A Guardian Australia analysis of the government’s vaccine rollout plan suggests there are significant gaps between the number of AstraZeneca doses forecast by the government and the amount that could be reached with local vaccine production alone.
The government has produced several forecasts of the numbers it expects for available vaccine doses in Australia to support planning of the vaccine rollout.
The most recent two documents are the Covid Vaccination Allocations Horizons document of 18 June, and then an updated Horizons document on 11 July.
In these documents, the government forecast the available amount of AstraZeneca to be 2.3m to 2.6m per week from July to August in the old Horizons document, and 2m to 2.3m per week from August to September in the new Horizons document.
However, these amounts are over double the amount of doses that CSL is able to produce per week when operating at maximum capacity, which is around 1m doses.
This means that there is a significant gap between the total forecasted amount the government says will have been available by the end of September, and the amount that would be available in a scenario in which CSL operated at maximum capacity over this time:
The gap between the total doses available under these scenarios is significant – between 10.2m and 14.7m doses when comparing the first Horizons projections with CSL at maximum capacity, and a gap of 8.5m to 10.3m when comparing the second Horizons projections.
The government does have some doses of AstraZeneca held back as a contingency for second doses, but this was only 2.3m as at 5 July according to a Department of Health spokesperson, and so could not account for closing such a large gap.
Guardian Australia has spoken to several people familiar with vaccine production in Australia who expressed surprise at the government’s forecasts when compared with CSL’s output.
The gap may well be larger in practice as CSL has so far only been able to put out over a million doses per week in three weeks, with production lower at other times due to various factors, including the production of essential antivenoms.
The Department of Health failed to respond to specific questions on how the forecasts were calculated and why there was such a large gap between the allocations and actual production amounts.
In a statement a spokesperson for the Department said there “is more than enough supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine to meet demand within Australia”.
“These allocations are calculated by using forecast supply figures provided to the Commonwealth by the vaccine manufacturers, as well as stock on hand information, including the supply of second doses which has been held in contingency by the Commonwealth and is being subsequently supplied to cohorts in this period, in-line with the recommended dose interval,” they said.
Despite these unexplained differences, even if AstraZeneca is available at a lower rate than the forecast amounts it is unlikely to affect the broader rollout if other vaccines are delivered to schedule, with larger amounts of Pfizer, and doses of Moderna, becoming available later in the year.
AstraZeneca is still widely available, so much so that the NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard, said on Thursday that NSW was “awash” with AstraZeneca.
Prof Robert Booy, an infectious diseases researcher who is also on the board of the Australian Immunisation Coalition, said the projections could make sense if the government was able to supplement local production with overseas-produced doses. However, since the first Horizons document was published after the EU prevented exports of AstraZeneca doses the figures require an explanation, he said.
In addition, given the reported vaccine hesitancy around AstraZeneca, the rollout would have to rely on greater volumes of other vaccine types being imported into Australia.
“Since April-May we’ve known of the rare side effect [of AstraZeneca] and the impact on vaccine hesitancy,” he said. “We know from surveys of GPs and of patients that there remains discomfort around the AstraZeneca vaccine.”
“Much as I support the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and had my second dose less than a week ago, I can see that to deliver a national program we need a lot of vaccine from overseas.”