Not one fully vaccinated person is in intensive care as a result of New South Wales’ current outbreak, with federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg saying it was a “no brainer” for people in Sydney to get vaccinated now with whatever jab they could.
New advice from Australia’s vaccine regulator says all Sydneysiders should “strongly consider” getting AstraZeneca if available, given the increased risk of contracting COVID-19.
And that warning was tragically borne out on Sunday, with a woman in her 30s dying from the virus despite having no pre-existing health conditions.
The tragic news came as the federal government announced that Australia would receive another 85 million Pfizer doses in 2022 and 2023 to use as potential ‘booster’ shots.
“Even one dose of the vaccine not only gives you personal protection, but it also reduces your chances of passing the disease on,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Sunday.
“During the Delta outbreak, higher vaccination rates, even of the first dose, slow the spread down.”
In NSW, the interval between Pfizer doses will be stretched from three weeks to six, to allow more people to receive a first jab.
Even one dose of either AstraZeneca or Pfizer gives critical protection to reduce chances of hospitalisation and serious illness, a factor displayed starkly in the latest Sydney health figures.
“Of the 43 people in intensive care, 42 have not been vaccinated,” NSW’s deputy chief health officer, Dr Jeremy McAnulty said.
“One person had one vaccine.”
The state sadly recorded another 141 cases and two COVID deaths on Sunday, including a woman in her 70s and another in her 30s.
Dr McAnulty said 141 COVID patients were in hospital, with 18 on ventilation. Of those 141 cases, 60 people were under 55 and 28 people were under 35.
Of the 43 ICU cases, one was a teenager, seven were in their 20s, and three were in their 30s.
“This is affecting people of all ages with very serious disease,” Dr McAnulty said.
That so many young people have been affected by the NSW outbreak is why Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he “welcomed” the updated guidance from ATAGI, Australia’s technical advisory group on immunisation, which advised anyone in Sydney to “strongly consider” getting the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“All individuals aged 18 years and above in Greater Sydney, including adults under 60 years of age, should strongly consider getting vaccinated with any available vaccine including COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca,” ATAGI said in its latest advice.
It represented a major shift in previous guidance that AstraZeneca be preferred for those over 60 and Pfizer preferred for those under 60.
And it came just days after Mr Morrison said he had made a “constant appeal” to ATAGI to reconsider its advice.
“There are some 1.3 million AstraZeneca vaccines that are available. They’re in the fridge. They’re ready to go,” Mr Morrison said on Sunday.
“We particularly need to see them getting into state-based distribution systems in NSW.”
The PM said the changed recommendations had come “on the basis of the increasing risk of COVID-19 and ongoing constraints of Pfizer supplies”.
Under-60s are able to access AstraZeneca after providing informed consent following a doctor’s visit, but this new advice is expected to expand access even further.
Labor’s shadow health minister, Mark Butler, said his party also welcomed the new ATAGI advice.
However, Mr Morrison noted NSW would soon see a “significant” increase to Pfizer stocks as higher supplies began arriving in Australia.
Ms Berejiklian has called for other state leaders to help by allowing more Pfizer to be directed to Sydney’s lockdown.
But even as the PM said NSW would soon receive 110,000 more doses weekly, he noted more vaccines wouldn’t end the lockdown faster.
“The vaccines can provide some assistance, but they’re not what is going to end this lockdown,” he said.
“What is going to end the lockdown, is it being effective.”
Without directly criticising Ms Berejiklian, Mr Morrison hinted he didn’t support her idea.
“The national vaccine program must work right across the country. And we cannot disrupt its implementation around the country that would put other parts of the country at risk,” he said.
“So the suggestion that that could be done and people’s appointments in Melbourne would be cancelled, for appointments to be created in another part of the country, would be very disruptive.”
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg also welcomed the ATAGI change, saying on Twitter that getting vaccinated was a “no brainer”.
The government was also pleased about its Sunday announcement of 85 million future Pfizer doses for potential ‘booster’ shots.
The Commonwealth had already locked in 10 million Moderna and 51 million Novavax doses for a similar purpose, with both scheduled to arrive in coming months.
Vaccine experts have spoken about the possibility of Australians needing regular or annual ‘boosters’ to keep COVID at bay, in a similar vein to our yearly influenza vaccines.
It is a hot point of contention: Vaccine companies are pushing for booster approvals while the World Health Organisation has warned that developing countries requiring first doses should be prioritised over wealthy nations talking about third shots.
Dr Michael Ryan, the WHO emergencies chief, said focusing on boosters for the rich before first shots for the poor would have the world “look back in anger and … shame”.
NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said people “need to get used to” the idea of boosters.
When asked by The New Daily about this, Mr Morrison said the extra 85 million doses would “enable” Australia to contribute more Pfizer to global vaccine programs like COVAX or make further donations to regional neighbours.
“This will equip us to lean in further to the support we’re providing to our
Pacific family,” he said.
“It enables us to meet the commitments we made through the the G20 as well, and our COVAX commitments.”