Officials admit the move could hinder the already delayed rollout, with the opposition blasting the government for not ordering more varied vaccine options.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said Australia’s two other vaccines, Pfizer and Novavax, are being fast-tracked and more could be ordered.
Pfizer is already approved and being used, while there are 51 million Novavax doses on the way – though it still needs to be given the green light by Australian regulators.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said Novavax could be given out in the “third quarter” of this year.
Professor Kelly admitted the rollout will be affected, but refused to be drawn on just when most Australians will be vaccinated.
Australia is due to pass the 1 million vaccination mark today, when it had planned to have done 4 million by now.
“Clearly with these changes overnight, we will need to look at our rollout schedule,” Professor Kelly said.
“It’s likely that will affect that rollout.
“We’re looking to increase the number of alternative vaccines that we have.
“The Novavax, we have 51 million doses of those on order. We hope they will come in the second half of the year.
Would you still get the AstraZeneca vaccine if it was offered to you?
“And the Pfizer vaccine, we have those 20 million doses coming.
“They have guaranteed they will increase the rate at which that’s coming.
“We’re in negotiations with them in terms of potentially increasing that number of doses.”
Professor Kelly said the rare blood clot reaction appeared in only about four to six people per million cases.
Out of those who developed it, the death rate was 25 per cent, meaning about one person in a million could die.
Announcing the change in advice last night, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the incidence of blood clots was rarer than those associated with taking the oral contraceptive pill.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said the AstraZeneca vaccine was no riskier than a long-haul flight.
Professor Kelly said leaders at National Cabinet today will discuss how the rollout might be affected, including when the nation might be able to reopen to the world.
Leaders have repeatedly said borders wouldn’t open until the majority of the population was vaccinated.
Professor Kelly didn’t say if all Australians would be vaccinated by October as has always been planned, or how many people would have the jab by the end of the year.
However, he said 10 million people out of Australia’s 25 million population would be able to have two Pfizer jabs by the end of the year.
He said “most” border and quarantine workers have been vaccinated and said the aged care rollout was “going very well”.
Professor Kelly said anybody who has had their first AstraZeneca dose would be “perfectly fine” to have the second.
However, he added the government is “working out” which vaccine to give younger people working in aged care and as well as younger disabled people who are next in line.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese blasted the Federal Government, saying it had placed “all our eggs in one basket” by relying on the AstraZeneca vaccine so heavily.
Mr Albanese said Australia should have secured more doses of alternative vaccines – such as Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer – to fill the void in the event of an issue.
“Quite clearly best practice was that other countries signed up to both Pfizer and Moderna,” the Labor leader said, describing the rollout as a “debacle”.
“They did that for a reason. They’re doing better than us for a reason.”
Mr Albanese said Prime Minister Scott Morrison had undermined public confidence in the vaccines and their rollout.
“Australians just want to know when they’ll be vaccinated,” Mr Albanese said.
“And they deserve that certainty.
“Vulnerable Australians, such as aged care residents particularly, deserve that certainty.
“And the government must get on top of this issue and stop the addiction to announcements and the spin cycle and saying ‘she’ll be right, mate, don’t worry about that’, whilst Australians remain concerned about the failure to deliver on the commitments that the government has given.”