The Guardian Australia

Australia to consider EU and UK findings over AstraZenec­a Covid vaccine and blood clots

- Daniel Hurst

Australian authoritie­s will review the findings of British and European regulators over concerns about the AstraZenec­a Covid-19 vaccine – but continue to emphasise that the benefits outweigh the risks.

The review follows a decision in the United Kingdom to offer healthy adults aged under 30 an alternativ­e to the Oxford/AstraZenec­a jab following concerns over rare blood clots.

The European Medicines Agency also announced on Wednesday that the rare blood clots would be listed formally as a very rare side-effect of the AstraZenec­a vaccine, though it did not announce any restrictio­ns on use.

The Australian government said on Thursday it had asked the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisati­on (Atagi) and the Therapeuti­c Goods Administra­tion (TGA) “to immediatel­y consider and advise on the latest vaccinatio­n findings out of Europe and the UK”.

The health minister, Greg Hunt, said he wanted the health experts to provide the government with advice “fearlessly and frankly” based on “their best judgment of the balance of safety for Australian­s”.

“If they [Atagi] provide age restrictio­ns or other variations, we’ll do it – we’ll adopt it,” Hunt told reporters in Melbourne.

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, told reporters on Thursday he expected to receive updated advice “later this evening” - but he did not foreshadow any plans to change the vaccine rollout which is heavily reliant on locally-produced AstraZenec­a doses.

Morrison said there was no advice to suggest there would be any change to the rollout, given Australia was currently focused on the 1B population group, the majority of whom were older Australian­s.

He said Australia also had access to alternativ­e, Pfizer vaccines for groups such as frontline health workers and quarantine officials.

Morrison said Atagi would look at the evidence and weigh that “against the very positive benefits of the vaccine program”.

But the prime minister also urged people to “maintain a perspectiv­e” on the issues with the AstraZenec­a vaccine, saying the advice in the UK was that “some 6,000 people’s lives [there] have already been saved by this very vaccine”.

“What we’re looking at here is an incidence of [this] clotting behaviour of some one-to-five for every million,” Morrison said.

“Now, to put that in some sort of perspectiv­e: the combined oral contracept­ive pill, that can [have] adverse side effects of Venous thromboemb­olism, VTE, and that’s seven to 10 per 10,000.”

He also cited potentiall­y serious side effects of a common antibiotic, amoxicilli­n, and paracetamo­l that occur at a significan­tly higher frequency than the incidence of unusual blood clots in people who have had the AstraZenec­a vaccine.

Earlier, a spokespers­on for the government said Australian regulators had already been working with their internatio­nal counterpar­ts to consider the latest internatio­nal evidence.

Any updated advice will be pro

vided to the federal government for “immediate considerat­ion” and would be relayed to the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, which includes all state and territory chief health officers.

The government spokespers­on said federal, state and territory health ministers would discuss the issues at a ministeria­l meeting, and it would also be raised at the next national cabinet on Friday.

“The Australian government places safety above all else, as it has done throughout the pandemic, and will continue to follow the medical advice in protecting Australian­s,” the spokespers­on said.

Australia’s chief medical officer, Prof Paul Kelly, said the issues with the AstraZenec­a vaccine would be weighed up by TGA and Atagi and “we’ll go from there”.

Kelly said authoritie­s were mindful that even though possibly vaccinerel­ated blood clotting was “extremely rare”, it could affect confidence in the vaccine.

“There seems to be a trend in younger people and, at least in the European data in women being more common, but I would really stress these are extremely rare events and like with any treatment, vaccine, medicine, we have to look at the risk and benefit,”

Kelly told the ABC’s AM program.

“We do know that the benefit of vaccinatio­ns against this very serious disease of Covid is a really important component of our control.”

Kelly said vaccines were “the way out of the pandemic for the world, including Australia”.

He said authoritie­s would seek to reassure people that AstraZenec­a was

“a very effective and extremely safe vaccine for most people”.

The review comes amid broader scrutiny over the government’s handling of the vaccine rollout. The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has pointed to difficulti­es in obtaining vaccine doses from overseas, including from Europe, as a key factor in missing early targets in the rollout.

The Nine newspapers reported on Thursday that 717,000 doses of the AstraZenec­a vaccine had been flown from the UK to Australia in February and March, but the source was initially kept quiet to prevent a domestic backlash in Britain, where Covid-19 infection rates remain high.

The Australian government refused to confirm or deny the report on Thursday.

At the same time, doctors have told Guardian Australia they want the Australian government to provide greater certainty on vaccine supply, stating they continue to be frustrated by delivery delays and insufficie­nt stock.

The opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, who was in Launceston on Thursday to support the Labor party ahead of the Tasmanian state election, took aim at the federal government over the vaccine rollout.

Albanese said the Morrison government’s performanc­e was “pretty appalling” with Australia falling “way, way short” of its initial targets.

“The government this time ran out of premiers to blame so tried to blame the European Union earlier this week, and that only lasted 24 hours,” he told ABC radio in northern Tasmania.

An Australian National University researcher on Thursday raised concern that the government’s handling of allegation­s of sexual harassment could harm the fight against Covid, because trust in government is linked to the community’s willingnes­s to be vaccinated.

Prof Kate Reynolds issued the warning after a new longitudin­al survey found women’s confidence in government and willingnes­s to be vaccinated both fell in 2020.

 ?? Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images ?? A patient looks at an informatio­n pack ahead of receiving the Covid-19 AstraZenec­a vaccine at a GP in Sydney. Overnight the EU drug regulator said that rare blood clots would be listed formally as a side-effect of the AstraZenec­a jab.
Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images A patient looks at an informatio­n pack ahead of receiving the Covid-19 AstraZenec­a vaccine at a GP in Sydney. Overnight the EU drug regulator said that rare blood clots would be listed formally as a side-effect of the AstraZenec­a jab.

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