Remember back last month. Member for Hughes, Craig Kelly, called on Government health officials to follow the lead of Europe and immediately suspend use of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine in Australia for under 65-year-olds. He said that "just because the Australian government may have put most of their eggs in the AstraZeneca basket, this is no reason to continue jabbing Australians with this vaccine, when so many health regulators in Europe have suspended it on safety concerns".
The consequence of his statement was a huge media, bureaucratic, and political pile-on, though Kelly claims “a dozen” Coalition politicians backed him privately.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly (at the time) said there was “no evidence” the AstraZeneca jab is linked to blood clotting despite several European countries halting its use, while they investigated.
PM Scott Morrison rebuked Craig Kelly, telling him to stop rubbishing official health advice. Many Labor MPs also slammed Kelly. Labor’s health spokesman, Mark Butler, claimed “Craig Kelly is a dangerous menace and a threat to the nation’s COVID response”. Tanya Plibersek in an informal "doorstop" in the press gallery corridor called out Kelly’s COVID claims.
The government is spending $24 million on a campaign telling people to get vaccinated, and we’ve got a taxpayer funded nong running around telling people not to.
Sunrise host David Koch got stuck into Kelly in a notably hostile TV interview. Most of the media were also at it, Kelly being widely labelled the "rogue MP". Even a columnist for the Australian newspaper joined the crowd, saying:
if a couple of lonely and contrarian backbenchers (Craig Kelly and Matt Canavan) dispossessed of medical insight can panic Australians out of vaccination, the collective sanity of the nation is deeply imperilled.
Fast forward to 8 April and guess what! Australian health authorities advised that the Pfizer vaccine should be given to Australians aged under 50, amid concerns of blood clots linked to the AstraZeneca vaccination.
The use of the Pfizer vaccine is preferred over the AstraZeneca vaccine in adults aged less than 50 years who have not already received a first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine.
According to Professor Kelly.
It is now clear that authorities have done almost a complete about-face in relation to AstraZeneca. They have completely backed away from the original position that there is “no evidence” the AstraZeneca jab is linked to blood clotting, to now admitting that (in relatively rare cases) the vaccine can cause dangerous (even fatal) blood clotting. The risk, while low, is regarded as sufficient to warrant younger people being given a different vaccine.
Craig Kelly has been largely vindicated. I am not saying that everything Kelly has said about Covid 19 vaccines is correct but in broad terms the concerns he expressed back last month were absolutely valid and subsequent government actions have validated his concerns. He did not deserve the venomous criticism he received.
With hindsight, we can say that Australia has made mistakes in its vaccine strategy. Firstly, the original plan was to develop our own vaccine based on research by the University of Queensland and CSL. This research was abandoned because, while the vaccine did generate a "robust" response, it generated antibodies that led to "false-positive" HIV test results.
Plan B came into play with, instead of a home developed vaccine, Australia was to rely mostly on the AstraZeneca vaccine, with the bulk being manufactured locally by CSL. The AstraZeneca vaccine was to dominate Australia’s’ corona virus vaccine plan, with CSL to start pumping out up to one million doses a week.
Plan C now has now resulted in the Australian Government ordering an additional 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Other competing vaccines may also be accessed, though their later availability will restrict their use. Overall, it is now clear that Pfizer vaccinations have become far more crucial, while AstraZeneca is no longer expected to be administered to most Australians.
Authorities can't be overly blamed for historic mistakes. This is because, when you make decisions in the face of uncertainty, there is always scope for bad luck. In addition vaccine-related costs are minor relative to the overall costs of Covid.
I suspect that Australia may end up with a surplus of AstraZeneca doses. I imagine that a lot of over-fifties will now also prefer to wait for the Pfizer vaccine, and that most of the AstraZeneca doses we import or produce ourselves will be provided as aid to poor countries in our region (we already are assisting PNG).
So what about Craig Kelly? While Australian politicians are notoriously prolific in making apologies, will he get one? I for one will not be holding my breath.