Prime Minister Scott Morrison has moved to address the “rare event” of blood-clotting linked to COVID-19 vaccines and announced it will limit AstraZeneca doses given to those under 50.
The move comes following a series of recommendations handed down by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.
ATAGI has advised the government to “prefer” Pfizer in adults under 50, who have not already received their first dosage.
The second recommendation is that AstraZeneca only be administered to those in that aged bracket if the benefit clearly outweighs the risk for that individual.
It was confirmed however that those who had already received their first AstraZeneca jab with no ill effects, would have the second dose as normal.
Speaking at the impromptu press conference Health Department Secretary and former Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said all vulnerable Australians would still be vaccinated by the middle of the year.
“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,” Mr Murphy said.
“Clearly, when we move into the broader, younger population later on, we will have to recalibrate by re-prioritising some Pfizer for younger people, and we are now reviewing all of the vaccine purchases we’ve made.
“We have 51 million Novavax coming later in the year, we’re looking at when we can bring other vaccines forward, and continuing under the advice of the committee, our Chair, to look at all our vaccine portfolio.”
The advisory board looked in to the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine after several European countries paused its use over links to blood clots.
As of March 31, The European Medicines Agency (EMA) identified 62 cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) — 44 of them in Europe — among 9.2 million given doses of AstraZeneca.
The UK medical regulator also said on Saturday, local time, that out of 30 people who suffered rare blood clots after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine, seven had died.
Importantly Mr Morrison said in tonight’s conference that all advice received suggested the instances only occurred following the first dose and not the second.
Mr Morrison said the advice was taken out of “an abundance of caution”.
“It’s a caution that is being exercised consistently with many other countries around the world, and we would expect to see that also continue in other countries now making similar decisions,” he said.
“There are very few cases of this extremely rare event that have happened anywhere in the world but the ones we’ve seen, there’s definitely a tendency for it to be in younger people.
“We know older people are at higher risk of COVID. COVID could come. We’ve had outbreaks and incursions from hotel quarantine in recent weeks. So it’s very important that those people in those priority groups are vaccinated as quickly as possible, and AstraZeneca is perfectly safe in people in those older age groups.”
Speaking prior to tonight’s announcement WA Health Minister Roger Cook conceded he was worried question marks over the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine would discourage some people from rolling up their sleeves.
“I do have concerns that public confidence will be dented by the ongoing debate around AstraZeneca,” he said this morning.
“I would just say that all vaccines that are approved for administration in Australia are very, very safe.
“Both (Pfizer and AstraZeneca) are very safes but we have to proceed with caution.
“The comments from the European Medicines Agency and in the UK overnight will obviously need to be closely examined, and we need to learn from the data that they’ve relied upon and the National Cabinet will obviously be making further comments from there.”
ASTRAZENECA VACCINE TIMELINE
An interim analysis of clinical trial data published by AstraZeneca claimed the vaccine was 70 per cent effective against the virus.
But in what AstraZeneca described as a “useful mistake”, that figure came from combining data from two different dosing regimes.
When participants received a half dose followed by a full dose at least one month later, the efficacy was 90 per cent. But when two doses were given a month apart, it was 62 per cent effective.
Doubts are cast over the vaccine’s efficacy in over-65s. Despite the drugmaker’s claim those reports were “completely incorrect”, French President Emmanuel Macron says the vaccine was “quasi-ineffective” among older people.
Reports of blood clotting among those vaccinated with AstraZeneca first surface. More than a dozen European countries including France, Germany and Italy suspend the vaccine’s use.
March 5, 2021
The EU blocks the shipment of 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia
April 8, 2021
After new advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, Scott Morrison announces Pfizer is the “preferred” vaccine for under-50s.