Australian scientists have raised questions over the efficacy of the AstraZeneca and University of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine in establishing herd immunity, calling for a pause on its widespread rollout as the country recorded one new case of the virus yesterday.
Opposition to the vaccine casts a cloud over Australia’s immunization plans, with 53 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab already on hand.
“The question is really whether it is able to provide herd immunity. We are playing a long game here. We don’t know how long that will take,” Australian and New Zealand Society for Immunology president Stephen Turner said.
Turner added that the Australian government must pivot toward getting more of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
Experts, including Turner, cited data showing that the AstraZeneca vaccine had a 62 percent efficacy compared with more than 90 percent for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The society in a statement said that Turner was speaking as an expert in immunology and that the body did not advocate a pause to the rollout as widely reported by local media.
Earlier, Turner told the Sydney Morning Herald that the AstraZeneca vaccine is not one “I would be deploying widely because of that lower efficacy.”
Australia has 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, although neither AstraZeneca nor Pfizer have approval from the country’s drug regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to an e-mail request for comment.
Australian Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly attempted to thwart the concerns around its efficacy, saying the AstraZeneca jab was “effective,” “safe” and of “high quality.”
“The great advantage of the AstraZeneca vaccine is it’s being made here in Australia,” Kelly said. “It will be available as soon as the TGA gives its tick, which we expect that it will in February.”
Kelly said that Australia would have more data by next month as well as “real-world information” coming from London, which has already rolled out the vaccine.
Australia has been more successful than many countries in managing the COVID-19 pandemic, with total infections in the country of 25 million people at 28,650, with 909 deaths.
The country’s success is largely attributable to closed borders and widespread compliance with social-distancing rules, along with aggressive testing and tracing programs.
Given the low case numbers and community transmission rates, some experts say that Australia could afford to wait for a more effective vaccine.
“The government needs to be flexible in its rollout decisions once we have a better understanding of the efficacy of the other vaccines,” said Adrian Esterman, chair of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the University of South Australia.
Australia yesterday recorded one new local COVID-19 case in its most populous state of New South Wales.
In Queensland, hundreds of hotel quarantine guests were forced to restart their isolation after a handful of cases in the facility were linked to a highly contagious COVID-19 strain that emerged in the UK last month.
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