Annastacia Palaszczuk has been accused of “pushing young people to the back” by making the Pfizer vaccine available for Queenslanders aged over 60.
The Queensland premier followed in the footsteps of WA and South Australia on Wednesday in a move that has shocked a leading epidemiologist.
The jab rate in Queensland has languished for those aged under 40 amid a supply shortfall and confusing rhetoric from the Premier and chief health officer Jeannette Young over the safety of the AstraZeneca alternative.
Many younger age groups are still struggling to get Pfizer appointments, but Ms Palaszczuk on Wednesday said the preferred dose for those people would be stretched further, following “loud” calls from the notoriously vaccine hesitant demographic.
“They said to me loud and clear they want to have a choice of vaccines, well I say let’s give it to them,” she told parliament on Wednesday.
Leading epidemiologist Professor Mary-Louise McLaws was staggered by the announcement, insisting younger Queenslanders will again be pushed to the back of the queue.
In the Sunshine State, less than 16 per cent of those aged 20-24 are fully vaccinated, 18.3 per cent between 25 and 29 have received both doses and just over 21 per cent of the 30-34-year-olds are fully jabbed.
“I’m shocked,” the world-renowned epidemiologist at the University of New South Wales told NCA NewsWire. “Why would they do this?
“It’s the 16 to 39-year olds who are the greatest risk of acquiring and spreading it.”
Prof McLaws said the elderly population is at greater risk of hospitalisation and death as a result of Covid-19, which is greatly reduced through the first and second dose of AstraZeneca.
“It doesn’t improve the risk reduction for symptomatic or asymptomatic infection,” she said. “That’s much better with Pfizer but that’s why you give it to the young because the young have a greater risk of transmitting it. And Pfizer has a much higher efficacy for preventing symptomatic and asymptomatic infection.”
She said the reasoning offered by Ms Palaszczuk to provide choice to those who are reluctant is a cop out which fails to provide protection to a large portion of the state.
“That’s very nice, but the choice (to give Pfizer to those over 60) is happening over and above the ability for the young, who have had no choice up until August to actually access the vaccine,” the professor said.
“It’s a poor public health approach. If they had all the vaccine supply and it was endless, then absolutely open up Pfizer and Moderna to anybody that hasn’t had a dose yet. But that’s not the case.
“Why would you put another barrier in front of (young people) by putting others in front of them?
“The young have been neglected, they’ve been put at the back of the queue twice. Give the young a break.”
Ms Palaszczuk said she was able to offer the vaccine to anyone who wanted it because 190,000 doses arrived this week from the federal government.
But Prof McLaws said this distribution was only a fraction of what was needed for the younger age groups still waiting for their turn.
She said about three million doses were needed just to offer protection to the 16-39-year-olds.
“I’m really just very disappointed because I was impressed with the way the (Queensland) leadership wanted to look after the young and reduce their risk of thrombosis,” the professor said.
“But now, giving in to the elderly, to a fear that is not rational, is now putting the young at the back of the queue a second time.”
Australian Medical Association vice-president Chris Moy said he understood the frustration of young Queenslanders but insisted the move to open the vaccine was necessary to protect the most vulnerable.
“It’s a pragmatic decision to try and close off the group who is at greatest risk and to simplify the whole thing,” he told NCA NewsWire.
“AstraZeneca is still a good vaccine and, I’ve got to say, some of the recent data was saying it could be better than Pfizer in the longer term.
“We’re in a position where that (older) group seems harder to get vaccinated because the ones that were resisting are still resisting.
“Partly due to a combination of complacency and just holding out.”