Prime Minister Scott Morrison has urged Queenslanders, particularly older people, not to wait for another potential COVID-19 outbreak before getting their vaccine.
Queensland declared parts of regional NSW hotspots on Thursday, including Orange, Blayney, and Cabonne, as the government acted to stop the spread of the Delta variant into the state.
All three country NSW areas are in a snap lockdown after the coronavirus spread from greater Sydney via a delivery driver. Sydneysiders are in their fourth week of a lockdown, while millions in Victoria and South Australia are also locked down to try to halt the spread of the variant.
On Thursday, Mr Morrison stressed the importance of older people in Queensland getting their vaccine – urging those who were hesitant to contact their GP and follow health directives.
“I’d be saying to everyone in Queensland, don’t wait for what’s happening in another state to potentially happen in your state,” Mr Morrison told Brisbane radio 4BC.
“This is the thing with the Delta variant, it can move very quick and those systems aren’t 100 per cent full-proof. The world knows that.
“So please Queensland, particularly if you’re in the older population, please go and get that AstraZeneca. It’s a totally safe vaccine, the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) would not have approved it if it were not.”
Pfizer remains the preferred coronavirus vaccine for people under 60. The Australian Technical Advisory Group continues to advise that the risks of extremely rare blood clots outweigh the benefits of AstraZeneca that age group.
Mr Morrison also again challenged Australia’s medical experts to rethink their advice on the AstraZeneca shot.
He believes the COVID outbreaks in the three southern states have changed the equation.
“When COVID cases are rising, that means people have a greater likelihood of catching COVID, particularly older people, then the balance or risk changes,” he said.
“I have just simply said ‘the balance of risk is changing guys, so how is that impacting on your advice’ and it’s time to think about that.”
ATAGI provides scientific advice on immunisations once medicines are approved for use. On Wednesday, Mr Morrison revealed he is “constantly appealing” with the panel to update its AstraZeneca advice.
Australia has ample supplies of AstraZeneca, which is produced in Melbourne, but there not yet enough Pfizer imports are arriving to vaccinate people under 40.
However, Australia’s doctors have backed ATAGI. Australian Medical Association vice-president Chris Moy said “ATAGI should not be attacked at all”.
“These are good people who give up their time to provide good advice,” Dr Moy told ABC TV on Wednesday afternoon.
He said he agreed the AstraZeneca jab was “a really good vaccine”, and that ATAGI’s recommendation was “conservative”.
“You have to look at the detail of what ATAGI has said, which has been good advice and it’s recommended in a non-COVID situation to have Pfizer under 60,” he said.
“We’re in a different situation and governments need to step up and say this is our independent advice but we call the shots on this.”
Labor’s health spokesman Mark Butler agreed with the AMA that Mr Morrison was putting unfair pressure on ATAGI.
“This is the Prime Minister using the power of his office, as the head of the country, trying to shelve responsibility for the terrible failures of this vaccine rollout onto them,” he said.
Professor Allen Cheng, the co-chair of the expert immunisation panel, released a statement after Mr Morrison’s initial comments.
He said the panel met weekly to assess safety data and local case numbers when considering risk-benefit assessments for the AstraZeneca jab.
ATAGI’s latest advice said people under 60 in outbreak areas should reassess whether to receive AstraZeneca given greater benefits.
Just 14 per cent of eligible Australians aged over 16 have been fully vaccinated almost five months after the rollout began.