Minister plays down vaccine fears as South Africa suspends rollout

Health Minister Greg Hunt has downplayed concerns about the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.

Feb 08, 2021, updated Feb 08, 2021
Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt says the virus jab is performing strongly in the UK. (Photo: AP: Ted S. Warren)

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt says the virus jab is performing strongly in the UK. (Photo: AP: Ted S. Warren)

South Africa has suspended its rollout of the vaccine after data showed it gave minimal protection against mild to moderate illness caused by the country’s new strain of the virus.

However, Hunt still has confidence in the jab based on the latest UK data.

“I spoke with the UK health secretary in recent days – that’s their health minister equivalent – they’re having very strong results,” he told 2GB radio on Monday.

“In terms of particular variants, particular countries, the world is learning about those with all vaccines.”

Department of Health secretary Dr Brendan Murphy today said he remained confident the AstraZeneca vaccine would provide good protection against COVID-19.

“We think that all of the vaccines will have reduced efficacy against the South African strain and there’s some suggestion they do,” Murphy said.

“We still think that all of the vaccines will probably protect against severe disease with the South African strain.”

AstraZeneca is working with developers at Oxford University to try to adapt the vaccine to the South African strain, but the process could take several months.

The South African health minister is hopeful the vaccine rollout will only be paused temporarily while authorities seek more information.

Australia is expected to approve the AstraZeneca jab within weeks and has more than 50 million doses of the vaccine on order, with the vast majority to be produced locally.

Healthcare workers tasked with administering coronavirus vaccines will soon receive mandatory training.

With supplies at a premium, vaccine providers will be trained to minimise wastage from multi-dose vials.

The Pfizer vaccine has six doses per vial and the AstraZeneca option has 10.

All doses must be administered within hours of the vials being opened.

The vaccine workforce will receive training in using multi-dose vials, as well as handling and storing vaccines.

The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored below minus 60 degrees Celsius.

The federal government has partnered with the Australian College of Nursing to develop and deliver the free training program.

Nobody will be allowed to administer vaccines unless they have completed the online course.

Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid says the training is critical.

The World Health Organisation has estimated a wastage rate for vaccination doses of between 20 and 30 per cent in some places.

“That’s already an unacceptably high number,” Khorshid told the ABC.

“It’s really important that everything is done to minimise the wastage of these valuable vaccines.”

The first vaccinations are expected to be rolled out within weeks.

Australia will initially prioritise administering the Pfizer vaccine to quarantine workers, frontline staff, and aged and disability workers and residents.

Australians will receive a certificate to prove they have been vaccinated when the national rollout begins.

All inoculations will be recorded on the Australian immunisation register.

Certificates proving vaccination, which could be required for overseas and interstate travel, would then be available either digitally or as a hard copy.

The register will record which vaccine people have received.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the government needed to get the vaccine passports right, having bungled the coronavirus contact tracing app.

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