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Vaccine Roll-Out Pause A Bump But Not A Disaster

You’ve probably heard that the Federal Government are no longer recommending the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine for people aged under 50 years. Their language is a little less explicit, but that’s what they mean. Given two of Australia’s vaccine choices have suffered unforeseen setbacks (University of Queensland’s vaccine was the other), I won’t be joining the chorus of those blaming the Federal Government. There are plenty of other good reasons to get mad at them. And here’s why.

After vaccinating millions of people in Europe, epidemiologists have noticed a rare and serious side-effect of blood clots forming in veins in the brain or abdomen, or in arteries.

It’s so rare that it hasn’t been linked to the vaccine until recently. The European Medicines Agency, which reported on the link, is aware of 222 cases from 34 million people vaccinated, roughly one in 150,000. Australia has seen one case, in a Melbourne man, from about 420,000 vaccine doses.

The recommendation by Australia’s vaccine expert group for those 50 and over to have the vaccine is because the consequences of COVID in older people are more severe. There is weaker evidence that the clot side-effect occurs less commonly in older adults.

People under 50 can still have the AstraZeneca vaccine if they make an informed decision after being made aware of the risk.

It would have been impossible to predict this, and it’s compounded by the University of Queensland vaccine falling over because it triggered false positive HIV results. Imagine trying to sell that to the public.

Regardless, the fact that our vaccine experts are intervening to prevent a suspected and still unproven side-effect occurring in fewer than one in 100,000 people vaccinated, should inspire confidence in our vaccine system. My fear however, is that it’s resulting in the opposite.

Where to from here?

Australia is still receiving Pfizer vaccines and there will be enough to continue immunising the under 50s who must urgently be vaccinated, those in quarantine, hospital staff and others at increased risk of encountering the virus.

At midday Friday 9th April, the Federal Government had already ordered 20 million doses of Pfizer vaccine, 400,000 of these had already arrived, with the following 19.6 million anticipated by the end of the year, with the number of doses in each arrival increasing per quarter as the year progresses. A further 20 million doses were announced Friday afternoon, expected to arrive in the final quarter of 2021. Taking our total to 40 million doses. Enough for 20 million people. 

Australia has also ordered the Novavax vaccine, also expected towards the end of the year, assuming no problems with regulatory approval and supply.

But there’s no escaping the seriousness of this setback; it will slow our vaccine program and we’ll be at risk of outbreaks and the need for social distancing and facemasks for longer than we’d hoped.

But remember, we were likely to need another vaccine anyway, as the AstraZeneca vaccine showed poor efficacy against the South African variant of the virus, and that virus will probably arrive here before long. It’s still too early to know but we may need regular immunisations, every year or so, with vaccines updated to include the latest variants, like our annual flu shot.

Feel free to read the statements from the main sources I’ve used for this: the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation and the European Medicines Agency. And it’s also worth following Allen Cheng on Twitter.

And if you have questions about whether you should be vaccinated and with what, please ask your GP.

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Dr Tim Read
Greens MP for Brunswick
9 April 2021



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