Australia on track to hit first major vaccine milestone by last week of October

Courtney GouldNCA NewsWire
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Camera IconNot Supplied Credit: News Corp Australia

Stir-crazy Australians can start counting down the days until the first major easing of restrictions, with 70 per cent expected to be fully vaccinated by the last week of October.

Appearing before a parliamentary Covid-19 inquiry, the head of the vaccine rollout, Lt General John Frewen said it was entirely possible that the nation could be up to 90 per cent vaccinated by the end of November.

“It’s conceivable that we could get to 90 per cent, if the public keep coming forward, by the end of November, start of December, that’s a best-case (scenario),” General Frewen said.

Camera IconCOVID-19 Task force Commander, Lieutenant General John Frewen said we are on track to hit 70 per cent fully vaccinated by the end of October. NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage Credit: News Corp Australia

“So we're talking the last week of October is where we think nationally we can get to 70 per cent second dose.”

NSW is expected to reach the 70 per cent milestone “in about a week’s time”, while the ACT and Victoria are respectively set to reach the benchmark by next fortnight and the end of October.

The 70 per cent target is the first set by the national cabinet as part of the plan to ease restrictions and reopen Australia.

It will see lockdowns become “less likely” and vaccinated Australians will experience eased restrictions.

General Frewen added it was anticipated the three states would hit the targets before the rest of the nation.

“I’ll note that those three lockdown states are anticipated to reach those three levels potentially ahead of all other jurisdictions,” General Frewen said.

On current estimates, NSW is set to reach the 80 per cent target in October, and could even reach 90 per cent within the first two weeks of November.

Victoria is on track to hit 80 per cent in the middle of November, with 90 per cent of residents vaccinated later that month.

Camera IconAustralians have been urged to come forward to get vaccinated. NCA NewsWire / Adam Yip Credit: News Corp Australia

Meanwhile, Canberra is on track to hit 80 per cent in mid to late October, with 90 per cent of the population estimated to be fully vaccinated by the start of November.

But the Operation Covid Shield boss stressed estimates were dependent on people coming forward to be vaccinated.

Earlier, the blame game over who is responsible for the slow pace of Australia’s vaccine rollout has taken yet another turn, with the body tasked with providing advice on the program taking a swipe at the Prime Minister for misconstruing recommendations.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) provides advice to the government on all vaccines and in April said the Pfizer jab was preferential for people aged under 50.

While initially supportive of the advice change, Scott Morrison in July blamed the advisory group for the slow rollout amid fierce criticism of the pace.

Camera IconConcerns over blood clots caused ATAGI to recommend the AstraZeneca vaccine for over 60s. NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled Credit: News Corp Australia

Co-chair Chris Blyth has now said he was “shocked and surprised” by Mr Morrison’s commentary, which “was clearly levelled at ATAGI”.

“I suppose I was surprised that given the context that we’re in … I did not expect that,” Professor Blyth told the Covid-19 senate committee on Tuesday.

“Members (of ATAGI) were taken aback by those comments because clearly it is much more complex than just an individual group of technical advisers.”

The vaccine program was “a complex beast”, which Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly and Health Secretary Brendan Murphy had highlighted, Professor Blyth said.

Professor Murphy sought to downplay tension between the government and ATAGI.

“I think the Prime Minister was … we were all, I think probably frustrated by the thrombosis and thrombocytopenia issue that happened with AstraZeneca – that was going to be our workhorse vaccine,” he said.

“The ATAGI advice, which was based on the epidemiology at the time, did undoubtedly lead to a significant slowing in the rollout because of the preferential recommendation but government has always accepted that advice.”

Camera IconATAGI co-chair Professor Allen Cheng said the advice was updated in the wake of outbreaks in NSW and Victoria. NCA NewsWire / Paul Jeffers Credit: News Corp Australia

The body later updated its advice so that in the context of significant outbreaks – as seen in Sydney and Melbourne – the preference to use Pfizer over AstraZeneca was “far less strong”.

“What we were trying to convey, was that there’s a preference, and a preference doesn’t mean that it cannot be used,” ATAGI co-chair Allen Cheng told the committee.

“But if it was to be used, it is in consideration of the risks and benefits, and the benefits are obviously greater when there is an outbreak.”

Professor Cheng said in the context of Western Australia, where there was no active outbreak, the risks of using AstraZeneca in people under 60 would outweigh the benefit.

Professor Blyth argued that while the emphasis of ATAGI’s advice had changed, the context of the advice did not.

“The original advice highlights actually the context may change and those policy settings may need to change,” he said.

“When that was evident that the NSW outbreak was really taking off at that stage, we sought to really reinforce those original aspects of the advice.”

Originally published as Australia on track to hit first major vaccine milestone by last week of October

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