Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack has reassured that any coronavirus vaccine rolled out in Australia will be safe, following reports of multiple deaths in elderly people in Norway linked to the Pfizer vaccine.
The Norwegian Medicines Agency has reported 29 people had suffered side effects after taking the vaccine, 13 of them fatal.
The Pfizer vaccine forms only part of Australia’s response to COVID-19, as there will be a greater use of the AstraZeneca, and home produced, vaccine once it has been approved.
Vaccinations are due to start next month.
Bloomberg reported Norwegian authorities have raised “serious concerns” with Pfizer, the maker of the vaccine rolled out in the country, after the deaths, which all occurred in elderly patients with underlying health issues.
Asked about those deaths on Sunday morning, Mr McCormack sought to reassure Australians, stressing the vaccine rollout would be “swift but safe”.
“I spoke to Greg Hunt the Health Minister this morning, who has asked the Therapeutic Goods Administration to run a deep rollout of drugs and medicines in Australia, and they will ask the Norwegian authorities and they will also ask the Pfizer company for their answers in response to what has happened,” he told Sunrise.
“It is also why we have not put all of our eggs in one basket. We have other options, of course, with AstraZeneca, as well as Novavax.
“We have enough doses to roll out across the nation free-of-charge and to also provide a vaccine from February for Pacific Islanders as well. So, throughout the year, we are going to ensure that the vaccine is swift but safe.”
“That is absolute paramount, it will be safe,” Mr McCormack added.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed Australian authorities had been in contact with Pfizer and would seek advice from the Norwegian authorities to gain more information about the deaths.
“We have immediately sought and I have been in contact with the Australian medical regulator … this morning, and requested that they seek additional information, both from the company, but also from the Norwegian medical regulator,” he told reporters on Sunday.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne has also tasked the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to seek advice directly from the Norwegian government.
“So as further information is available, we’ll share that with the Australian public,” Mr Hunt said.
The New South Wales Australian Medical Association president Danielle McMullen said Australians should have confidence in the local vaccine approval process.
“Over the coming days and weeks I’m sure there will be much investigation as to how linked the vaccine was to these deaths … and particularly how medically frail these people may have been before receiving the vaccine,” she told Today on Sunday morning.
“But it’s a great reminder to Australians that our slightly slower roll-out of the vaccine really gives our authorities a great opportunity to look at these experiences overseas, and work out if that means any adjustments are necessary to our schedule,” she added.
– Additional reporting by AAP.