NSW signals vaccine rethink amid outbreak

Young workers in Sydney’s most COVID-hit areas look set to get accelerated access to first doses of the Pfizer vaccine – which could delay second doses being rolled out.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Friday that the virus was spreading throughout Sydney’s southwest and west by young workers in critical industries, despite Sydney’s strict lockdown.

“We need to get at least the first jab for as many people as we can in those affected communities as possible,” she said.

The state reported 136 new local cases on Friday, a new high for this outbreak. 

People under 40 are generally not yet eligible for the sought-after Pfizer vaccine, though they can choose to get AstraZeneca. The populations of western and southwest Sydney are younger than other parts of the city.

Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said she had recommended urgent mass vaccination of workers in those areas to stem the risk of transmission.  

Ms Berejiklian signalled she would ask other states and territories to give up their Pfizer stocks to help quash the Sydney outbreak.

She will call on the federal government to “refocus” its national rollout strategy at Friday’s national cabinet meeting, after Dr Chant advised her on Friday morning that the outbreak was now a national emergency. 

“This is not just a challenge for NSW but a challenge for the nation,” the premier said. 

Doctors Reform Society NSW, a medico-political think tank, joined Ms Berejiklian’s call for vaccines to be diverted to NSW.

“Thousands of Australians will unnecessarily catch COVID and some will die unnecessarily if (Prime Minister Scott) Morrison does not reallocate 500,000 doses of Pfizer immediately,” society president Con Costa said.

Mass vaccination of young people in Sydney’s west could mean second doses of Pfizer are delayed beyond the usual three-week interval.

“We would prefer to have more people have at least one dose of Pfizer and hold back the second, rather than have more people without any vaccine whatsoever,” Ms Berejiklian said.

The interval could be extended to six weeks, with bookings for second doses cancelled, Dr Chant said. 

NSW leaders are also ramping up their rhetoric around the AstraZeneca vaccine, encouraging the hesitant to push through and get it.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is available for people over 40 from NSW vaccine hubs. 

Dr Chant said her own husband and mother-in-law had received the AstraZeneca vaccine, as has she, the premier, and Health Minister Brad Hazzard.

“The chief health officer would not recommend AstraZeneca to someone that they care about if they had concerns,” Dr Chant said. 

“The risks of AstraZeneca are infinitesimally small compared to the benefits.” 

She encouraged even younger people who want to get AstraZeneca to have a conversation with their GP about the risks and benefits.   

Mr Hazzard said members of the community had a duty in a national emergency to do whatever they could to defeat the virus.

That duty would “absolutely” be addressed by getting vaccinated, he said, adding there were “oceans” of AstraZeneca available. 

“Your obligation to yourself, the community, NSW and indeed Australia … is to go to get the jabs of AstraZeneca.”

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