Australian government scales back supply projections for AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine | Vaccines and immunisation

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The government has quietly scaled down projections of how many AstraZeneca doses will be available in Australia in the coming weeks, while downplaying a huge gap between the amount being locally produced and original Covid-19 vaccine supply targets.

Last month, under significant pressure over the vaccine rollout, the federal government released a planning document estimating how many doses would be distributed over the rest of 2021.

The document, titled Covid Vaccination Allocations Horizons, estimated the commonwealth would distribute between 2.2m and 2.6m AstraZeneca doses a week to the states, general practitioners and the aged care and disability sector in July and August.

Overnight the government released a new document that cut that estimate to between 2m and 2.3m doses available each week for August and September, a potential reduction of up to 10.7%.

Both forecasts are more than double the actual level of production of AstraZeneca vaccine planned by Australia’s domestic vaccine manufacturer, CSL.

CSL told the Guardian it was only expecting to manufacture 1m doses a week from the second half of July onwards. CSL production in the past month has also been well down on its usual levels.

Throughout June, production was scaled back at CSL’s Melbourne facilities because it had to produce an unrelated antivenom.

Production fell from the 1m doses a week in May to 232,000 in the week commencing 7 June. Production hovered at between 676,000 and 720,000 for the rest of the month.

The government was consulted about the interruptions, CSL said.

When asked how it could originally project two months of AstraZeneca doses allocated at at least 2.2m a week, when CSL was only planning to produce 1m doses a week, the federal health department said it had no concerns about the local supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

It said its projections were calculated using a combination of forecast supply figures handed to government by vaccine manufacturers and “stock on hand”, which includes a reserve of second doses held by the commonwealth.

That second dose reserve will be released throughout July and August, the government said.

“The Commonwealth does not anticipate any difficulties in supply of locally produced AstraZeneca vaccine,” a spokesman said.

The new vaccine rollout plan also increases the projected amount of Pfizer available in August, from between 650,000 to 750,000 doses under the old plan to 900,000 to 1m under the new plan.

It also suggests a slight reduction in the number of Moderna doses available in September, but then increases the projected numbers of Moderna from mid-October onwards.

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CSL says it expects production of AstraZeneca to ramp up shortly.

“In consultation with the Government, production of antivenoms was scheduled through the period to ensure stock levels for these lifesaving products are maintained – this is closely planned around manufacturing of the AstraZeneca vaccine,” a spokesman said.

“While these activities are undertaken on the fill and finish line at Seqirus, production of bulk vaccine continued at our CSL Behring site, and we expect volumes to ramp-up to around a million doses per week from the second half of July.”

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