By Rachel Clun
Pfizer is now the preferred vaccine for people aged under 50 and the timing of Australia’s rollout is in doubt after medical experts expressed concerns about rare blood clots potentially linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine – the mainstay of the country’s existing COVID-19 strategy.
Editor: Egg on our PM and health officers faces
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday night the government will review Australia’s vaccine portfolio and accept medical advice that will preference the Pfizer vaccine over AstraZeneca’s in adults aged less than 50 years old who have not already received a first dose of AstraZeneca, putting plans to vaccinate the entire population by October in doubt.
Australia’s decision follows changes by European medical regulators after a review of data confirmed a rare blood clotting condition seen in a small number of patients was linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Mr Morrison said the new advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation was not a prohibition on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in people aged under 50.
“This is not a directive. This is not an instruction,” he said, noting they were taking “an abundance of caution” with the new advice. He said the impact of this decision on the timeline of the rollout was uncertain.
“Tomorrow, and over the weekend, there will be a recalibration of how the program will need to be adjusted to take into account decisions the government’s taken tonight to accept those recommendations from ATAGI,” he said on Thursday evening.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly said the rare but serious blood clot disorder was discussed in the meeting, taking into account what was decided overseas and looking at what that would look like in Australia.
“This is a rare event,” he said. “But it is serious and can cause an up to 25 per cent death rate when it occurs.”Advertisement
For those over 50, Health Department secretary Professor Brendan Murphy said AstraZeneca was strongly recommended.
“It is a vaccine that is very, very effective,” he said.
ATAGI spent hours on Thursday considering the medical evidence. It then issued new advice on the AstraZeneca vaccine, which it provided to the government just after 7pm.
The medical experts made three recommendations, including that AstraZeneca was preferred in adults over 50, after a lengthy meeting. They also recommended adults under the age of 50 should only be given AstraZeneca where the benefits clearly outweighed the risks. Third, it recommended that adults under 50 who had already received their first doses without experiencing serious side effects could safely be given their second dose.
Professor Kelly stressed the data on the rare clotting side effect, venous thromboembolism, was still only preliminary.
Editor: But Australia is not an isolated case Mr Murphy
Britain’s vaccine advisory committee says adults under 30 should be offered an alternative to AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine when possible, due to a very rare side effect of blood clots in the brain.
“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 the younger people [to develop it],” he said.
The UK regulator has decided to offer an alternative vaccine for those aged under 30.
Australia has purchased 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and has been relying on the AstraZeneca vaccine as the workhorse of the rollout. The country is expecting its first deliveries of the Novavax vaccine, pending regulatory approval, some time in the fourth quarter of the year.
Late on Thursday, Australian pharma giant CSL said “it remains committed to meeting its contracted arrangements with the Australian government and AstraZeneca for locally produced AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines.”
AstraZeneca Australia added that it respected the decision outlined by the government.
“Regulatory agencies have reaffirmed the vaccine offers a high-level of protection against all severities of COVID-19 and that these benefits continue to far outweigh the risks.” a spokeswoman for the company said.
Earlier, the Prime Minister said the risk of severe side effects with the AstraZeneca vaccine is much lower than with common drugs including paracetamol and the oral contraceptive pill.
Mr Morrison said it was important to know the risk of developing venous thromboembolism was much lower following the AstraZeneca vaccine than the risk of death from COVID-19.
“Let’s note that in the UK, the advice is that some 6000 people’s lives have already been saved by this very vaccine. So we need to consider the positive benefits,” he said.
From UK data, the risk of venous thromboembolism following the vaccine was about one to five per million people.
“To put that in some sort of perspective, the combined oral contraceptive pill, that can include adverse side effects of venous thromboembolism – that’s seven to 10 per 10,000,” Mr Morrison said.
The advice has been shared with the expert medical panel, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, which comprises all state and territory chief health officers and led by federal Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly.
The matter will also be discussed in national cabinet on Friday and in meetings with state and territory health ministers, who were due to meet on Thursday night to discuss the revised advice and its implementation.
On Wednesday 75,880 doses of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines were administered across the country, Scott Morrison said, taking the national total to 996,214 doses administered so far during the rollout.
This was a letter sent by the Prime Minister this afternoon
Australia has secured an additional 20 million doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
This adds to the 20 million doses already on order for delivery this year.
Securing the additional Pfizer vaccines means Australia will now have access to around 170 million doses of vaccine – from Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Novavax and the COVAX facility.
More than 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have now been administered in Australia, with 81,297 in the last 24 hours.
This includes 26,298 doses delivered by states and territories, and 54,999 delivered by the Commonwealth through GPs and aged care and disability facilities.
Based on updated medical advice received last night, the Pfizer vaccine is now the preferred vaccine for adults under the age of 50, while the AstraZeneca vaccine is recommended for those over 50.
Importantly, the medical advice remains that both vaccines are very effective in preventing severe disease caused by COVID-19.
Safety remains our top priority, as it has been throughout the pandemic, and we will continue to follow the best medical advice in protecting Australians.
For information and updates, go to www.health.gov.au
Australia will now have access to around 170 million doses of vaccine – from Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Novavax and the COVAX facility?
Either there are new and powerful strains on the horizon that we don’t know about or this is complete overkill and a complete waste of taxpayers money, paid to the coffers of big Pharma.
170 Million doses amongst a population of 25 Million? Mmmmm 4 – 5 Jabs per person and where some are not able to take them or don’t want to.