(Image: ABACA Press/Robin Utrecht)

New South Wales will receive an extra 50,000 Pfizer vaccine doses to help it cope with its COVID-19 crisis. State and territory leaders were surprised to learn such a surplus existed, and Western Australian’s Premier Mark McGowan demanded the doses be allocated. 

The federal government has denied an emergency stockpile exists, arguing the doses are part of NSW’s future allocations brought forward due to more doses than expected being delivered by Pfizer. 

Data provided to Crikey from the Health Department has shown a total of 19.2 million doses — 6.9 million doses of Pfizer and 12.3 million doses of AstraZeneca — have arrived onshore.

Between April 26 and July 26, 17.4 million doses were tested and released by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). 15.5 million doses were delivered to vaccination hubs, including 863,000 sent to DFAT to be donated abroad, and 11.5 million doses have been administered to Australians.

That leaves 1.8 million doses awaiting testing by the TGA, 1.9 million doses that have been tested but not delivered, and 3.1 million doses that have been delivered but not administered (minus those donated), leaving a stockpile of 6.8 million vaccines — at least 2 million of which are Pfizer.

The government has been incredibly reluctant to provide clear, concise data on vaccines. It only recently started providing information on first and second doses administered by age and sex, and still doesn’t break down the number of Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines. The data is presented in colourful PowerPoint slides, making analysis arduous and labour intensive. 

But for you, Crikey readers, I have nothing but time.

What does the data say?

The Health Department’s vaccine operations centre began providing weekly updates on April 26. Pfizer doses are shipped from abroad and AstraZeneca is manufactured onshore (with additional doses from Europe). 

These doses undergo testing by the TGA before being allocated by the federal government to residential disability and aged care homes and primary carers, which the Commonwealth oversees, and to states and territories to administer.

When the operations centre began providing updates, 3.5 million doses had been delivered and 1.9 million administered. That week the TGA tested 173,000 doses of Pfizer and 707,000 of AstraZeneca, totalling 4.4 million doses either administered or ready for arms. Over time that number has steadily increased, with the TGA planning on testing over 1 million doses of Pfizer and 1.6 million doses of AstraZeneca this week.

As of July 26, a total of 17.4 million doses had been released by the TGA, including 1 million Pfizer doses this week (though the latest update didn’t state how many AstraZeneca doses had been released, meaning the number of available vaccines may be higher than this data shows). This includes 3.5 million unspecified doses already delivered prior to the first Vaccine Operation Centre report on April 26.

Yet just 15.4 million doses have been delivered, and 11.5 million doses administered including 6.3 million doses administered by the Commonwealth to those in primary care and aged and disability facilities. Primary care workers can choose the AstraZeneca vaccine; many say they missed out on being vaccinated by the Commonwealth and instead lined up at state vaccination clinics.

On May 3, 38,000 first doses were donated to the Department of Foreign Affairs to distribute to the Pacific. A total of 863,000 AstraZeneca doses have since been donated, with another 2.5 million earmarked for Indonesia in response to the escalating crisis in that country. 

What stockpile?

Plans to phase out the AstraZeneca vaccine were released late last month; from December the Commonwealth will allocate doses to states based on demand. NSW has been criticised for its slow take-up of allocated AstraZeneca doses. It has used just 145,000 of the almost 1 million allocated to it by the Commonwealth. Leftover doses will go to other states or abroad.

This lack of demand isn’t represented in the federal Health Department’s figures, which only show delivered doses used, not those available or allocated. According to its latest update, NSW, Queensland and the ACT have fully used their delivered doses, and other jurisdictions’ rates are between 89% and 96%.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said yesterday extra doses didn’t come from a stockpile but were “previously unallocated doses”.

“What we have done is make sure we’re not holding large amounts of doses,” he said, adding that there were some doses being held to ensure secondary shots could be administered at the right time. 

A Health Department spokesperson told Crikey vaccines are distributed to eligible administration sites, who are responsible for managing their stock on hand and administering first and second doses according to the recommended dose intervals.