News Analysis: how will Australia go with new phase of vaccination rollout?

2021-05-05 04:05:46 GMT2021-05-05 12:05:46(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

SYDNEY, May 5 (Xinhua) -- Australia has reached a new phase in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccination program this week with all people aged 50 being eligible for a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Since late February, about 15.2 million vaccine doses had been allocated throughout Australia. The first recipients have included quarantine and border workers, health care workers and residents and workers in aged care and disability homes.

The eligibility list was extended on March 22 to include Indigenous people aged 55 and over, other people aged 70 and over, younger adults with underlying medical conditions or disabilities and police, fire and emergency services workers and meat processing workers.

There are a further 15.8 million AstraZeneca doses allocated in this latest phase. People will be able to receive the vaccine from special respiratory clinics or mass vaccination hubs in some states.

Melbourne has just opened its sixth mass vaccination hub while Sydney is due to open its first on May 10. The vaccine will also be available from selected doctors from May 17. The state of Western Australia also launched a campaign to encourage residents to get vaccinated.

As of Monday this week, 2,316,969 vaccine doses had been administered across the country, according to the latest figures from the Health Department.

However, the gap is still big. A report by the Guardian estimated that at the seven-day rolling average of 458,000 doses, it will take 30 more months to administer 45 million doses, and the current vaccination gap is 1.8 million doses.

Dr. Katie Attwell, a vaccination policy researcher from the University of Western Australia leading a study into community attitudes to the COVID-19 vaccination, told Xinhua Australia's good control of the pandemic and life with limited restrictions may make people feel less pressured to get vaccinated.

"In Australia, we definitely face a near-unique situation compared to many other places in the world. Our states function as bubbles; inside them we are generally free to move around and live normally, with no COVID in the community. Whenever there are cases coming out from hotel quarantine, generally we go into short, sharp lockdowns and then gradually return to normal again. In this context, people are less likely to be thinking about COVID-19 as a direct threat to themselves or their loved ones, which makes the value proposition of the vaccine more challenging," Attwell said.

Another major barrier is people's concern caused by some rare but high-profile cases linking the AstraZeneca vaccine to blood clots, which might hamper the rollout scheme as people shy away from "rolling up their sleeves."

A survey conducted by the Australian National University (ANU) Centre for Social Research and Methods revealed that in April Australians became more willing to take a "safe and effective" vaccine, but many were still concerned about the AstraZeneca vaccine over the potential blood clot risks.

The study has shown 39.5 percent of Australians were slightly concerned, 20.3 percent were moderately concerned, and 21.8 percent were very concerned about possible side effects if they do take a current vaccine while less than one-in-five or 18.4 percent weren't concerned about it.

Concerns about side effects were the main reason Australians said they wouldn't take a hypothetical vaccine, accounting for 63 percent of people who don't want the shot, the study found.

"On top of that, 50.4 percent of people who said they wouldn't take a vaccine said their decision was based on recent news about the AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clotting," study co-author Professor Nicholas Biddle said.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) already concluded a likely link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and the death of a 48-year-old woman who died in hospital from blood clots one day after receiving the vaccine.

A further three cases of rare blood clots, including a 35-year-old woman, a 49-year-old man and a 80-year-old man were also likely linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Other common side-effects, which can last for one or two days, include pain, swelling, tenderness, redness or itching at the injection site, tiredness, headaches, muscle pain, nausea, fever, and chills. The side-effects are more common in people under 55 after their first dose, than with older people.

The nation's governments and health experts, however, are adamant the benefits of AstraZeneca far outweigh any such risks.

They cite clinical trials, which have included more than 57,000 people, which have found the AstraZeneca vaccine to be safe.

Australian Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly said the "benefits of the vaccination with AstraZeneca in preventing severe COVID-19 outweigh the harms of this rare but serious event of the thrombocytopenic syndrome in people aged 50 years and over."

Epidemiologist and global health researcher Dr. Meru Sheel from ANU also acknowledged the positive effect of vaccination and told Xinhua people need to become properly informed about vaccinations.

"They are right to ask questions and they should seek out information from appropriate government department websites and from their GPs and other reliable sources."

Facing the upcoming winter and the developing crisis in India, the importance of vaccination is highlighted.

Sheel noted that as long as there was a pandemic anywhere in the world, the risks remained prevalent.

"Vaccines are effective in this process, so the quicker the rollout is achieved, then the faster we can return to normalcy." Enditem