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Three-month 'sprint' part of big reset to have all over 50s vaccinated

Politics

Australians over 50 could be soon given access to the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine under a major reset of the Morrison government’s troubled rollout.

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With Pfizer now the recommended jab for people under 50, federal and state governments have agreed to use increased supplies of AstraZeneca for people over that age.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also flagged using mass vaccination centres later in the year in a bid to immunise hordes of the younger cohort before Christmas.

“There’s a lot of work to be done given that would be effectively, if we wished, a 12-week sprint to be able to do that safely and effectively,” he told reporters in Sydney.

A revamped vaccination plan is expected to be released on Thursday with governments agreeing on a new approach after medical advice on the AstraZeneca shot.

Health authorities have recommended it is only safe for under-50s after extremely rare but serious blood clots were linked to the jab.

Morrison indicated the increased supply of AstraZeneca, which is being produced in Melbourne, could be used in a fast-tracked second rollout phase.

“There are strong, strong arguments for the bringing forward of over 50s with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is a safe and effective vaccine for those aged over 50,” he said.

A national cabinet meeting of federal, state and territory leaders on Monday agreed in-principle to bring forward the rollout and prepare mass vaccination centres for under-50s.

Almost 1.6 million doses have been administered in Australia with the federal government falling well short of its own targets.

Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles said the coalition’s complacency in focusing on just a handful of vaccine candidates risked Australia’s economic recovery.

“If the prime minister has got one job this year, it is to vaccinate Australia. Right now, that seems in peril,” he told Sky News on Tuesday.

“They really bet the house on the manufacture of AstraZeneca here and on it doing the lion’s share of the work of vaccinating Australia.”

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is urging the federal government to crack on with the rollout.

She disputed federal Health Minister Greg Hunt’s warning that international borders could remain shut after the bulk of the population was immunised.

“I don’t buy that,” Berejiklian said.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk described the outcome of the national cabinet meeting as a big reset.

But state leaders remain lukewarm on a federal proposal to move to home quarantine for vaccinated Australians entering the country later in the year.

The Senate’s pandemic response committee will on Tuesday hear from Health Department boss Brendan Murphy, Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly and medicines regulator boss John Skerritt.

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