NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has urged Australia to “crack on” with its vaccine rollout, amid concerns elderly people are cancelling their jab appointments.
Her call came after authorities confirmed a 48-year-old Central Coast woman’s blood clotting death was “likely linked” to the AstraZeneca jab.
Genene Norris received her shot hours before the federal government changed its advice to say people aged under 50 should instead receive the Pfizer vaccination rather than AstraZeneca due to concerns about blood clots.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration said she had underlying health conditions and the clotting she experienced was a rare side effect, but an investigation into her death continues.
State and territory leaders discussing the country’s troubled vaccine rollout at a national cabinet meeting on Monday.
“I think we should be far less rigid in how we approach the vaccination rollout given we know that there’s no issue with anyone over the age of 50 having the AstraZeneca and there is quite considerable supply in Australia at the moment,” Ms Berejiklian said ahead of that meeting.
“We really need to crack on with it.”
Later, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said there were “strong, strong arguments” to widen availability of the AstraZeneca doses to anyone over 50.
“Particularly important for those aged over 70 who are already in that priority group that we need to ensure are getting vaccinated across the country to protect them. Because we know if you’re aged over 70 you’re at terrible risk. We saw that with the outbreak in Victoria,” he said.
“The option of bringing forward over-50s is being discussed but I will work that through with the premiers and chief ministers about how they can be that achieved in the most orderly way.”
Under the vaccination plan designed by the federal government in 2020, there are five stages. Phase 1A and 1B – under way across the country – include aged care, disability, quarantine and healthcare workers, as well as aged-care residents.
Anyone with an underlying medical condition, significant disability, or aged over 70 (over 55 for Indigenous Australians) is also eligible to receive a jab.
Medical advice earlier in April recommended AstraZeneca – the “workhorse” of the rollout – be scrapped as the preference for people under 50, due to the risk of a rare blood clot disorder.
That has left many states with an abundance of spare doses, with much of the workforce included in Phase 1 aged under 50 and others cancelling their appointments out of concern.
A prominent GP in Sydney’s south-west wants more to be done to address the hesitancy, noting his bookings for the AstraZeneca shot plunged 50 per cent in the past week at his clinic.
Jamal Rifi from the Belmore Medical Respiratory Clinic said more options were needed to speed up the rollout.
“I feel there has to be some change. I reckon the Pfizer vaccine can be given by general practitioners and at the same time at the bigger centre,” he told the ABC.
Ms Berejiklian said the state’s “mass vaccination hub” at Homebush in Sydney’s inner west was ready to supply the vaccine, along with more than 100 sites across the state.
While the federal government is largely responsible for Australia’s vaccine rollout, NSW is responsible for about 300,000 shots – two-thirds of which have already been administered.
Dr Rifi said elderly and vulnerable people should still receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, as they are most at risk from coronavirus.
“That’s why we are calling for every patient who is in the 1A and 1B rollout to come forward and be vaccinated,” he said.
“Anyone above 70 is entitled to have their vaccination now and they should have it now.”
Ms Berejiklian said Australia has been a world leader in its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, but more work will be needed to stay in that position as the rollout continues.
“We want to … get the rollout done as quickly as we can because having the vaccination rollout will change our lives,” she said.
Victoria is also boosting its capacity. From Wednesday, it will throw open the doors of its three mass-vaccination hubs for people who have previously only been covered by the Commonwealth’s coronavirus vaccine rollout.
Anyone in the 1A and 1B categories can make an appointment to get a vaccination at one of the hubs.
Health Minister Martin Foley said there was a renewed sense of urgency to get the vaccination program done.
“We think [this] is an important opportunity for us to start to rebuild the confidence of Victorians in our distribution and vaccination program,” he said.
Infectious diseases expert Ben Cowie, who is leading Victoria’s vaccine rollout, urged anyone concerned about the AstraZeneca vaccine to speak to their GP.
“Some people won’t take up this offer and will wait and see what happens, that’s OK,” Professor Cowie told ABC Radio Melbourne on Monday.
“A lot of GPs have reported that they had some cancellations, but correspondingly they had a lot of people snapping up those slots for vaccination.”
AstraZeneca’s will be the only shot available in the Victorian hubs.