EXPLAINER

Coronavirus: will the vaccine be available for everyone?

Experts have warned against vaccine nationalism. Picture: Shutterstock
Experts have warned against vaccine nationalism. Picture: Shutterstock

In just a matter of weeks, the first Australians will have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

The approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration on Monday represented a major step forward in the fight against coronavirus.

As a new advertising campaign was launched by the federal government telling people about the vaccine rollout, experts have expressed concerns about how the self-interest of countries overseas in securing the vaccine for themselves could affect supply issues elsewhere for those still waiting to receive the jab.

How is the rollout going in other countries?

While Australia is waiting for its vaccines, millions of doses of various vaccines have been distributed across other countries,

Recent figures have shown the US has rolled out more than 22 million doses of vaccines, while in the UK, almost 7 million jabs have been recorded along with almost 9 million in the EU.

With such a large demand for the vaccine, particularly in countries where death tolls are soaring, pressure is being placed on virus manufacturers to keep up.

This is partly why the vaccine rollout in Australia has been delayed from mid-February to late-February due to manufacturing delays for the Pfizer vaccine in Europe.

It comes as the European Union has warned vaccine manufacturers they must reach the number of doses that were agreed to as part of distribution arrangements.

The EU has even said it could restrict the vaccines made in Europe being exported to other nations, which could affect supply to nations like Australia or the UK.

Both major vaccine manufacturers, Pfizer and AstraZeneca, have said issues with supply chain and manufacturing have led to the number of doses delivered to EU nations being lower than previously forecast.

Is it now everyone for themselves?

The issues with vaccine rollouts have led to some fears at the beginning of the pandemic being realised, where countries would only advocate for their own interest in the roll-out of a vaccine, rather than distribute doses fairly. Some have labelled the practice vaccine nationalism, and experts have said it could get worse as the rollout goes on.

UNSW professor of epidemiology and World Health Organisation advisor Mary-Louise McLaws said while nationalism when it came to the pandemic was understandable, the practice of vaccine nationalism needed to stop.

"Everyone wants to look after their own tribe first, but that is a very short-term view, because no one is going to stay within their own borders forever," she said.

"People in Australia and the US and UK and Europe travel widely and it's not just to those countries but to low and middle-income countries as well. If you want to travel and work in other places, you want them to be as safe as your own country."

What sort of misinformation is out there?

While more than 55 million doses of COVID vaccines have been distributed around the world since the first jab was approved at the end of 2020, there has been a proliferation of misinformation surrounding the vaccine that has been floating around.

In most cases, the misinformation has been centred on the effectiveness of the vaccine in combatting the virus.

In recent days, reports in German media have said the AstraZeneca vaccine had only an 8 per cent efficacy rate among people over 65.

AstraZeneca dismissed the reporting and said the 8 per cent figure was incorrect.

A statement later produced by Germany's health department said the report had mixed up the efficacy rate with the number of participants in trials for the vaccine.

That comes a week after Norwegian health authorities sought to calm public fears after 33 people in the country aged over 75 died after they were vaccinated for COVID-19.

Authorities said there was no direct evidence of a link between the deaths and the vaccine, saying the patients were already seriously ill.

"Clearly, COVID-19 is far more dangerous to most patients than vaccination," the Norwegian Medicines Agency medical director Steinar Madsen said earlier this month.

Of the vaccines that have been approved for use the Pfizer vaccine - which has been approved for Australian use - has a 95 per cent efficacy rate, along with the Moderna vaccine, while the AstraZeneca vaccine has a rate of 70 per cent.

Professor McLaws said while more information about the vaccine will come forward as the rollout continues, the vaccines were safe to use.

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"No vaccine is going to be 100 per cent perfect," Professor McLaws said.

"Some vaccine is safer than none, whether that's the Pfizer or the AstraZeneca one.

"Given there's been more than 55 million doses that have been delivered in 56 countries, Australians should feel very confident [about the vaccine]."

What's being done to combat misinformation?

From Wednesday, the federal government has rolled out a $24 million advertising campaign, saying the vaccines were safe and urging Australians to get vaccinated.

The ads will be rolled out on TV, radio, print along with social and digital media.

As part of the ads, the head of the Therapeutic Goods Administration, Adjunct Professor John Skerritt is featured saying the vaccines were approved only where there was enough evidence and that they were safe to use.

Health Minister Greg Hunt has said the ad campaign will also be targeted at multicultural communities and those from different language backgrounds.

This story Should we be concerned about vaccine availability? first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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