Commonwealth slashes Victoria’s Pfizer supply by 20,000 doses a week

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Victoria’s supply of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will be slashed by 20,000 doses a week just as demand ramps up for people who require their second dose.

In late May the Commonwealth temporarily raised the number of Pfizer jabs sent to Victoria from 71,000 a week to 105,000 for three weeks on the condition the state government would administer all the doses.

People wait to be vaccinated at Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building.Credit:Getty

The Pfizer supply is set to be cut to 83,000 a week from July just as many people in the 40 to 49 age bracket are due to receive their second dose of the vaccine.

Constraints on supply forced the Victorian government this week to halt all walk-ins for Pfizer at its mass vaccinations hubs and limit the number of first dose bookings.

State officials have argued it would be impossible to provide second doses of the Pfizer vaccine under the allocation timetable if it continued to inoculate about 100,000 people a week, given supply is set to drop by 20,000 within three weeks.

“The Commonwealth made it very clear to all states and territories at the last national cabinet that we don’t need to make provisions for second doses because they will retain them. If they can’t do that, then they shouldn’t be publicly scolding states for holding doses back,” acting Premier James Merlino said on Wednesday.

“Victorians have turned out in their thousands to get vaccinated, but we can’t maintain this rate without certainty about supply from the Commonwealth.”

Until June 7, the Commonwealth allocated about 71,000 doses of Pfizer a week to Victoria. This increased to 105,300 doses for the week of June 14. The federal government has advised Victoria it will receive 104,130 doses next week, and 104,130 doses the week after.

On the week of July 5, Victoria’s supply will drop to 83,070 doses and remain at that level. NSW has been advised it will receive 101,790 doses a week from July 5.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has consistently demanded that states and territories use all the jabs they have been allocated, reassuring them that the Commonwealth was storing enough second doses.

Acting Premier James Merlino told the Commonwealth to stop “publicly scolding” states if they can’t guarantee second dose supplies. Credit:Jason South

Following a national cabinet meeting on June 4, Mr Morrison issued a statement that said: “The Commonwealth reconfirmed that states and territories do not need to provision for second doses as the Commonwealth retains doses for second uses.”

The second dose of Pfizer must be given between three and six weeks after the first dose has been administered.

The Victorian government says the state is not receiving the supply of Pfizer it needs to continue vaccinating people at its current rate.

Stephen Duckett, the Grattan Institute’s health program director and a former secretary of the federal Health Department, said the Commonwealth should entrust state and territory governments with managing their own supply, instead of holding back second doses.

“There’s been a dramatic ramp up in Victoria of vaccinations – so the more they do now, the more they’ll need in three or six weeks, and they may be sceptical whether they will be available,” Professor Duckett said.

“The state knows Pfizer supply is limited – they’re just sceptical about whether the Commonwealth will be able to deliver on their promise. Given the track record of the experiences the states have had, that is understandable. They’re never sure about whether they’re going to get what they’ve been promised.

“The logical thing to do is for the Commonwealth to say to the states ‘you manage the distribution in the mass distribution centres, and we will promise you x thousand doses each week for the next six weeks, and you have to manage how many first and second doses you’re giving’.”

The federal government was contacted for comment.

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