“I happen to be over 65 and I’m going to have the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Professor Murphy said.
Both vaccines come with logistic challenges. Professor Murphy said the multi-dose vials for both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines were “a significant cause of risk and anxiety” for the rollout.
“It is a significant risk because nobody in Australia that gives vaccines at the moment is experienced with multi-dose vials,” Professor Murphy said.
The Pfizer vials contain six doses. The vials of the AstraZeneca vaccine holds 10 doses.
Compared to a 5 per cent wastage rate from single-dose vials, 10-dose vials have wastage rates between 15-25 per cent, according to a World Health Organisation guidance document published in April 2019.
The French Directorate General of Health estimates a wastage rate of up to 30 per cent.
When asked by committee chairman Trent Zimmerman how potential vaccine wastage will be managed, Professor Murphy said Australia’s vaccine taskforce was working to create guidelines, and wastage outside those parameters would be taken seriously.
“We want to be able to track every vial and every dose and have real-time results on wastage,” Professor Murphy said.
“Frankly, if your vaccination clinic has an unacceptable wastage rate they may no longer be a clinic because it’s a really important issue for us.”
All vaccine providers must complete an hours’-long online training session run by the Australian College of Nursing before they will be allowed to administer doses, he said.
On Thursday, the government announced Australia had secured an additional 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, taking the total number of Pfizer doses to 20 million. The vaccine requires two doses per person.
But pandemic planning and global health security expert Associate Professor Adam Kamradt Scott said it was unlikely Australia would vaccinate 10 million people with the allocated doses.
“One of the consequences of moving or transporting vaccines is loss of doses,” Professor Kamradt Scott said.
The Pfizer vaccine presents a further challenge because it needs to be kept at below -70 degrees, risking vaccine wastage if cold chain storage is not maintained. Open vial wastage occurs mainly due to errors by immunisation workers or unused doses expiring.
“It is likely we’ll see some vaccines lost as a result of cold chain storage not being maintained along the line,” Professor Kamradt Scott said.
The government expects a small proportion of vaccines to be lost through accidental breakages and similar incidents. They have not specified what percentage they are expecting to lose but will monitor for any inconsistencies from clinics.
“We’re very focused on this as an issue because these resources …. are really precious,” Professor Murphy said.
A previous version of this story incorrectly quoted Professor Murphy as saying: “I happen to be able to 65 and I’m going to have the AstraZeneca vaccine.”
Rachel Clun is a federal political reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, covering health.
Kate Aubusson is Health Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.