Australia’s chief medical officer, Prof Paul Kelly, says there is no evidence the AstraZeneca vaccine causes blood clots, declaring that the rollout would continue without delay, despite some European countries halting their programs while any potential link is investigated.
But Australia’s sole vaccine manufacturer, CSL, told Guardian Australia it was in talks with the government about the possibility of producing alternative vaccines.
“While CSL remains open to discussions about manufacture of alternative Covid-19 vaccines, our resources are fully committed to the manufacture of the AstraZeneca vaccine,” said CSL’s chief scientific officer, Dr Andrew Nash.
“CSL does not have the current capacity to manufacture mRNA vaccines but we have engaged with government in relation to future possibilities.”
The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are mRNA vaccines – the latter of which is the only other vaccine approved for use in Australia by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
Health authorities in countries including France, Italy, Netherlands and Norway have halted rollouts of the AstraZeneca vaccine while reports of blood clots in people who have received doses are investigated.
On Tuesday, Kelly joined the Therapeutic Goods Administration and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation in defending the AstraZeneca vaccine, saying there was no evidence the Oxford University-linked vaccine caused blood clots.
“I would make it very clear that here in Australia, safety is our first priority, and in any large vaccine rollout we do expect to see unusual events and we monitor very closely and carefully for those, but this does not mean that an event that happens after vaccination has been given is indeed due to that vaccine,” Kelly said.
“We do always take it seriously, we do investigate, but in this situation I can absolutely say I remain confident in the AstraZeneca vaccine, that it is safe,” he said.
Kelly’s comments follow a call from the Nationals senator Matt Canavan for the rollout in Australia to be halted.
“I don’t see how we could continue when basically the whole of Europe is worried about this vaccine,” Canavan said.
Scott Morrison and the federal health minister, Greg Hunt, said they phoned Canavan immediately after he made his comments on Tuesday morning to “discuss” his position, distancing the government from any doubts expressed about the TGA’s assessment that the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe.
“The government clearly, unequivocally, absolutely supports the AstraZeneca rollout,” Hunt told parliament, while noting that he expected Australia’s 200,000th vaccine dose to be administered by the end of Tuesday.
Locally produced AstraZeneca vaccines are due to begin being distributed next week.
Australia has bought about 54m doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine – 50m which will be produced in Melbourne by CSL – and 20m imported doses of the Pfizer jab.
Labor’s health spokesman, Mark Butler, lashed Canavan, while also expressing concerns about the medical industry’s frustrations, revealed by the Guardian, that the vaccine booking website promised by the government has not been launched, six days out from the jab being available to GPs.
“This is utterly remarkable and irresponsible,” Butler said of the delayed booking website.
Phase 1b of the rollout is set to begin on Monday, with about 6.14 million Australians becoming eligible for the jab.
The Nationals leader, Michael McCormack, also called out his party colleague’s comments, insisting they didn’t represent his or the government’s views.