Australia ditches vaccine roll-out targets

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09 April 2021, United Kingdom, London: Pharmacist Asha Fowells holds vials of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine at Copes Pharmacy and Travel Clinic in Streatham, south London. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire/dpa
09 April 2021, United Kingdom, London: Pharmacist Asha Fowells holds vials of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine at Copes Pharmacy and Travel Clinic in Streatham, south London. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire/dpa

(dpa) – Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has scrapped the country’s coronavirus vaccine roll-out targets, days after medical experts changed their advice on using the AstraZeneca jab.

The country of around 25 million people had originally pledged to vaccinate its entire adult population by October but has seen a sluggish start and has so far only administered around 1 million doses.

Morrison said it was not possible to set targets for administering first doses to all Australians before the end of the year “given the many uncertainties involved,” in a statement on Facebook Sunday.

“The government has also not set, nor has any plans to set any new targets for completing first doses,” he wrote.

Australian experts changed their advice last week and recommended using the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for adults under 50 rather than AstraZeneca. There have been global concerns over the AstraZeneca vaccine after some isolated cases of very rare blood clots in those who received it.

Australian officials have largely pointed to supply chain issues as the cause of delays, and had recently said ramping up local production of AstraZeneca should speed up the roll-out.

But the Pfizer/BioNTech jab is not yet produced domestically.

Australia doubled its order of Pfizer vaccine doses last week from 20 million to 40 million after the advice update.

The country’s trade and tourism minister Dan Tehan plans to engage in “vaccine diplomacy” during a trip to Europe starting Wednesday.

Tehan told Sky News he would speak with the European Union, counterparts from Germany, France and Belgium and the director general of the World Trade Organization to discuss vaccine access.

The EU has put in place a vaccine export control system and can block shipments if it deems it necessary.

Australia fell far short of its target to administer 4 million jabs by the end of March and only managed to give just under 842,000 doses in that time frame.

The premier of Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, said Monday she was keen to get the roll-out back on track, and expressed concerns the slow pace could hinder plans to restart international travel.

“There will come a point when the rest of the world starts engaging with each other more and we can’t afford to be left behind,” Gladys Berejiklian said in comments reported by news agency AAP.

Australia’s border has been closed with few exceptions since March 2020.

The country has fared well in stemming the coronavirus outbreak compared to many other nations, with some 29,000 cases and 900 deaths recorded since the pandemic began.

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