Health Minister Greg Hunt and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack have swatted down calls by Coalition senator Matt Canavan to suspend Australia’s AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine rollout.
On Tuesday morning, the LNP backbencher broke ranks with government colleagues, calling for the Therapeutic Goods Administration to be overruled, and for Australia to instead follow the lead of European countries that have stopped administering the shot after reports of blood clots in some recipients.
“I don’t believe the [Therapeutic Goods Administration] is infallible. I don’t think they’re the Vatican,” he said.
“I don’t have a lot of faith in the [World Health Organisation].”
But Coalition colleagues were quick to distance themselves from the senator on Tuesday, saying Australia’s vaccine rollout would go ahead as planned.
Mr Hunt said European medical authorities had found no link between the vaccine and blood clots. The government “clearly, unequivocally, absolutely” supported the AstraZeneca vaccine, he said.
“There’s no evidence in Europe or Australia of causation or correlation,” Mr Hunt said.
“Not one European country has found causation.”
.@mattjcan is calling to pause Australia’s AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine rollout after several European countries suspended use of the jab over reports of bleeding and blood clots #auspol pic.twitter.com/b8teh0KAnT
— Samantha Dick (@samanthadick00) March 15, 2021
Mr Hunt batted away suggestions Australia’s virus vaccine rollout – the bulk of which will be the AstraZeneca shot – should be paused while safety concerns were explored.
Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Michael McCormack said the Queensland senator’s comments “don’t represent my views”, nor that of the Morrison government.
“I would have preferred if he hadn’t actually said what he said,” he said.
“He’s entitled to his personal view but the government is getting on with making sure we’ve got the vaccine rollout.”
Later, in Question Time, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Senator Canavan’s sentiments were not government policy.
“I would encourage all members to be supporting the government in the rollout … not undermining it,” he said.
Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly reaffirmed the Morrison government’s position, saying: “In this situation, I can absolutely say I remain confident in the AstraZeneca vaccine, that it’s safe and that there is, at this point, no evidence that it causes blood clots.”
Earlier, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg confirmed there were no plans to suspend Australia’s rollout of virus vaccines.
“Both the European equivalent of our TGA as well as the World Health Organisation have said that the AstraZeneca is effective,” he told ABC radio.
The European Medicines Agency has reported 30 cases of blood clotting in nearly five million people who have had the shot. AstraZeneca said its own review of 17 million people had shown no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots.
The jab has been widely used in Britain, where more than 11 million adults have been vaccinated, with no major issues.
But, after some European patients developed blood clots, countries including the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway halted its use. Germany, France and Italy have also stopped using the vaccine.
The TGA said on Saturday that “extensive international experience does not indicate an increased risk of blood clots associated with the vaccine. Blood clots can occur naturally and are not uncommon”.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is the bedrock of Australia’s vaccine rollout strategy, with the government securing 54 million doses. They include a million a week produced at CSL’s Melbourne plant, that will be available from next week.
It is the vaccine most Australians will receive.
Labor’s first response to Senator Canavan’s push came from frontbencher Tanya Plibersek, who was blunt.
“I wouldn’t take my medical advice from Matt Canavan,” she said.
Opposition health spokesman Mark Butler also backed the shot.
“Labor has strong confidence in the ability of the Therapeutic Goods Administration to monitor any reports about potential adverse events, and to give appropriate advice to the Australian people and Australian governments,” he told TND.
Environment Minister Sussan Ley, a former health minister, said Australia was “in good hands”.
“Please feel confidence in the vaccine, please, if you are offered it, take it, and remember that you’re helping many vulnerable people in the community if you are,” she told Channel Nine.