The who’s who of Australia’s COVID-19 response have been grilled about the progress of the vaccine rollout, including about how the change to their advice on the AstraZeneca vaccine has been taken by different age groups.
The nation’s top health experts were also today asked about how many people in residential disability care had received a jab and what the latest advice was on whether you could “mix and match” different vaccines.
Here’s a quick recap of what we learned.
Doses in disability care a ‘trickle’
Early in the hearing, health officials — including Department of Health secretary Brendan Murphy and associate secretary Caroline Edwards — conceded the vaccine rollout in the disability sector had been slower than they would have liked.
Vaccine doses have been administered in only about 100 of the 6,000 residential disability centres across the country.
That is despite disability care residents and staff, along with those in aged care, being scheduled to get the jab in the first phase of the vaccine rollout.
“The initial slow start in aged care residents required us to pivot to make sure we focused on them, on the basis that they have been, in practice and on our advice, the most vulnerable group.”
Ms Edwards and Professor Murphy said because there were usually smaller numbers of people, who on average were also younger, in disability care, they were deemed to be at lower risk than older Australians in larger group homes.
But the government is planning on “ramping up” the rollout as it gets closer to vaccinating aged care residents.
Vaccine confidence down in young people
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly was also at the hearing and was asked about the effect of the government’s advice to make the Pfizer jab the preferred vaccine for people under 50.
The expert group on vaccines recommended the change in response to concerns about a link between the AstraZeneca jab and extremely rare cases of blood clots.
Professor Kelly said survey data showed the advice did not change older Australians’ attitude toward the vaccine, but it did change younger people’s attitude.
“Quite reasonably, those who don’t see the high benefit of vaccinations — the younger people who are less likely to have severe COVID — their confidence has decreased since the announcement on the 8th of April,” he said.
He also said 30 per cent of Australians were currently worried about coronavirus affecting them, compared to 70 per cent of people in March last year.
Mix and matching vaccines
Another question that came up quite a bit was what the latest advice was on getting two different vaccines.
Head of the Therapeutic Goods Administration John Skerritt said research into the matter was underway at Oxford University in England and in Europe.
“They’ve got the four big vaccine companies involved — Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, Moderna and AstraZeneca — looking at whether you can mix and match different doses of a vaccine,” he said.
“One of the unknowns is: Do you do them at a four-week, three-week or 12-week interval?
“What’s the interval that gives the best protection against COVID between those two shots?”
Pfizer only requires three weeks between doses, whereas AstraZeneca requires 12 weeks.