Australian scientists raise doubts over AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine efficacy

Australian scientists raise doubts over AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine efficacy
Experts cited data showing the AstraZeneca jab had 62 percent efficacy compared with over 90 percent for the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 January 2021

Australian scientists raise doubts over AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine efficacy

Australian scientists raise doubts over AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine efficacy
  • Opposition to the vaccine casts a cloud over Australia’s immunization plans with 53 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab already on hand

SYDNEY: Australian scientists have raised questions over the efficacy of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in establishing herd immunity, calling for a pause on its widespread rollout as the country recorded one new coronavirus case on Wednesday.
The opposition to the vaccine casts a cloud over Australia’s immunization plans with 53 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab already on hand.
“The question is really whether it is able to provide herd immunity. We are playing a long game here. We don’t know how long that will take,” said Professor Stephen Turner, the president of the Australian and New Zealand Society for Immunology (ASI).
Turner added that the government must pivot toward getting more of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
Experts, including Turner, cited data showing the AstraZeneca jab had 62 percent efficacy compared with over 90 percent for the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine.
In a statement, the ASI said Turner was speaking as an expert in immunology and that the body did not advocate a pause to the rollout as widely reported by local media.
Earlier, Turner told the Sydney Morning Herald the AstraZeneca vaccine is not one “I would be deploying widely because of that lower efficacy.”
Australia has 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, though neither AstraZeneca nor Pfizer have approval from the country’s drug regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.
Australia’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, attempted to thwart the concerns around its efficacy, saying the AstraZeneca jab was “effective,” “safe” and of “high quality.”
“The great advantage of the AstraZeneca vaccine is it’s being made here in Australia,” Kelly said. “It will be available as soon as the TGA gives its tick, which we expect that it will in February.”
Kelly said Australia will have more data by February as well as “real-world information” coming from London, which has already rolled out the vaccine.
Australia has been more successful than many other countries in managing the pandemic, with total infections in the country of 25 million people at about 28,600, with 909 deaths.
Its success is largely attributable to closed borders and widespread compliance with social-distancing rules, along with aggressive testing and tracing programs.
Given the low case numbers and community transmission rates, some experts say Australia could afford waiting for a more effective vaccine.
“The government needs to be flexible in its rollout decisions once we have a better understanding of the efficacy of the other vaccines,” said Adrian Esterman, chair of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the University of South Australia.
Australia recorded one new local coronavirus cases in its most populous state of New South Wales on Wednesday.
In Queensland, hundreds of hotel quarantine guests were forced to restart their isolation after a handful of cases in the facility were linked to the highly contagious UK virus strain.


Netherlands anti-curfew protests spark clashes with police, looting

In this image made from video, a COVID-19 testing center is seen after being set on fire in Urk, 80 kilometers northeast of Amsterdam, on Jan. 23, 2021. (Pro News via AP)
Updated 25 January 2021

Netherlands anti-curfew protests spark clashes with police, looting

In this image made from video, a COVID-19 testing center is seen after being set on fire in Urk, 80 kilometers northeast of Amsterdam, on Jan. 23, 2021. (Pro News via AP)
  • Vehicles burned, businesses at Eindhoven’s central train station looted
  • A Covid-19 testing center was set on fire on Saturday evening in the village of Urk

THE HAGUE: Protests against a curfew to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the Netherlands degenerated into clashes with police and looting in cities across the country Sunday, authorities and reports said.
Police used water cannon and dogs in Amsterdam, public television NOS reported, after hundreds gathered to protest the curfew which is set to last until February 10 and is the country’s first since World War II.
In the southern city of Eindhoven, police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of several hundred, regional television Omroep Brabant reported. At least 30 people were arrested there, according to police.
A number of vehicles were burned and businesses at Eindhoven’s central train station were also looted, media reports said.
Dutch rail company NS called on travelers to avoid the Eindhoven station, where it said train circulation was interrupted due to the intervention of emergency services nearby.
Eindhoven mayor John Jorritsma told reporters that if the country continued “down this path, then I think we are heading for civil war.”
Incidents were also reported in The Hague, Breda, Arnhem, Tilburg, Enschede, Appeldoorn, Venlo and Ruremond.
A Covid-19 testing center was set on fire on Saturday evening in the village of Urk in the north of the country, local authorities said.
“The fire in a screening center in Urk goes beyond all limits,” Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said on Sunday.
Violators of the 9 p.m. to 4:30 am curfew, which Prime Minister Mark Rutte says is needed to bring case numbers down, face a 95-euro ($115) fine.
Exemptions are possible, in particular for people returning from funerals or those having to work, but on condition that they present a certificate.
Rutte also announced on Wednesday a ban on flights from Britain, South Africa and South America, and a cut in the number of guests allowed in people’s homes to one, from the previous limit of two.
New variants of the virus have led to deep concern in Europe, particularly a more infectious strain that first emerged in Britain.
The Netherlands was already under its toughest measures since the start of the pandemic, with bars and restaurants having closed in October, and schools and non-essential shops shut since December.
Dutch lawmakers on Thursday approved Rutte’s curfew plan, though on condition that it begin half an hour later than the original 8:30 p.m. start time.
The move had faced criticism led by far-right politician Geert Wilders, who called it “careless” and “disproportionate.”
“I stand here for freedom. I lost it myself,” said Wilders, who has for years been under round-the-clock security after receiving death threats.
“I do not accept that we unnecessarily... introduce curfews while there are alternatives.”
Rutte and his cabinet resigned on January 22 over a scandal involving child tax benefits, but they will continue to govern until elections in mid-March.