Health Minister Greg Hunt.
Health Minister Greg Hunt.

‘Vaccine reset’ will help Aus; PNG to get 1m doses

The federal government's decision to stop providing the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to Australians over 50 is a vital step in revitalising Australia's vaccine rollout, Health Minister Greg Hunt said.

"The latest advice indicates, just as we had with flu, age limits for some vaccines should be used for younger people and some for older," Mr Hunt told Sky News. "From May 3 in state clinics or commonwealth respiratory clinics or in GP respiratory clinics, over 50s will have access to the vaccination program."

Mr Hunt said the new reset will allow the further acceleration of the vaccine rollout.

"For the under-50s in the 1A and 1B groups, we're fast tracking the process through access to the state and territory Pfizer clinics. It's a really good step forward. 1.8 million vaccinations done so far. We'll get the country vaccinated".



Australia has helped secure one million emergency doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 jab for Papua New Guinea amid an ongoing feud between the vaccine manufacturer and the EU.

Australia first flagged the desire to divert doses from its contractual supply to PNG several weeks ago as coronavirus cases surged in the island nation surged.

But it was thought improbable, with the EU in a feud with AstraZeneca over its failure to meet vaccine delivery targets. Europe also cracked down on vaccine exports in a bid to get the jab to more of its own people.


Federal Trade Minister Dan Tehan. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Nicole Cleary
Federal Trade Minister Dan Tehan. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Nicole Cleary


Trade Minister Dan Tehan met with EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis this week in Brussels where he flagged the PNG issue, The Australian reports.

The two agreed there was nothing stopping AstraZeneca sending the doses to PNG, and the British pharmaceutical giant would not have to apply to the EU for permission to release them.

"We have very clear assurances that AstraZeneca does not have to apply through the EU export transparency regime to send those one million doses to Papua New Guinea,'' Mr Tehan said on Thursday.

"So there is nothing that is preventing them from sending those one million doses, from Europe to PNG and the ball is clearly in AstraZeneca's court.''

Mr Tehan said Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Health Minister Greg Hunt were talking with AstraZeneca about securing the PNG vaccines as soon as possible.

Australia has a remaining balance of 2.1 million doses with AstraZeneca following the development. However, delivery could be more than 12 months away as European contracts must be filled first.

The European Commission is looking to launch legal action against AstraZeneca over the delivery shortfalls.

The EU executive informed member state envoys of its plans on Wednesday (local time), diplomats told AFP, confirming information first published by the Politico website.

They said any lawsuit against AstraZeneca would begin in a Belgian court - the jurisdiction agreed under the commission's contract with the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company.

A Commission spokesman, Eric Mamer, told journalists that "no decision has yet been taken".



NSW Health has launched an investigation after the crew of a ship that docked in Sydney later tested positive for COVID-19.

Health officials were left in the dark over the fact at least 15 Port Botany wharfies who boarded the ship could have been infected for three weeks.

Six out of 15 Sydney workers had returned negative test results by 10pm Thursday. More test results are expected to come back throughout Friday.

The NSW Health investigation will also seek to determine whether an additional three wharfies had boarded the ship.

The Inge Kosan bulk liquids vessel from Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea docked at Port Botany on March 31 and stayed there for 24 hours.

After the ship sailed into Port Vila in Vanuatu, health authorities there found 12 out of 13 crew members were COVID-19 positive.

Inge Kosan docked in Sydney for 24 hours at the end of March.
Inge Kosan docked in Sydney for 24 hours at the end of March.

NSW Health said in a statement early Friday morning they were alerted to the situation on Wednesday. That means 21 days elapsed between the Sydney visit and the discovery by NSW authorities.

It comes after reports the dead body of a sailor was found on a beach in Port Vila. It was determined he was infected with the coronavirus.

NSW Health said it was media reports about that death that led officials to launch its investigation.

"NSW Health sought information from the National Incident Room to confirm these reports and investigated the movements of the ship to ascertain if it had been in NSW," the statement read.

