CANBERRA, April 23 (Xinhua) -- Australia's new coronavirus vaccine strategy will accelerate the country's troubled rollout, Health Minister Greg Hunt has said.
Prime Minister (PM) Scott Morrison and state and territory leaders on Thursday afternoon endorsed a new vaccine rollout plan that will fast-track vaccinations for over 50s "by better utilizing the available stock of AstraZeneca doses", and limit access to the Pfizer vaccine to people aged under 50 years eligible in phases 1a and 1b, pending commencement of subsequent phases.
On Friday morning Hunt said that the reset would ensure that Australians are inoculated against COVID-19 as soon as possible.
"The latest advice indicates, just as we had with the flu, age limits for some vaccines should be used for younger people and some for older," he told Sky News.
Under the new strategy, Australians over the age of 50 will be eligible to receive AstraZeneca's vaccine in May.
On April 8, Australian chief medical officer Paul Kelly said that the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (ATAGI) recommended that "the use of the Pfizer vaccine is preferred over the AstraZeneca vaccine in adults aged less than 50 years who have not already received the first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine."
"This is based both on the increased risk of complications from COVID-19 with increasing age, and thus increased benefit of the vaccination, and the potentially lower, but not zero risk, of this rare event (blood clots) with increasing age," he said.
Under the plan, eligible groups under the age of 50 will now be given the Pfizer vaccine.
"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," Hunt said.
Phase 1a includes hospital staff, ambulance officers and paramedics, aged-care workers and allied health professionals, quarantine and border workers, or workers likely to come into contact with travelers.
Phase 1b includes police, fire and emergency services workers, people aged over 70, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged over 55 and adults with underlying medical conditions or disabilities.
As of Thursday, there had been about 1.79 million vaccines administered in Australia.
There had been 29,602 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia as of Thursday afternoon, and the numbers of locally and overseas acquired cases in the last 24 hours were zero and 22 respectively, according to the latest figures updated on Thursday evening from the Department of Health.