Mr Hunt said.
In the wake of efficacy concerns, Labor leader Anthony Albanese told 2GB that the government should have invested in six vaccine candidates instead of three.
The opposition has long called for the rollout of the vaccine to be brought forward following the approval process.
But Mr Albanese said the party had never argued that authorities should circumvent the TGA process.
“We need to listen to the experts,” he said.
“Once it (the TGA) approves it, the vaccine should be rolled out.”