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Daniel McCulloch and Rebecca Gredley
(Australian Associated Press)
Australia is no longer reliant on insecure international supplies of coronavirus vaccines after the national medical regulator approved locally made doses.
The first batch of Australian-made AstraZeneca drugs has been approved, with about 500,000 doses to go out each week.
Health Minister Greg Hunt declared “the trucks are rolling” as the locally produced vaccines are dispatched across the country.
“This provides the security of supply for the Australian general population rollout, which is fundamental,” he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.
Mr Hunt said the European Union had put in place some “very challenging” hurdles to getting supplies to Australia.
“But we are in a strong position because of this Australian production.”
Appearing before a Senate estimates committee, Department of Health secretary Brendan Murphy admitted the European Union had blocked more than one shipment of coronavirus vaccines.
AstraZeneca has been trying to get much more to Australia but has been unable to deliver.
“There have been various attempts to make additional shipments,” Professor Murphy said.
“We have no expectation that we will get the additional international AstraZeneca any time soon.”
However, another 159,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines have arrived in the country.
More than 312,000 people have now been vaccinated in Australia.
A group of Indigenous leaders and politicians received their first jabs in Canberra on Wednesday as medical officers prepare to visit remote communities across the countries.
Mr Hunt said Australia remained on track for everyone to get a first dose of the vaccine by October.
CSL’s Melbourne facilities are producing 50 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine.
The government is also looking to expand production through CSL, potentially beyond one million doses per week.
But the company is not at that level yet.
So far 62,000 people within the aged care sector have received the vaccine, including 4600 in the past 24 hours.
Phase 1b will see six million Australians get their jabs.
The program takes in everyone over the age of 70, along with Indigenous Australians over 55 and younger adults with a medical condition or disability.
Workers deemed critical or high risk can also apply.
European nations who halted their AstraZeneca rollout have since resumed vaccinating people with the jab after studies found it did not lead to blood clots.
Medical regulator boss John Skerritt said his European counterparts were concerned about the rollout restarting amid a decline in confidence caused by the pause.
He relayed to them the story of Samoa, where a vaccine mix-up in 2018 saw trust in jabs plummet.
The island nation later faced a measles outbreak where 83 children died as a result of vaccine hesitancy.
Australia did not halt the AstraZeneca rollout when issues were raised regarding blood clots.
“You only pause a vaccine program when you have very strong evidence, it is not a decision we take lightly,” he told the Senate committee
But he conceded vaccine hesitancy was an issue.
“We’re on the horns of a conundrum,” Professor Skerritt said.
“We’re not here to force people to get vaccinated. However, we want – for the good of Australian society and starting normal life again – to have as many people vaccinated as possible.”