© Reuters: Gareth FullerThe AstraZeneca vaccine can be manufactured in Australia and will be available throughout the year, according to the Federal Government.
One of the lead scientists behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has warned against delaying the vaccination rollout in Australia, saying it could protect people today.
It comes after some immunologists and infectious disease doctors raised issue on whether the vaccine would be effective enough to achieve herd immunity.
The head of the Oxford Vaccine Group, Andrew Pollard, told the ABC the impact of vaccines was not determined by efficacy during clinical trials, but "when they're in people's arms".
"I think one can predict that there is going to be further transmission of the virus so we need populations to be protected as soon as possible," he said.
"We don't have any possibility of herd immunity without having high levels of vaccine coverage and nowhere in the world has had that happen yet."
Professor Pollard was responding to debate in Australia over whether the Federal Government should delay the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab because it is not as effective in generating heard immunity as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, which have up to 95 per cent efficacy.
That is compared to 70 per cent efficacy after one dose of the Oxford jab and 80 per cent after a second is given 12 weeks later, according to the latest interim results from the British team.
There are no questions about the safety of the Oxford-AstraZeneca option, which was approved for use in the UK earlier this month, or the need for a vaccine.
"If you're going to have impact with vaccination, you have to vaccinate people," Professor Pollard said.
"Doses of vials that are promised or are sitting on a shelf are not going to provide any protection."
Australia has 53 million doses of the Oxford jab already on order, and has agreed to buy 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
The Federal Government plans to administer the Pfizer vaccine to high-priority groups initially, while most Australians will receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, which will be manufactured locally by biotechnology company CSL.
On Wednesday Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly backed the eventual rollout of the Oxford jab, saying he had no doubt it would save lives.
Oxford vaccine suited for remote distribution
Professor Pollard said the fact the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine can be distributed at fridge temperature made it easier to transport it to remote regions in geographically large countries like Australia.
"The impact of vaccines is when they're in people's arms, generating immunity and that's about high coverage, being able to distribute to remote settings, which of course there are many parts of Australia where they're going to need to be a lot more effort to get the doses to those regions," Professor Pollard told the ABC.
"When we've got doses we have to get those into people's arms because this virus is out there and it's a huge threat to human population."
In his defence of the vaccine, Professor Pollard argued one of the most significant findings from the clinical trials was that after receiving the first dose of the Oxford vaccine no participant was hospitalised or had severe disease.
He said it was not known if any vaccine would interrupt the transmission of the virus, and that the emergence of new variants was troubling.
"It is certainly possible that even if we had enough immunity that prevents the disease in those who are vaccinated, we may be in a position where the virus is able to generate new variants which allow it to continue to transmit and cause milder infection," Professor Pollard said.
He said governments should focus less on how to generate herd immunity, and more on how to protect populations now.
"It's going to take us a long time to get to a point where I'm safe, you're safe, and our economies are safe by having the protection around the world," he said.[Hearken embed]