AstraZeneca warning shakes up COVID vaccination timetable

April 15, 2021 BY

The latest advice recommends the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine - seen being prepared at the Royal Exhibition Building - should not be given to people under the age of 50. Photo: AAP IMAGE/JAMES ROSS

Barwon Health is reaching out to locals under the age of 50 who have received the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine within the past three weeks, following findings that it poses a rare risk of causing blood clots in that age group.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation’s (ATAGI) recommendation last week to not give AstraZeneca to Australians under the age of 50 has thrown Australia’s timetable for the vaccine rollout up in the air.

The federal government’s original plan was to have offered at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine to all Australians by October, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison has conceded “it is not possible” to set a target at the moment.

The Barwon South West Public Health Unit is in charge of rolling out the vaccine in the Geelong region, and director Professor Eugene Athan said last week that the unit took “the health and safety of our community very seriously”.

“Barwon Health is in the process of contacting people under 50 years old who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine in the past 20 days to provide further information.

“The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation has advised people who have had a first dose of AstraZeneca without any serious adverse effects can be given the second dose, including if they are less than 50 years old.”

The first phases of Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout are using the Pfizer vaccine.
Photo: BARWON HEALTH

Phases 1A and 1B of the rollout – comprising healthcare staff including disability workers, and emergency service workers such as paramedics, police, and fire services – is mostly using the Pfizer vaccine.

The federal government’s decision to accept ATAGI’s recommendation will have major implications for the rollout of the vaccine to the general population, as AstraZeneca is being manufactured in Australia but Pfizer must be imported from Europe.

In a Facebook post on Sunday, the Prime Minister said Australia had administered 1.16 million doses to date but the government “has not set, nor has any plans to set any new targets for completing first doses”.

“While we would like to see these doses completed before the end of the year, it is not possible to set such targets given the many uncertainties involved.

“We will just get on with the job of working together to produce, distribute and administer the vaccines as safely and efficiently as possible.”

Mr Morrison said the latest data showed Australia’s vaccination program was advancing consistent with comparable countries such as Germany, and was ahead of Canada, Sweden, France, NZ, South Korea and Japan at the same stage of their rollouts.

In a joint statement, Department of Health Secretary Professor Brendan Murphy and Chief Health Officer Professor Paul Kelly said ATAGI had further recommended the AstraZeneca vaccine could be used in adults aged under 50 “where the benefits clearly outweigh the risk for that individual, and the person has made an informed decision based on an understanding of the risks and benefits”.

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