Hunt investigates Norway Pfizer concerns

Thirteen people are reported to have died after receiving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Norway.
Thirteen people are reported to have died after receiving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Norway.

Australia is investigating reports Norwegian authorities are concerned about the safety of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine after a number of elderly and frail people died after being inoculated.

The Norwegian Medicines Agency has reported 29 people had suffered side effects from having the vaccine, 13 of them fatal.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt is seeking additional information through the Therapeutic Goods Administration from the company and the Norwegian medical regulator.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne has also tasked the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to seek advice directly from the Norwegian government.

"So as further information is available, we'll share that with the Australian public," Mr Hunt said.

"There is no change in our timeframes at this point, but the medical regulator is completely empowered to make independent decisions."

The Pfizer vaccine forms only part of Australia's response to COVID-19, as there will be a greater use of the AstraZeneca, and home produced, vaccine once it has been approved by the TGA.

Vaccinations are due to start next month.

Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack said concerns over Pfizer is why Australia has not put all its eggs in one basket when it comes to a vaccine, with the AstraZeneca, Novavax and other options available.

"We've got enough doses to, of course, roll out right across the nation, free of charge, and to also provide a vaccine, from February, for the Pacific Islands as well," he told the Seven Network's Weekend Sunrise program.

"So throughout the year, we're going to ensure that the vaccine is swift, yes, but safe. Absolutely paramount it will be safe."

There was some good news on the likely take-up of the vaccine from market researcher Roy Morgan.

A survey of more than 1200 respondents found over three-quarters of Australians say they would be willing to be vaccinated when the vaccine becomes publicly available.

At the same time, just under three-quarters say mask wearing should be compulsory.

Preparations for the Australian Tennis Open in Melbourne have been thrown into disarray for some players with 47 having been sent into quarantine and unable to train each day as planned after arriving on planes from Los Angeles and Abu Dabi with a total of four positive COVID-19 cases on board.

Mr McCormack said the tournament is an important international event and does great things for sport and the economy.

"But if I were a Mildura stone fruit grower, I would be scratching my head how is it that this can happen when they can't get workers, isolated on their farms," he said.

"They must be - and I know they are - very frustrated with the fact that the Victorian government has allowed the tennis players to come into the state to play."

NSW recorded six locally acquired cases in an existing cluster in western Sydney in its latest update, five of which were household contacts of an infected man reported the day before.

However, Premier Gladys Berejiklian is concerned there were only 12,700 tests on Saturday and urged people to come forward.

"What is really important is to make sure that given we are towards the tail end of this particular outbreak, there haven't been other super-seeding events, we want to keep it that way," she told reporters.

Queensland reported no new locally acquired coronavirus cases, boosting hopes a cluster linked to a quarantine hotel has been contained.

Australian Associated Press