Waiting for vaccine slows virus response

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Health experts warn Australia’s vaccine coverage is so low that more lockdowns are inevitable.

Many older Australians are waiting for an alternative to AstraZeneca before getting a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a government survey.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported 35 per cent of 50 to 69 year olds and 26 per cent of people aged 70 and over cited wanting a different vaccine as a key reason for not yet getting a jab, despite being eligible.

The figures come as Prime Minister Scott Morrison points to medical advice as a key reason for the slower than expected vaccine take-up.

In April, the independent federal advisory committee recommended the Pfizer vaccine for people aged under 50, due to the risk of rare but potentially deadly blood clots linked to the AstraZeneca jab.

In June, this recommendation was broadened to anyone aged under 60.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation updated its advice again this week in response to the Sydney outbreak.

People living in outbreak areas have been advised to cut the gap between their first and second doses of AstraZeneca.

The recommended wait time between doses has been slashed from 12 weeks to between four and eight.

Mr Morrison has criticised the series of cautious decisions by ATAGI.

“It slowed it considerably and it put us behind,” he told 2GB.

Officially, Pfizer remains the preferred vaccine for people under the age of 60.

But under 60s living in outbreak areas have been advised to consider getting AstraZeneca if Pfizer is unavailable.

Mr Morrison has thrown an economic lifeline to Sydney residents and business owners hit by the coronavirus lockdown, which has been extended to July 30.

But epidemiologist Henning Liljeqvist says it will take longer than an extra two weeks to get the outbreak under control.

The Delta variant is so infectious that if people share a household then it can be assumed they’re going to get infected.

“I think we’re looking at least three, possibly four weeks before we can start thinking about lifting restrictions,” he told the ABC.

He warned Victoria is also at risk of another lockdown, after suffering Delta variant clusters linked to NSW.

Psychological distress is matching levels seen last year, at 20 per cent, and is worse for younger Australians, the ABS data showed.

Signalling calls for help will rise in NSW during the extended lockdown, more people living in Victoria experienced distress compared to other areas when it was under social restrictions.

So far, just under 9.5 million vaccine doses have been administered.

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