Australian authorities in ‘late stage’ of decision to roll out Pfizer to five to 11 year olds

Ellen Ransley and Melissa IariaNCA NewsWire
Not Supplied
Camera IconNot Supplied Credit: News Corp Australia

Australian authorities in the “late stage” of deciding when Pfizer can be rolled out to under 12s, the Prime Minister says.

Chief medical officer Paul Kelly updated the national cabinet on Tuesday to discuss the country’s Covid response amid the new Omicron strain.

Six cases of the variant have been found in Australia. All have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic, and are in quarantine.

It comes as more than 87 per cent of Australians aged 16 years and over are now fully vaccinated.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration and Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation are in “late stage” consideration about when Pfizer could be rolled out to five to 11 year olds, Scott Morrison said.

The national cabinet also noted Australia had sufficient supplies of booster shots available, with contracts in place for 85 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, 15 million doses of the Moderna vaccine and 51 million doses of the Novavax vaccine.

Premier Presser
Camera IconAustralia has sufficient booster shots available, national cabinet has been told. NCA NewsWire/Brenton Edwards Credit: News Corp Australia

Professor Kelly advised the national cabinet that Australia was in the early stages of understanding the Omicron variant, which was first detected in southern Africa on November 24.

“At this stage it is known that the Omicron strain has a high number of mutations particularly within its spike protein,” Mr Morrison said in a statement.

“Early data indicates Omicron may be more transmissible when compared with previous variants of the virus which causes Covid-19.

“At this stage there is insufficient evidence that vaccines and treatments are less effective against Omicron than other variants, and no evidence at this stage that Omicron is a more severe disease.”

Mr Morrison said the commonwealth and states and territories had already acted on medical advice to implement travel restrictions and revised quarantine and home isolation requirements.

“National cabinet agreed that the commonwealth and state and territory governments will continue to pursue a suppression strategy, noting the objective is to limit the rate of Omicron incursions into Australia, rather than eliminate it at the border,” he said.

PM Booster Shot
Camera IconPrime Minister Scott Morrison says Australia will continue a suppression strategy to limit Omicron entering the country. NCA NewsWire/Jeremy Piper Credit: News Corp Australia

Professor Kelly said it’s unlikely the country would follow in the footsteps of the UK in halving the time between second jab and booster shot to three months, but all options were on the table.

Health Minister Greg Hunt and Professor Kelly have asked the vaccine watchdog to assess whether there was any need for a change to the booster program in light of the Omicron variant.

Currently, Australians must wait six months after their second dose of vaccine to get their booster shot.

Professor Kelly said there was a need to be “cognisant” of international decisions and evidence, but keep in mind that booster shots make “a lot of sense” in winter.

“We’re more than six months away from winter. We know that respiratory viruses circulate a lot more in winter,” he said.

“It’s likely that that’s when we would want the boosters to be actively working.

“There are some significant reasons behind the delay of a booster to more than three months, but it’s a balance, and that’s exactly the sort of issues that I discussed this morning with ATAGI and they’ll look at that now.”

GREG HUNT PRESSER
Camera IconHealth Minister Greg Hunt has asked the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation for advice on whether to change booster shot timing. NCA NewsWire/David Geraghty Credit: News Corp Australia

Health authorities gave government officials advice on Monday to pause the reopening of the country to international students and skilled migrants by two weeks, to allow for more time to understand the risks of Omicron.

Mr Hunt said the slight delay would give health authorities time to assess whether changes were needed to the booster program, as well as to learn more about the variant.

He said Australia was “as well prepared as any nation in the world” to deal with emerging variants.

“We’re doing this (pause) out of an abundance of caution, but our overwhelming view is that whilst it’s an emerging variant, it’s a manageable variant,” Mr Hunt said.

“We know that other countries are facing the same challenges, and we know that the US President (is also) going to have a two-week period, which is exactly the advice that Professor Kelly and ... Professor Murphy gave the National Security Committee yesterday.

“We’re able to deal with this and we want to give Australia that confidence.”

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Camera IconThe planned arrival of international students and skilled migrants has been paused for two weeks because of the Omicron variant of Covid. NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman Credit: News Corp Australia

Infectious Disease specialist Nick Coatsworth said earlier on Tuesday any decision ATAGI made would be “in our best interest”.

“They will be safe whenever they get their booster,” Dr Coatsworth told Sunrise.

“My gut feeling is that this is not a bad one compared to what we have seen before.

“It’s more transmissible, but probably mild. Let’s wait for more information. We are all doing the right thing.”

CSIRO director Dr Rob Grenfell said it was a timely reminder that the pandemic was “far from over”.

“With regards to whether it’s more infectious, it clearly is because it’s displacing Delta in South Africa,” Dr Grenfell told Today.

“But is it more serious? We don’t know yet. The South African population is definitely different than our population.

“So we’ll have to see what happens in Europe to see (if) it is more severe.”

He said it was not premature to be discussing bringing booster shots forward in Australia.

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Camera IconHome Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the new variant was unknown to ‘all of us’, while an infectious disease expert has called on Australia to do more to support developing nations. NCA NewsWire / Jeremy Piper Credit: News Corp Australia

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the Omicron variant was an unknown “to all of us”.

“Based on the health advice, more time was needed to make sure that we had all the relevant information to that variant,” she told ABC Breakfast.

“The good thing is here in Australia we have such a high vaccination rate … So that does put us in very good stead to face Omicron and any other variant.”

Dr Coatsworth said in addition to rolling out the booster shot program in Australia, the nation had a role to play in vaccinating other countries.

“The safest you can be is not for Australians to get their first dose, but someone in Africa or indeed, Papua New Guinea to get their first dose,” he said.

“That is what needs to be discussed at the national cabinet and that is what will stop Omicron and other variants from emerging in the future.”

Originally published as Australian authorities in ‘late stage’ of decision to roll out Pfizer to five to 11 year olds

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