The choice Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly has is to roll out the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines it has available after some scientists questioned Australia’s plan to widely distribute the AstraZeneca vaccine rather than the Pfizer drug.

“The choice is not whether one is better than the other, it’s which one is available to give the maximum rollout of vaccine to save lives and to protect lives this year,” he said.

“The answer to that is the one we can make here.”

Debate has raged today after a media report quoted the president of the Australian and New Zealand Immunology Society (ASI) as saying the group supported pausing the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine in favour of the reportedly more effective Pfizer vaccine.

At this stage, the reported effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine is about 70 per cent, while the Pfizer inoculation is reported to be 95 per cent effective.

Importantly, the Pfizer drug is in limited supply, but the AstraZeneca vaccine can be made locally in the quantities required to vaccinate the entire population.

The plan for Australia is to have vulnerable populations vaccinated with the 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine the Government has been able to secure and use the AstraZeneca vaccine to reach everyone else.

Professor Kelly said the AstraZeneca vaccine was essential to Australia’s strategy because “we don’t need to queue” for it.

“We don’t have the ability to make mRNA vaccine onshore. We have made the ability to make the AstraZeneca vaccine, as a different version of essentially getting to the same end point.””We don’t have the ability to make mRNA vaccine onshore. We have made the ability to make the AstraZeneca vaccine, as a different version of essentially getting to the same end point.”

Herd immunity occurs when the vaccination of a significant portion of the population provides protection for those people who have not developed immunity.

It happens when a high percentage of people are protected through vaccination, making it difficult for a virus to spread because there are so few susceptible people left to infect.

Heidi Drummer from the Burnet Institute said the AstraZeneca vaccine was a “really fantastic vaccine in preventing severe COVID-19 infection”.

Dr Drummer said the path to herd immunity was “a simple mathematical equation” and if Australia was only using the AstraZeneca drug at 62 per cent efficacy, “we will have difficulty reaching herd immunity”.

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