SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia’s national cabinet will begin meeting twice a week from Monday to help mobilise the country’s battle against COVID-19 as authorities consider mass vaccinations to ramp up its coronavirus inoculation efforts.
The federal government and states will discuss setting up mass vaccination centres from as early as June for people above 50, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday, when the country would have moved to its next immunisation phase.
“We will have AstraZeneca vaccines that we believe we might be able to ramp up the pace of vaccination for those aged between 50 and 70. That’s millions of Australians,” Morrison told reporters in Perth.
Australia earlier this week abandoned a target to provide at least one vaccine dose to the near 26 million population by year-end after restricting the rollout of its favoured AstraZeneca vaccine to people under 50 over clotting concerns.
Findings by Europe’s drug regulator of rare cases of blood clots among some adult recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine were a major blow for Australia as the country had based its immunisation drive largely on that inoculation, with plans to manufacture 50 million doses locally.
Australian officials overhauled the programme in response, doubling an earlier Pfizer order to 40 million shots, which would be delivered by the end of the year, mostly for its adult population under 50.
Australia created a national cabinet of federal, state and territory leaders early last year to coordinate measures to combat the pandemic.
Morrison said the return to more frequent meetings of the national cabinet was necessary to address “serious challenges” caused by patchy international vaccine supplies and changing medical advice.
The return to twice weekly meetings, the same frequency as at the peak of the crisis in Australia last year, would continue for the “foreseeable future”, Morrison said.
Australia has fared much better than many other developed countries during the pandemic, with just over 29,400 COVID-19 cases and 910 deaths.
No new cases have been reported on most days this year and officials have swiftly contained small outbreaks, but the country’s vaccination programme has hit major roadblocks.
About 1.3 million people have been vaccinated as of Tuesday, far short of the 4 million pledged by end-March, after the European Union blocked AstraZeneca vaccine exports in the wake of the drugmaker’s failure to meet shipment pledge to the bloc.
Trade Minister Dan Tehan is due to travel to Europe this week to seek the release of about 3 million doses of previously promised AstraZeneca vaccines for Australia.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; editing by Jane Wardell and Michael Perry)