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States and territories have rejected Greg Hunt’s claims Pfizer supply issues in October have been fixed with Daniel Andrews warning Victoria could not bring forward second-dose appointments as a result.
The Australian Capital Territory chief minister, Andrew Barr, said on Thursday the territory was “experiencing the same issue” of tight Pfizer supply, acknowledging reports that general practitioners were cancelling or rescheduling Pfizer vaccine appointments.
Andrews was the first to raise the issue publicly, revealing on Monday that the head of the national Covid vaccine taskforce, Lt Gen John Frewen, had advised states of a “problem” with Pfizer supplies in October.
Hunt, the federal health minister, claimed to have fixed the issue by bringing forward deliveries from the 4m dose-swap deal with the UK.
But on Thursday morning, states were still in the dark about their dose allocation in late October. They feared that using UK doses to smooth a shortfall in early October meant supply was levelling off rather than ramping up as expected.
Andrews, the Victorian premier, told reporters in Melbourne the state government would “love to get the dose interval down” – and administer second Pfizer doses closer to three weeks later rather than the current six weeks – to accelerate the rollout.
“[But] I don’t have the stock in the fridge or the freezer to bring that dose interval forward. It’s not on the table. It’s not an option. We’re currently rationing Pfizer,” he said. “I know … you may get told something different out of the commonwealth. I’m telling you we don’t have it in the fridge or the freezer.”
Andrews, who on Monday pointed the finger at Pfizer by saying the issue was “not the federal government’s fault”, said he would not get “into a debate about what’s caused” the shortfall but said he was “just stating a fact”.
“We were told – by no one less than the general himself, at national cabinet, that there were problems with October.”
Andrews said Victoria had expected to know the full October allocation “about a week or two ago” but he still didn’t know the allocation for “the back-end of October”.
“The commonwealth did a lot of work over last weekend because there were delays in their confirmation from Pfizer,” he said.
Asked to explain how the early October shortfall had developed, Hunt told reporters on Thursday he would “leave it to them [Pfizer] to explain”.
The company has said that it is meeting monthly delivery targets and Hunt confirmed both Pfizer and Moderna were providing the “full supply” across October.
“What I set out on Monday is that in terms of some shipments they were moved back slightly, other shipments we were able to move forward,” Hunt said. “[The] problem [is] resolved. Some may seek to try to create an issue.”
Hunt hit back at Andrews saying it was a “difficult day in Victoria” and he “may detect a pattern on such days” – suggesting the Victorian premier was using the rollout to distract from other issues.
Hunt said he had provided the figures to the Victorian government on Thursday morning, but acknowledged that “final figures” for the last fortnight of October would be confirmed in the next 48 hours.
Hunt said mRNA vaccine deliveries to Victoria would rise from 566,000 in the week of 20 September to 607,000 for 27 September; 755,000 in the first week of October and 833,000 in the second. In the final two weeks, Victoria would receive 1.6m doses.
Asked if those figures suggested a reduction in the final fortnight to 800,000 a week, a spokesperson for Hunt said: “No. That recognises that by then the number of Victorians with first doses will mean fewer potentially seeking first-dose vaccinations. If more is needed more will be provided.”
The spokesperson said Victoria was getting 3m mRNA vaccines in October, up from 1.7m in September.
In Sydney, the NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard, acknowledged “there are some issues just about how much we’re actually getting, and we need some clarity around that”. He urged older Australians to take AstraZeneca as is recommended, as any Pfizer would be prioritised for younger people.
Barr told reporters in Canberra “we would’ve preferred to have greater certainty coming into October”.
He said he had heard “anecdotal reports” of cancellation of appointments across the primary healthcare network, but said that aspect of the rollout is controlled by the commonwealth.
Barr said no appointments at territory-run mass vaccination clinics had been cancelled because it had been “very conservative” in its estimates but the “uncertainty makes it difficult to open up new bookings earlier”.
Asked if there was any validity to the concerns of states and territories regarding Pfizer supplies, Hunt said: “No.”
Pfizer is contracted to supply 40m doses in 2021, the bulk of which are arriving in the final quarter of the year.
A spokesperson for Pfizer Australia ruled out that there had been any slowing of Australia’s anticipated supply schedule as a result of the bilateral deals and insisted the company was on track to supply the full 40m doses in 2021 and meet monthly targets.
“Pfizer has a strong relationship with the federal government with continuous engagement both locally and globally in support of their national vaccine program, including supply requests.”