The Australian government has secured an additional 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine as it steers away from relying on the AstraZeneca vaccine after a rare but serious blood clotting side effect was discovered.
The announcement comes after Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an urgent press conference on Thursday night to provide new health advice to Australians aged under 50 regarding receiving the AstraZeneca jab.
The additional doses, scheduled to arrive in the fourth quarter of the year, means Australia will receive a total of 40 million Pfizer doses.
“Safety remains our top priority, as it has been throughout the pandemic, and we will continue to follow the best medical advice in protecting Australians,” Morrison wrote in a post on Facebook.
The switch away from the AstraZeneca vaccine comes after European Medicine Agency found “possible links” between the vaccine and an extremely rare but serious blood clot.
Australian drug regulators held emergency meetings following the findings and concluded AstraZeneca was not suitable for people under 50 years.
Morrison said the new advice about AstraZeneca was not a directive not to take the vaccine but was to advise people to make the decision in consultation with their GPs.
The changed advice is likely to delay the original plans to have everybody vaccinated by October of this year.
Australia had originally planned to manufacture around 50 million doses of AstraZeneca locally, however, it will now need to rely on imported vaccines.
Former Australian Chief Medical Officer Prof. Brendon Murphy warned that all vaccines had possible adverse effects, including the Pfizer vaccine which has a risk of anaphylaxis.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the vaccine rollout in the state was still “business as usual” despite the changed advice. Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said both vaccines were good and that those younger than 50 could still choose to take AstraZeneca if they wished.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the state would resume administering AstraZeneca after it was briefly suspended for a few hours.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the majority of the rollout program remains largely unchanged, as the current phase of vaccinations revolves around immunising the elderly and front line health workers.
Hunt highlighted that Australia was in a different position to the rest of the world, with almost no community transmissions compared to other countries.
“We are in a very different place to the world because of that medical advice [to close borders],” he told Sky News Australia. “Although it was a difficult decision [to advise against AstraZeneca], we didn’t hesitate to take it.”
AstraZeneca said it respected the Australian government’s decision to change the advice for its vaccine.
“Overall, regulatory agencies have reaffirmed the vaccine offers a high-level of protection against all severities of COVID-19 and that these benefits continue to far outweigh the risks,” it said in a statement.