By Swati Pandey
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's drug regulator on Friday tweaked its regulations to permit an offer of alcohol for those inoculated against COVID-19 after earlier barring a pub from doing so and prompting the country's prime minister to step in.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the initiative by Melbourne's Prince Alfred Hotel to offer complimentary alcohol to COVID-19 vaccinated patrons was a "good hearted" initiative and in the national interest.
He described the Therapeutic Drugs Administration's (TGA) disapproval as "heavy-handed" during a televised news briefing. The TGA had disapproved of the plan as rules bar the use of alcohol or tobacco as incentives to receive medicines.
"This is a national interest vaccine programme," Morrison said. "We'll be making some changes to ensure that these good-hearted, good-natured sort of initiatives that people may take on of their own volition."
He said Health Minister Greg Hunt would speak to the TGA and ask them to back down.
In a statement to Reuters late on Friday, the TGA said it had amended the regulations to permit an offer of alcohol for those vaccinated against COVID-19 to encourage uptake of the shot.
Australia has been one of the most successful countries globally in curbing the coronavirus pandemic but its vaccination rollout has been slowed by supply shortages and some vaccine hesitancy among its population.
Recurrent coronavirus outbreaks in Australia's major cities in recent weeks have boosted vaccine take-up, though at 9% of fully inoculated adults the country still lags its economic peers.
In the United States, beer, lottery tickets and marijuana have been used as incentives to drive up vaccination rates.
(Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Gareth Jones)