Calls to give Aussies vaccine sooner
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has called on the federal government speed up the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine.
Speaking to ABC News on Wednesday, the Labor leader questioned why Australia appeared to be dragging its feet while other countries including the US and UK had already begun delivering COVID-19 vaccines.
Mr Albanese said once a vaccine is approved, the government should prioritise a rapid rollout.
"If there was a vaccine available, there would be queues that are much longer than the queues that have been there to have COVID testing in places like the northern beaches and in the inner west in recent days," Mr Albanese said.
"This is having an impact on peoples' lives, it is impacting their mental health, all those people who will miss out on sitting down for Christmas lunch with the family."
Mr Albanese said if the Therapeutic Goods Administration approves a vaccine in January, "it just seems to me incredibly complacent for the government to say, no, we will sit around for another couple of months before it is available".
"Surely, we should be making it available as soon as possible," he said.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said earlier this month that despite the UK granting emergency use approval for the Pfizer vaccine, Australia was going through its own process.
"Our advice remains that the timeline for a decision on approval is expected by the end of January 2021, and our planning is for first vaccine delivery in March 2021," Mr Hunt said.
Mr Albanese expressed frustration that Australians would be waiting another three months.
"We had President-elect Biden take the vaccine on national TV in the United States just yesterday," he said.
"We support very much the independence of the TGA and its processes. Once the TGA approves a vaccine, like any other drug, then what they're saying, the professional body, is it is ready to go. If it is ready to go, let's roll it out."
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Australia's chief medical officer Paul Kelly stressed that the situation in Australia was not as dire as the US and Europe.
"Just to be clear, there is no vaccine anywhere in the world, in any country in the world, that has received its final approval for open distribution to the population," Professor Kelly said.
"There are several countries in the world that have emergency-use authorisation, because they have emergencies. (The US had) 200,000 cases yesterday. They have an emergency. They need to get on with it. Same in the UK. Same in Europe overnight. We are not going down that pathway because we don't have anywhere near that need right now."
But Prof. Kelly stressed the regulators were "not resting over Christmas".
"We're certainly not stopping in our preparations," he said.
"The regulators will look at all the information (as it) comes from the various companies, particularly Pfizer and particularly AstraZeneca, because they're our two main first vaccines that will be looking to be approved and rolled out early next year. As we get any information from that, it's processed. There are tens of thousands of documents and so forth that will need to be processed as part of the usual approval."
Prof. Kelly said the federal government was now in the second round of negotiations with the states and territories on the rollout strategy, which he expected to be finalised by early January.
He added that state and territory chief health officers would be meeting today to discuss implementation of the vaccine strategy
When the vaccine is made available, the elderly and people with chronic illnesses, as well as frontline health and aged care workers, will be first in line for the jab.
Speaking to 2GB on Monday, Mr Hunt confirmed the government would not be bringing the rollout forward.
"It's subject to the regulatory approval, and we're being very, very thorough," he said.
"I'm sure everybody would understand why and that's extremely important. We will have good insights from the UK and the US, which haven't completed their normal approvals process. What they've done is, because in the UK hundreds of deaths a day, in the US thousands of deaths a day, they have given an emergency authorisation to implement before the assessments have all been completed, which we understand."
Mr Hunt said the TGA was considering a normal, full approval for the vaccines.
"And instead of a 10-year process, it will be done within about a year, so it will still be rapid, but we want to make sure that it is absolutely thorough," he said.
"We're in the fortunate position of being able to observe everything that's happening in the UK and the US. But we have enough vaccine, ultimately, to cover the Australian people three times over. So we're working and preparing for all contingencies, but we're fortunately placed, both in terms of our case numbers, but also in terms of our vaccine preparation."
Originally published as Calls to give Aussies vaccine sooner