Australian production of AstraZeneca vaccine in early July just one-tenth of what government promised

The local production of AstraZeneca in the first half of July was just one-tenth of what the federal government promised it would release to states, doctors, aged care and disability care.

Production of AstraZeneca at the CSL facilities in Melbourne dropped by a huge volume last month, falling from 1m doses a week in May to as low as 232,800 in June.

After briefly increasing to about 720,000 a week in late June, production is again at vastly reduced levels.

This week, about 280,000 doses were manufactured, according to the latest update from the Vaccine Operations Centre.

Last week, there were only 260,000 doses.

That is a fraction of what the government initially said it would distribute to primary care, state governments, and aged and disability care in July.

Its Covid Vaccination Allocations Horizons document, which sets out vaccine distribution throughout 2021, said it would be allocating between 2.2m and 2.6m AstraZeneca doses a week in July. The supply from CSL is being boosted by the release of supplies from the commonwealth’s second dose reserve, which held about 2.3m doses on 5 July, according to the Department of Health.

The slowdown in production at CSL was caused by the manufacturing of an unrelated antivenom, which necessarily interrupted its work on the AstraZeneca vaccine. CSL says the government knew of the antivenom work.

It directed questions about the inconsistency between the government’s forecasts and the actual level of domestic manufacturing back to the health department.

The department said earlier it had no concerns about the local supply of AstraZeneca and was releasing supplies from its second dose contingency.

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“These allocations are calculated by using forecast supply figures provided to the commonwealth by the vaccine manufacturers, as well as stock on hand information, including the supply of second doses which has been held in contingency by the commonwealth and is being subsequently supplied to cohorts in this period, in line with the recommended dose interval,” a spokesman said.

“The commonwealth does not anticipate any difficulties in supply of locally produced AstraZeneca vaccine.”

But to reach its initial target of releasing between 4.4m and 5.2m doses in the first two weeks of July, the government would have had to release the entirety of its second dose contingency supply to make up the gap left by CSL’s reduced supply.

This week, the government quietly scaled down its forecasts for the availability of AstraZeneca in the next two months.

It now estimates it will release between 2m and 2.3m doses each week in August and September, a potential reduction of up to 10.7%.

CSL says its production will increase again to 1m doses a week in the second half of July.

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“In consultation with the government, production of antivenom was scheduled through the period to ensure stock levels for these lifesaving products are maintained – this is closely planned around manufacturing of the AstraZeneca vaccine,” a spokesman said.

“While these activities are undertaken on the fill and finish line at Seqirus, production of bulk vaccine continued at our CSL Behring site, and we expect volumes to ramp-up to around a million doses per week from the second half of July.”

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