News ‘Wartime’ cabinet to return after another vaccine setback

‘Wartime’ cabinet to return after another vaccine setback

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison will for the “foreseeable future” hold two meetings of the national cabinet a week to get the coronavirus pandemic response back on track.

Mr Morrison will virtually meet with state and territory leaders on April 19 instead of May 7, and then every fortnight afterward.

The ABC reports leaders have been meeting monthly, though senior federal government sources say they now want to return to a “war footing”.

The decision to bring forward the next national cabinet meeting comes as the federal government faces heavy criticism for axing a timetable for the vaccine rollout as it fell well short of initial targets.

On Wednesday morning, it was revealed Novavax, one of three companies the Morrison government struck a deal with to distribute COVID-19 vaccines in Australia, was experiencing supply shortages.

As a result, the company has had to push back the timeline for hitting its production target of 150 million COVID-19 vaccine doses per month.

It originally thought it could reach full production capacity by May or June but now says full-scale vaccine production won’t be reached until the third quarter.

“There are some supply shortages that come and go that have contributed to the revision in timing,” Novavax communications director Amy Speak said.

“These have included things like the bioreactor bags and filters.”

There was another worrying development overnight. Johnson & Johnson, which produces a vaccine very similar to the AstraZeneca one Australia is using, suspended its European and US rollouts after American authorities revealed six cases of blood clots among the 6.5m recipients of the vaccine.

Amid all the setbacks for Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine program, Mr Morrison says the national cabinet needs to return to an “operational footing”.

“I have requested that national cabinet and our health ministers move back to an operational footing – to work together, closely, to tackle head on the challenges we are all facing with making our vaccination program as good as it can be,” Mr Morrison said.

“There are issues we are trying to deal with as a federal government, and I have been upfront about those.

“But amongst the states and territories, they are also tackling their own unique issues and working together we are all going to be in a better position to find the best solutions.”

Australia faces more setbacks in its vaccine rollout.

He said the more regular meetings would continue “until we solve the problems and get the program back on track”.

Mr Morrison is expected to outline the success of the government’s health and economic response to the pandemic in a speech to business leaders in Perth on Wednesday.

There have been 1.234 million vaccine doses administered nationally, including 56,000 over the past day.

The figures come as Trade Minister Dan Tehan heads to Europe in a bid to release supplies of COVID-19 vaccine that Australia has ordered – a key part of the problem with the slowness of the domestic rollout.

Mr Tehan will also hold talks in Europe and the UK on free trade agreements.

During the visit the minister will meet with the World Trade Organisation director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who has been outspoken on Europe’s vaccine trade restrictions and is a key ally in Australia’s fight to have the supply released.

Vaccine production and distribution will also be on the agenda for talks in Germany and France.

The minister also wants to work with European officials on ensuring vaccines can be delivered to countries struggling to deal with outbreaks such as Papua New Guinea.

Australia has promised PNG one million doses of the European-sourced AstraZeneca vaccine.

There are hopes the European-made Novavax can be added to Australia’s vaccine arsenal in June.

Therapeutic Goods Administration boss John Skerritt said there were “very promising early results” in trials of the Novavax vaccine, with company talks scheduled for Thursday.

However, Professor Skerritt said the clinical trials had not yet been completed and the company needed to establish large-scale manufacturing arrangements.

Australia has an order for 51 million doses of the Novavax vaccine, a two-dose protein vaccine which will also be a mainstay in South Korea’s vaccination program.

-with AAP