"Fifteen workers at Port Botany are confirmed to have boarded the ship to conduct routine port activities before disembarking. No crew members disembarked the ship during its time in Sydney."

NSW Health said there were COVID-safe procedures in place at the port, and that those workers that had been interviewed confirmed they were wearing personal protective equipment.

The discovery of the body in Port Vila sparked a three-day travel lockdown of Vanuatu's main island Efate, ABC News reported.



Australians aged over 50 will have access to coronavirus jabs as soon as May 3 as part of a "significant reset" of the country's sluggish vaccine rollout.

National Cabinet met on Thursday to rubberstamp the changes, including saving Pfizer jabs for Australians under 50 until supplies drastically increase later in the year, excluding aged-care residents and frontline health, border and quarantine workers.

Scott Morrison said all states and territories had agreed to bring forward vaccinations for over 50s outside the 1a and 1b categories already underway in a bid to speed up distribution.

From May 3, Australians over the age of 50 can receive the AstraZeneca jab at high-volume centres and then at their local GP from May 17.

"That will give them ample time for them to gear up for that and it'll also give them more time for those GPs to focus continually on that over-70 population where they're working through very effectively this time," the Prime Minister said.

"State and territory Pfizer vaccine rollouts, which are currently being done, will also be available to workforce in residential aged- care facilities, as well as disability care."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a press conference after the National Cabinet meeting in Parliament House, Canberra. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage
Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a press conference after the National Cabinet meeting in Parliament House, Canberra. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

Health Department Secretary Brendan Murphy said the aged-care rollout was "nearly finished" and all remaining facilities would still receive the Pfizer jab but others would have to wait.

"People who for one reason or another, don't feel like having AstraZeneca … will have access to Pfizer later in the year," he said.

"We really have two vaccines, divided by age, with some exceptions."

Prof Murphy urged all eligible Australians to roll up their sleeves and advised people over 50 the risk posed to them by the AstraZeneca jab was extremely low.

"The message I would give is that we have a very good expert panel, ATAGI, who are constantly evaluating the risk," Prof Murphy said.

"And they have currently said that the risk benefit is such that over 50, or 50 and over … the benefit risk ratio, is vastly in favour of getting vaccinated."

Almost 1.8 million Australians have now been vaccinated.


Prime Minister Scott Morrison with Professors Brendan Murphy and Paul Kelly during a press conference after the National Cabinet meeting in Parliament House, Canberra. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage
Prime Minister Scott Morrison with Professors Brendan Murphy and Paul Kelly during a press conference after the National Cabinet meeting in Parliament House, Canberra. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage


Australia will also slash the number of flights arriving from India by a third and mandate rapid coronavirus tests for all people travelling from high-risk countries as cases surge overseas.

Travel exemptions for trips to high-risk areas including India will be also reduced to avoid Australians becoming stuck overseas.

India reported 314,835 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday - the highest daily increase recorded anywhere during the pandemic so far.

The prime minister said the explosion of cases in India "was not something we could ignore".

"It reflects that we're in the middle of a global pandemic that is raging," he said.



"Australia has been successful throughout this pandemic, working together with the states and territories, to have very effective border arrangements.

"Countries that didn't follow that practice have found themselves in the situation they're in.

"This is a way of matching that risk."

Mr Morrison said between 10 and 40 per cent of all coronavirus cases in hotel quarantine across the country were now coming from India.

The changes will come into effect in the coming days.

He said the reduction in travel exemptions would mean some people would miss important events including funerals and weddings.

"Regrettably there are some exemptions that are provided in these circumstances and we'll be instructing the Border Force to ensure only in very urgent circumstances would an exemption be permitted for someone to travel to a high-risk country," Mr Morrison said.

Australians returning from a high-risk country over the past fortnight will also be required to return a negative PCR test 72 hours before leaving their last port.

Originally published as 'Vaccine reset' will help Aus; PNG to get 1m doses

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