Australian health authorities are holding urgent talks on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine after the European medical bodies issued warnings over the vaccine’s link to blood clots.
On Wednesday, the European Medicines Authority (EMA) said blood-clotting should be listed as a “very rare” side effect of taking the jab, while also noting that women and people under 60 were at higher risks of developing the symptoms. The statement came after the drug regulator received reports of 169 cases of a rare blood clot in people who got AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine.
This is compared to 4.8 cases of rare blood clots per million doses administered, said Emer Cooke, the director of the European Medicines Agency. Cooke confirmed her confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine, saying that it is “saving lives”.
In the wake of the EMA announcement, the UK announced they would stop providing the AstraZeneca vaccine to people under 30 and recommended individuals in the age group to get a different jab. Denmark and Norway have also postponed the vaccine rollout until mid-April. Meanwhile, Germany paused the use of the vaccine entirely in March before imposing the latest restriction on people under 60 at the end of the month.
In Australia, where most people are set to receive the AstraZeneca jab, health authorities will discuss the European recommendations on Thursday.
“The AstraZeneca vaccine is effective and very safe for most people. There is this extremely rare event which appears to be associated with that particular vaccine in some people—four per million,” said Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly.
“The benefit is that the vaccines are very effective at preventing COVID illness and can be severe and lead to deaths, particularly in older people,” he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the EMA announcement is unlikely to affect the national vaccine rollout as the early phases were focused on older Australians. He added that women who take contraceptive pills and common Paracetamol tables face a higher risk of blood clotting.
“We have got the best people in the world looking at these issues to give us the medical expert advice,” Morrison said.
Morrison suggested it was too early to say whether Australia would offer a different drug to people aged under 30 or add warning labels to the AstraZeneca vaccine like some European countries.
The national cabinet is set to look at the issue at the next meeting on Friday while state and federal health ministers will proceed to discuss the findings.
Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese slammed the prime minister, saying the issues surrounding AstraZeneca highlighted the danger in Australia failing to lock vaccine deals with other suppliers.
“The federal government should have secured more deals. There is no deal for Moderna. There is no deal for Johnson and Johnson,” he told reporters.
Meanwhile, the Nationals senator for Queensland Matt Canavan and independent MP Craig Kelly have both declared they would support halting the AstraZeneca jab’s use.
Kelly, who was formerly a member of the Liberal party, quit the Liberals in February this year after encountering a strong backlash from segments of the media and political opponents for sharing information about the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine.
On Wednesday the government said they had received 1.3 million locally produced doses, with an estimated 920,334 vaccinations having been administered, The Australian reported.
“We’re expecting later this week over 470,000 (doses), early next week approximately 480,000, and then late next week or early the following week 670,000,” said Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt on Wednesday.
“If that third batch were to arrive late next week, that would mean we’d passed the million mark for that week. If it were to pass over into the following week, then we’d pass it in that following week.”