The Australian Government has reached a deal with Pfizer overnight to increase the vaccine supply by 20 million doses, doubling the expected incoming orders this year to 40 million.
These new doses are expected to be ready in the fourth quarter of 2021, but the government will be pushing to bring the delivery date forward.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was yesterday recommended as preferred over the AstraZeneca alternative for recipients aged under 50, following advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) in response to blood clot risks.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the breakthrough as "very welcome news", particularly in light of the information received by ATAGI last night.
"Australia has entered into four separate agreements for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines, and these include agreements with Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Novavax and COVAX, and these agreements now total up to some 170 million doses," Morrison said.
An "informed consent" approach is now encouraged for health departments and vaccine recipients, prompting a decision from NSW Health to temporarily suspend administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine until adequate guidance materials are available.
The data to date globally shows an extremely low probability for AstraZeneca vaccine recipients suffering from blood clots - far lower than side effects for common pharmaceutical products such as contraceptive pills for example - and the vaccine is still the recommended choice for people aged 50 and over.
"Vaccinating our elderly Australians remains a key priority that also supports the continued opening up of Australia, because the risk factor of severe illness amongst the most vulnerable is therefore reduced," the PM said.
"I want to stress again that the advice that has been received, the recommendations from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation is not a ban on the AstraZeneca vaccine. It is not a prohibition on the AstraZeneca vaccine.
"It recommends and notes that the risk of these side effects are remote, they are very rare.
"We're talking in the vicinity of five or six per million, which is a rather rare event but it must be acknowledged so Australians can make informed decisions about their vaccination and their health care with their medical professionals, with their doctor."
The government is also recalibrating its plans for the vaccine roll-out to new groups, but the core focus remains on the '1a' and '1b' groups.
The first of these cohorts includes quarantine and border workers, frontline health workers, and aged care and disability care staff, while the latter comprises elderly adults aged 70 and over, other health care workers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults aged 55 and over, adults with an underlying medical condition or significant disability, and critical or high-risk workers such as those in meat processing, fire and emergency services, and the police force.
Australia has so far delivered one million vaccines and will implement a daily system for updates about how the roll-out is tracking.
National Cabinet exploring more travel bubbles
The Prime Minister also discussed other matters raised in today's National Cabinet meeting including the possibility of new travel bubbles.
The National Cabinet has asked the Medical Expert Panel to deliver more information about what thresholds need to be met to let Australians travel overseas and return without having to go into hotel quarantine.
"This will be a major change," the PM said.
"We want to open up more, we want to do it safely, we want to ease restrictions, we want to do that in a consistent way across the country."
With a trans-Tasman bubble expected to launch this month, the PM already has his sights set on the next opportunity for international travel.
If all goes to plan, Singapore is the next destination on the cards for Australians.
The National Cabinet also agreed today that large, seated gatherings can have a 100 per cent capacity, on the condition that Australia's international borders remain substantively closed.
Updated at 1:33pm AEST on 9 April 2021.
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