Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called an urgent press conference to advise Australians aged under 50 against receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The prime minister instead, recommended they go for the alternative Pfizer vaccine, while those over 50 were clear to receive the AstraZeneca jab.
“The advice here today is not to not have the AstraZeneca vaccine—there is not a prohibition on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for persons under 50,” Morrison said.
“So, this is not a directive. This is not an instruction. This is advice that is being provided to Australians and the broader medical community, who are responsible for administering these vaccines.”
The PMs announcement follows a case in Melbourne’s Box Hill Hospital where a 44-year-old man was admitted with serious thrombosis after he received the AstraZeneca vaccine on or around March 22, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
The man’s case fit the description of “vaccine-induced pro-thrombotic thrombocytopenia,” Norman Swan, a physician told ABC.
His case prompted an investigation by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to examine whether there was a causal link between the vaccine and blood clotting, an issue that Australian health authorities are looking into following warnings from European health bodies.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said that blood clots were a “very rare event,” but conceded that it could occur within 4 to 10 days of taking the vaccine.
“It is serious, and it can cause up to a 25 percent death rate when it occurs,” he added.
The prime minister’s urgent announcement was based off recommendations from the Australian Technical Advisory Group of Immunisation (ATAGI).
The ATAGI made four recommendations.
First, Pfizer would be the preferred vaccine over AstraZeneca for adults under 50-years-old.
Second, immunisation providers should only give a first dose of AstraZeneca to adults under 50, where the benefits clearly outweigh “the risk for that individual’s circumstances.”
Third, those who have their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine without any “serious adverse events” can safely be given their second dose.
Lastly, the Department of Health will further develop resources for patients to give informed consent on the risks and benefits of the AstraZeneca jab.
Former Australian Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendon Murphy said that all vaccines have adverse effects, including the Pfizer vaccine, which has a risk of anaphylaxis.
“But this syndrome, after all of the work we’ve done with the UK and Europe, does seem to be a real syndrome, and we now feel that, at an abundance of caution, given that this syndrome seems to occur mainly in younger people for whom the risk of severe COVID is not so great,” Murphy said.
Murphy added that under Phase 1b trial, those aged over 70 should continue with the AstraZeneca vaccine at their respective GP clinics.
“The important thing is that all of the vulnerable people—those vulnerable to severe COVID—will be covered, as we planned, by the middle of the year.”
When asked why the elderly are still advised to take the AstraZeneca vaccine, Kelly said, “We must say this is preliminary evidence. There are very few cases of this extremely rare event that have happened anywhere in the world.”
“So, the 50 cut-off is based on what we’ve seen in these events so far—more common in younger people, less common in older people. We know older people are at higher risk of COVID,” he added.
Prime Minister Morrison added that it’s important for the elderly to be vaccinated because a majority of the 900 COVID-19-related deaths in Australia “have predominantly been with older Australians.”
Murphy confirmed that Melbourne based CSL will still be producing the AstraZeneca vaccine and will explore with Novavax—one of three companies the Federal Government has struck a deal with to distribute COVID-19 vaccines—the viability of manufacturing onshore.
Morrison said there were many “uncertainties” and many “variables.”
“The whole world has gone through a process of relying on expert medical advice to define those vaccines that they would seek to contract and have available to their populations, and Australia has made some very sound decisions on that front,” he said.
State and federal health ministers will discuss the early implications of the overall rollout at the National Cabinet meeting tomorrow.
As of April 8, the total administered doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have reached 996,145, including over 361,000 through primary care and 125,260 through aged care.