Karl Stefanovic has branded Australia’s vaccine rollout a ‘complete shemozzle’ after regulators approved the scarce Pfizer jab for teenagers.
The Today show host quizzed Health Minister Greg Hunt on the delayed vaccine rollout after the Therapeutic Goods Administration gave the green light for 12 to 15-year-olds to get the jab.
‘We don’t have enough for the rest of the population, as you know. It has been a complete shemozzle,’ he said, referring to the scarcity of Pfizer in the country.
A health worker administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to a minor at a vaccination centre in Santiago, Chile on June 23
Mr Hunt said the rollout – which has been delayed by two months – was rapidly ramping up with a record 184,000 vaccines administered on Wednesday.
‘We are seeing that acceleration and we are seeing Australians step forward, so that is really important,’ he said.
Trials for children under 12 are ongoing to determine safety and dosage, with results due in a few months and a decision in the US expected in early 2022.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), which oversees Australia’s medicines and vaccinations, approved the jab for teenagers on Thursday.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (Atagi) must now give its approval before the vaccine can be rollout out under 16s.
A health worker wears a protective face mask and gloves as she gives a Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 jab to a teenager in Warsaw, Poland on June 26
Mr Hunt confirmed the TGA approval in an interview on Sunrise on Friday morning.
‘If Atagi gives the second green light, immunocompromised and kids with underlying medical conditions [will be] immediately added to the phase 1B [of the rollout and] able to access Pfizer,’ he said.
‘The US is doing this for 12 to 15-year-olds and they are providing the world with very, very important safety data.’
Mr Hunt said the the new vaccination program would aim to ‘protect children’ and was an ‘important and welcome additional step’.
‘Significantly we planned for this outcome and acquired the vaccines in the event of eligibility,’ he said.
The official approval through the Atagi should take around four weeks, amid a spate of outbreaks within schools in Victoria.
Scientists say the Delta strain of Covid-19 spreads among children, unlike the original Wuhan strain.
There have been a number of recent Covid cases in Australian schools, including four infected pupils at South Coogee Primary School (pictured)
According to government data released on June 28, about two in 100,000 people will get a blood clot from the AstraZeneca jab and only three per cent of those affected will die, a mortality rate of 0.6 in a million. Meanwhile, the Covid-19 mortality rate in Australia is 3.9 per cent, or 39,000 in a million
Several New South Wales schools have also been affected during Sydney’s recent outbreak, including South Coogee Public School in the city’s east where at least four children tested positive.
The outbreak forced 555 primary school students into two weeks of isolation after they were deemed close contacts.
In the UK, Pfizer has not yet been approved for the general public under the age of 16.
But those most at risk as young as 12, including children with severe disabilities, immunosuppression disorders and Down’s syndrome, can get the jab.
Australia has only jabbed 14.98 per cent of over 15s, one of the lowest rates in the OECD group of 38 rich nations.
With 14 million Australians in three states locked down due to outbreaks, Mr Morrison said he was sorry for not getting more jabs into arms.
Scott Morrison has apologised for the slow pace of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout
Cleaners at work inside the Prahran Market in Melbourne on Thursday after a customer tested positive for Covid-19
‘I’m sorry that we haven’t been able to achieve the marks that we had hoped for at the beginning of this year. Of course I am.
‘But what’s more important is that we’re totally focused on ensuring that we’ve been turning this around,’ he said.
The apology comes after Mr Morrison refused three times to say sorry during a KIISFM radio interview on Wednesday.
In a press conference in Canberra on Thursday, the Prime Minister said the rollout would ramp up rapidly in the coming months as 1million Pfizer doses arrive per week.
Some 184,000 vaccines were administered across the nation on Wednesday, a record daily number.
‘I take responsibility for the things that haven’t gone as well as we’d have liked and I take responsibility for the things that have worked as well,’ he said.
Mr Morrison has faced constant criticism from the Labor Opposition which has accused him of failing to sign enough vaccine deals last year.
NSW recorded 124 new cases on Wednesday, taking Sydney’s outbreak – which began with an air crew driver testing positive on June 16 – to 1,648 infections.
Victoria recorded 26 new cases, taking its outbreak to 46 and South Australia’s cluster climbed to 15 infections.
Both states are in lockdown until at least Wednesday while Sydney’s lockdown is supposed to end on July 30 but is likely to be extended.
Melbourne is in lockdown until at least July 27. Pictured: Residents at Yarra River on Thursday
Why has Australia’s vaccine rollout been so slow?
Australia’s rollout started in late February, more than two months after the UK and the US, because there was no need to rush through emergency approval of vaccines.
The first setback came in March when the EU banned the export of vaccines made on the continent, meaning that 3.1million out of 3.8million doses of AstraZeneca did not arrive in Australia on time.
As a result, Prime Minister Scott Morrison missed his target to vaccinate four million Aussies by the end of March by 85 per cent.
Then in April the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation advised that Australia’s main vaccine and the only one it can make onshore, the AstraZeneca jab, should not be given to patients under 50 due to a very rare but serious blood-clot side effect.
Australians have been queuing up to get scarce Pfizer but have shunned abundant AstraZeneca
The move threw the rollout into chaos as the government scrambled to secure more doses of Pfizer, its only other approved vaccine, and pushed back its aim to give everyone a first dose by October to December.
Pfizer agreed to sell Australia 20 million more doses, doubling the existing total, but said they would not all arrive until the end of the year.
Mr Morrison admitted that the change had huge implications for the vaccination program, saying: ‘Now, that was a big shock to the roll-out and they are events outside of the government’s control.’
The change also prompted an increase in hesitancy as an Essential survey found 16 per cent of Aussies said they would not get vaccinated, up from 12 per cent in March, and the portion willing to get vaccinated as soon as possible slumped from 47 per cent to 42 per cent.
Then in June, the experts changed the advice again, recommending that only people over 60 get the AstraZeneca jab after 12 more cases of blood clots were recorded in a week, seven in their 50s.
Officials made their decision based on a risk-benefit analysis which took into account that Australia had very low levels of Covid-19 due to its tough international border closure.
Dr Jamal Rifi, who owns Belmore Medical Centre in western Sydney, told the ABC: ‘People talk about hesitancy or reluctance, it’s well beyond that. It’s a refusal of patients to have the AstraZeneca.’
On July 8, the government announced a deal with Pfizer to bring forward its deliveries to secure at least a million vaccines a week from July 19.