The federal government is planning for Australia to have enough COVID-19 vaccine doses on hand for two shots for every adult by October, with more than one million Pfizer doses a week set to hit our shores in spring.
The first shipments of the Moderna vaccine are also anticipated to begin arriving in September, just as the federal government plans to phase out using the AstraZeneca jab, anticipating all people over 60 will have their shots by then.
The federal government has backed away from providing firm targets, after badly missing initial projections, but the health department’s ‘vaccination allocation horizons’ forecasts released on Wednesday give the clearest picture yet of where the program is heading.
The government anticipates between 30 and 37 million vaccine doses will arrive between July and September, enough to vaccinate the entire remaining adult population.
“The forecasts will be updated regularly,” promised Lieutenant General John Frewen, the COVID-19 Taskforce Commander.
It’s the first time the federal government has released long-term data on when it expects vaccines to arrive.
State and territory leaders have begged for more information on when, and how many, vaccines they would be allocated, so as to make long-term plans to vaccinate millions more Australians.
As of Wednesday, 6.8 million doses of vaccine had been administered in Australia.
Both approved vaccines, Pfizer and AstraZeneca, are two-dose regimes, meaning there would need to be some 40 million doses given to fully protect the 20 million eligible adults.
This daily infographic provides the total number of vaccine doses administered in Australia as of 22 June 2021. Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccine information here: https://t.co/TUKfzVuGVm #COVID19vaccines #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/dco9mPqLiN
— Australian Government Department of Health (@healthgovau) June 23, 2021
The ‘allocation horizons’ reveal the federal government anticipates the Moderna mRNA vaccine will begin arriving in September, but does not include any expectation of the Novavax vaccine.
That candidate, despite showing incredibly strong efficacy rates above 90 per cent in clinical trials, has suffered long delays in overseas manufacture, partly due to shortages in raw materials and difficulties scaling up facilities.
Up to 37 million doses expected by October
The government forecasts a significant boost to vaccine supply in coming months, as more Pfizer and then Moderna doses arrive.
In August and September, the government anticipates receiving between 2.85 million and 3.35 million doses per week, for a total of between 22.8 million and 26.8 million doses through that two-month period alone.
In September, supply is expected to dip significantly, to between just 1.9 million and 2.625 million per week.
That is because, while Pfizer doses tick up and Australia expects the first small shipments of Moderna, the expected allocation of AstraZeneca is slashed by more than half in that month.
Nonetheless, between the start of July and the end of September alone, the government anticipates receiving between 30.39 and 37.3 million doses of vaccine.
Added to the number of doses given by the end of June, which will be above seven million, Australia expects to receive in excess of 40 million total doses of vaccine by the end of September.
That would be enough supply for two doses of vaccines for all 20 million Australian adults.
However, stipulations around timing between doses – three weeks for Pfizer, 12 weeks for AstraZeneca – would likely mean it may not be until toward November that all Australians could feasibly expect to have two doses.
The federal government has not provided any firm deadline on when it would hope all Australians would be fully vaccinated, simply saying “as soon as possible” but hopefully by the end of 2021.
The allocation documents note the rollout “will ramp up to deliver the vaccine by December 2021”.
The government has long talked about a “sprint” to get all Australians vaccinated in October, November and December.
The forecasts anticipate between 2.1 to 2.9 million vaccine doses arriving per week in that final quarter, for another 25 to 35 million doses in total.
“Average allocations provided in this chart have been provided to support forward planning and are subject to change,” the documents note.
Excess vaccine to help poorer nations
Australia is producing more than one million AstraZeneca doses per week at Melbourne’s CSL, but forecasts predict it may not be needed beyond September.
Lieutenant General Frewen said that’s because the government anticipates all those over 60 – the cohort recommended to get AstraZeneca – will already have been offered all their jabs by then.
“As the program moves toward Horizon 3, the uptake of AZ is expected to decrease as vaccination of the 60 years and over cohort nears completion,” the documents state.
A potential excess supply of AstraZeneca, combined with millions of extra doses of Pfizer and potentially Novavax, means Australia can send more vaccines to poorer nations.
That’s according to Professor Peter Collignon, an infectious diseases expert at the Australian National University.
“There’s a shortage of vaccines globally. Well-off, rich countries have got four times as much vaccine as they need for their population,” Professor Collignon told The New Daily.
“We can help with a more equitable distribution to the places that might need it.”
Commodore Eric Young, co-ordinator of the vaccine rollout, echoed those sentiments, saying continued production of AstraZeneca could help “our partners in the region”.
The timeframe to fully vaccinate all eligible Australians could be further pushed out if it is recommended that those under 18 also be vaccinated, which is currently not federal policy.
Australia’s medical regulators have not yet recommended children be given COVID vaccines, but some overseas nations have approved vaccines for people as young as 12.
In Australia, Pfizer is approved for people aged 16 and up.
AstraZeneca is approved for those over 18.
Moderna and Novavax have not yet submitted their paperwork applications, and have therefore not yet been approved.
The allocation documents note that the numbers provided are an “average allocation per week”, and that confirmations of actual numbers “will be provided four weeks in advance, once supply is confirmed with vaccine manufacturers”.