Australia Discreetly Discontinues AstraZeneca COVID Vaccine

Australia Discreetly Discontinues AstraZeneca COVID Vaccine
The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is no longer available to Australians from March 20, 2023. (Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Reuters)
Jessie Zhang

The Australian government has quietly discontinued the Vaxzevria AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, which has been linked to the rare but serious side effect of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia (TTS) involving blood clots combined with low levels of blood platelets.

The federal health department updated its website to advise that the vaccine developed in the United Kingdom by Oxford University “is no longer available” as of March 20, 2023.

There were eight deaths in Australia confirmed to be from TTS following the AstraZeneca vaccine, according to a June 2022 report by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), the Australian government’s medicine and vaccines authority.

Registered nurse Emma Ahearn talks to Stephen Delaney ahead of his son Lachlan Delany receiving his COVID-19 vaccine in Sydney, Australia, on Jan. 11, 2022. (Jenny Evans/Getty Images)
Registered nurse Emma Ahearn talks to Stephen Delaney ahead of his son Lachlan Delany receiving his COVID-19 vaccine in Sydney, Australia, on Jan. 11, 2022. (Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

The AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for use as a first and booster dose in Australia from February 2021 and February 2022 respectively.

From October 2021, it was available by request only, in favour of the newer mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna and Novavax.

AstraZeneca was also not recommended to people under the age of 60 years, citing blood clotting risk among younger individuals after taking it.

Australia Follows Other Countries on Suspension

Initially promised to be “highly safe and effective”, countries began to suspend AstraZeneca in 2021 after research suggested “disappointing” results against new variants and its causal link with rare but severe incidents, including low platelet counts, blood clots, and hemorrhages.
South Africa was the first country to suspend and subsequently cancel its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine after data revealed that the vaccine provided inadequate protection against infection among young people.
On March 11, 2021, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland stated that they would suspend the vaccine entirely until they had more evidence of potential side effects. Other countries, including RomaniaIreland, Sweden, France, Germany, Italy, Spain (pdf), and many more, also applied temporary suspensions to the batch.
By April 7, 2021, the European Medicines Agency safety committee had listed unusual blood clots with low blood platelets as a very rare side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
After the update on side effects, Norway and Denmark suspended the vaccine, with the Norwegian government deciding, after an expert committee’s broader assessment on the safety of the vaccine, to completely cease administrating the vaccine from May 12.
The committee concluded that “the risk of dying after vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine would be higher than the risk of dying from the disease, particularly for younger people.”
AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)
AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Australia’s health department confirmed the phasing out of the vaccine was due to the availability of newer options.

‘This was not a decision based on safety as some people have misrepresented on social media,” a spokesperson told the Epoch Times in an email.

“As expected, first-generation vaccines have been superseded by newer vaccines targeting the strains of the virus now circulating.”

“The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine remains provisionally approved by the TGA. However, the sponsor made a commercial decision with respect to the supply of AstraZeneca vaccine in Australia.”