The Therapeutic Goods Administration on Tuesday approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for people aged 18 and over, with decisions about those aged over 65 to be made on a case-by-case basis.
Initial supplies of the vaccine will be imported into Australia from overseas before 50 million doses are manufactured locally.
TGA boss John Skerritt said the vaccine was recommended for all ages.
“AstraZeneca gives us a vaccine that can be used in major facilities, in primary care through GPs and potentially through pharmacy practices,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“Having a vaccine accessible in a country as wide and brown as ours is important.”
Elderly patients over 65 years of age showed a strong immune response in clinical trials, but there were not enough participants to conclusively determine efficacy for that group.
There are no safety concerns associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine. The provisional approval is valid for two years and means it can now be legally supplied in Australia.
It comes a day after an initial 142,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived in the country with the first shots to start from Monday.
AstraZeneca has been found to have an efficacy rate of 82 per cent when two doses are administered 12 weeks apart.
Pfizer has recorded efficacy rates of up to 95 per cent after two doses with a 21-day gap.
“Frankly, there’s not a difference when you go into the real world whether something is 82 per cent of 90 per cent,” Skerritt said.
“I would emphasise a lot of the discussion on numbers is not particularly relevant. What is important is to get vaccines into people’s arms.”
Most opinion polls show about four in five Australians are willing to be vaccinated but there remains lingering trepidation about the vaccines among pockets of people.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for all Australians to listen to official medical advice, saying the country boasted the world’s best experts.
“The same experts that you’ve trusted with your own children are the same people that you can trust when it comes to this vaccine,” he said.
He said he was entrusting experts with the health and safety of his family, including his mother and mother-in-law.
Labor’s health spokesman Mark Butler said the vaccine rollout should already be under way and called for more details from the government.
“How will the online booking system work? How will the vaccines be distributed to the states? When will we start to see jabs actually in people’s arms?” he said.
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