Brendan Murphy says CSL will reach a million COVID vaccines a week soon
The head of the Health Department has outlined some of the reasons why Australia's local production of the AstraZeneca vaccine has not hit its original goal of a million doses a week.
- CSL made around 830,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the first week of local production
- Batch release and manufacturing work flows are being improved to speed up production
- Scott Morrison says he will write to the EU to ask for millions of other doses to be exported to Australia
In September 2020, the government signed a deal for 3.8 million doses of the vaccine to be shipped from Europe, with a further 50 million doses to be made locally during 2021 by CSL.
The government says so far only 700,000 doses of the vaccine have been delivered, leaving 3.1 million outstanding.
The original goal set out by CSL and the government was to start producing a million doses a week by the end of March.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the government had received 1.3 million locally produced doses so far, including the 830,000 initially released on March 24.
He said as at Tuesday, 920,334 vaccinations had been administered — but that does not mean that many people have received the jab, given you need two doses of either vaccine.
Secretary of the Department of Health Brendan Murphy said there were a couple of reasons why CSL had not hit the million doses mark yet.
"The way that they want to achieve that is by a) improving the time taken for the batch release process to get that streamlined so it doesn't have to go to several international clearance processes.
"And b) they are working extremely hard on optimising the fill and finish line — the process that fills up the vials.
"They believe that there is significant improvement that they can do with that."
Batch release is the assessment done of each finished vaccine batch to make sure it meets quality standards. It is done on a small number of vials that are put aside for testing.
Professor Murphy said while he could not give an exact date, CSL was "committed to regularly achieve over a million doses a week" in the coming weeks.
Both he and Mr Hunt said it was hard to put a set figure on how many CSL would have ready and cleared every week because it ebbed and flowed.
"We're expecting later this week over 470,000 [doses], early next week, approximately 480,000 and then late next week or early the following week 670,000," Mr Hunt said.
He said the upcoming batches indicated CSL would pass the million doses a week mark in the very near future.
EU denies it blocked vaccine exports
The former chief health officer was speaking alongside the Prime Minister, who called a press conference to address comments made by the European Union overnight.
The chief spokesman for the European Commission — the EU's executive branch — denied it had blocked exports of the outstanding 3.1 million vaccine doses to Australia.
Eric Mamer told a press conference on Tuesday (local time) that the only vaccine export authorisation request that had been denied to Australia was 250,000 doses from Italy.
Scott Morrison said he had never accused the EU of blocking the vaccines, saying he had just commented that the 3.1 million doses Australia ordered had not arrived.
"I am pleased to hear that the European Union overnight has indicated that they are not seeking to restrict these vaccines to Australia," he said.
"I'll be very pleased, as will [Health Minister Greg Hunt] to write again, in parallel with AstraZeneca, to seek the export licences for the full amount of the doses."
Mr Morrison said if the doses were released, the first million would be directed to Papua New Guinea to help with local outbreaks.
Both the Prime Minister and Professor Murphy defended the speed of the vaccine rollout, with Mr Morrison saying the missing 3.1 million doses was largely to blame.
"It's straightforward maths," he said.
"That obviously had a very significant impact on the early rollout of the vaccination program."
They said supply issues had had obvious impacts, but the rollout was in progress and there were no vaccine doses "sitting in the cupboard" with all either being rolled out or stored for second doses.
Source: ABC Health