Australia’s health boss has come under fire for the “dangerous” suggestion one coronavirus jab offers full protection as the national rollout falls behind schedule.
Brendan Murphy clarified his evidence after telling the Senate’s coronavirus response committee that one dose was akin to being fully vaccinated.
His comments came as he attempted to dismiss concerns the government would not reach its original goal of offering all adults two doses by the end of October as a “semantic” argument.
“In practical terms, they are fully vaccinated because they’ve got that highly protective first dose,” Professor Murphy said.
He said one dose “doesn’t last as long” and should be topped up.
Professor Murphy’s assertion was jumped upon by Labor senator and committee chair Katy Gallagher who questioned: “Don’t you think it’s a bit dangerous for you to be sitting here saying ‘well one shot gives you protection’?
“Part of what we need to do here with the rollout is making sure people get two shots.”
Professor Murphy, who was chief health officer at the onset of the pandemic, said one dose was “fully protective” but needed to be topped up.
“Of course we want everyone to get two shots,” the Health Department secretary said.
Professor Murphy denied he was providing political cover for the Morrison government’s lofty vaccination targets.
Updated advice on the AstraZeneca vaccine, which the vast majority of Australians will receive, recommended it is more effective with a 12-week gap than four weeks as initially advised.
Professor Murphy said it was unlikely every adult would have the chance to receive two doses by the end of October.
“We don’t know whether we’ll be able to achieve two shots by October,” he told the committee on Thursday.
“All I’m saying is that with a 12-week interval it’s going to be difficult.”
Professor Murphy told the committee 125,000 people had been vaccinated so far only weeks out from an April target of four million to be vaccinated.
“It will be impossible to predict exactly when we will hit 4 million until we know what the CSL production capability will be like, what the further international supplies will be like,” Professor Murphy said.
“We thought we would get 3.8 million AstraZeneca doses, and for issues that I think the committee is well aware of with sovereign vaccine issues in Europe, we’ve only had 700-odd thousand AstraZeneca vaccines which we’ve deployed as soon as they’ve been tested.”
The Therapeutic Goods Administration has pointed to two unpublished studies looking at the real-world effectiveness of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines, which are being used in Australia.
In Scotland, a single dose of either prevented 85 to 94 per cent of coronavirus-related hospitalisation 28 to 34 days after vaccination.
Public Health England found people with a single dose aged over 70 were a 60 to 70 per cent lower risk of symptomatic infection 28 days after receiving the jab.
Australia’s rollout slowdown has been blamed on supply issues in Europe, including Italy blocking 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca jab.
Most of Australia’s AstraZeneca doses will be produced from Melbourne’s CSL plant which is expected to begin from March 22.