CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Australia said on Friday it had concluded an agreement to buy a further 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine as it quickly turns away from its previous plan to rely primarily on the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the deal just hours after he said Australia would stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine for people under 50.
He said the deal means Australia will receive a total of 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of the year, enough to inoculate 20 million people in the country at 26 million.
Following the statement from the European Agency, the Australian Medicines Regulatory Authority held a series of urgent meetings on Thursday and recommended the Pfizer vaccine to become the preferred vaccine for people under 50 years of age.
Morrison said there was no ban on the AstraZeneca vaccine and the risk of side effects was remote. He said the change was made out of an abundance of caution.
The turning point represents a significant shift in Australia’s overall approach and is likely to delay plans to have everyone inoculated by October.
A large part of Australia’s strategy had been the ability to manufacture its own vaccines at home and not rely on shipments from abroad. It had planned to produce about 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, enough for 25 million people. Australia had no plans to manufacture other vaccines at home.
Even before the change, the government faced criticism for a rollout program that is lagging behind in most other developed countries. So far, Australia has administered just over 1 million vaccine doses.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said the rollout was a problem and Australians needed certainty as to when they would be vaccinated.
“This government has failed. This government could not run a choco vine up a back fence, ”Albanian journalists said, referring to a plant that produces pear-shaped fruit and grows easily in the Australian climate.
Health Secretary Greg Hunt said there would be some adjustments, but everyone would be kept safe and would be vaccinated.
Australia has managed to eradicate the spread of the virus in the community and allow life to continue much as before the pandemic.
AstraZeneca noted that Australia’s decision to restrict the use of the vaccine was based on the fact that it had no transmission from society.
“Overall, regulators have confirmed that the vaccine offers a high level of protection against all levels of COVID-19 severity and that these benefits continue to far outweigh the risks,” the company said in a statement.