Back on war footing amid vaccine mercy dash to Europe
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has summoned national cabinet back to a war footing amid Australia's deepening vaccine rollout crisis, as his trade minister prepares to jet overseas in a bid to secure jab doses held hostage by Europe's export restrictions.
Mr Morrison notified state and territory leaders yesterday afternoon that national cabinet would meeting twice a week from Monday- a schedule unseen since the height of the pandemic.
Medical advice that the AstraZeneca vaccine was not preferred for people aged under 50 due to the possibility of rare blood clots has thrown Australia's vaccine rollout into disarray.
As a result, the government has ditched its vaccine rollout target of having most Australians jabbed at least once by October.
Mr Morrison said the government was "throwing everything" it had at the plagued rollout and to be "open and transparent" about how it was tracking.
"There are serious challenges we need to overcome caused by patchy international vaccine supplies, changing medical advice and a global environment of need caused by millions of COVID-19 cases and deaths," he said.
"This is a complex task and there are problems with the program that we need to solve to ensure more Australians can be vaccinated safely and more quickly.
"I have requested that national cabinet and our health ministers move back to an operational footing - to work together, closely, to tackle, head on, the challenges we are all facing with making our vaccination program as good as it can be."
Sidelining the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine- the only jab Australia can currently produce locally- for sections of the population has forced the government to recalibrate, including purchasing 20m extra doses of Pfizer.
Authorities on Tuesday revealed a second case of rare blood clotting was detected in a woman aged in her 40s who was vaccinated in Western Australia.
The woman, a healthcare worker in remote northern WA who received the AstraZeneca vaccine in mid-March and developed serious symptoms two weeks later, remains in intensive care but is said to be recovering well.
Therapeutic Goods Administration deputy secretary John Skerritt said there had been about 700,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine delivered in Australia so far, making the rate of rare blood clots associated with the vaccine one in 350,000.
"When you look at the British data that quoted about one in 250,000 … that is an extremely remote and unlikely event. It is a very rare finding. As I said before, your chances of winning Lotto are much higher," he said.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said 56,000 jabs had taken place in the 24 hours to Tuesday afternoon despite some state vaccination programs, including in Victoria, being "paused or varied" to deal with the new AstraZeneca advice.
Mr Hunt said authorities had anticipated "a significant drop" in vaccination numbers due to people being hesitant to get the AstraZeneca jab but said this had not occurred "at this stage".
Earlier on Tuesday the government confirmed it had ruled out buying Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine at this stage as it was too similar to the AstraZeneca jab.
Meanwhile, Trade Minister Dan Tehan is expected to jet off to Europe on Thursday on a rare pandemic-era trade mission, with high-level meetings scheduled in Geneva, Berlin, Brussels, France and the UK.
Alongside free trade agreement discussions, Mr Tehan is expected to meet with European Union officials and the head of the World Trade Organisation to negotiate Australia's vaccine supply.
The government has been locked in a rolling dispute with the European Commission over the fate of 3.1m AstraZeneca vaccine doses that Australia has signed a contract for but are yet to arrive due to export restrictions.
The failure of those doses to arrive early in the rollout has been blamed as the catalyst for the sluggish rollout.
A million of those doses are to be diverted to Papua New Guinea to assist the coronavirus-ravaged Pacific nation.
Originally published as Back on war footing amid vaccine mercy dash to Europe