YourLifeChoices has received numerous queries from members asking why over 50s “are forced to use the AstraZeneca vaccine and not given the Pfizer jab?”
“Are they trying to get rid of the oldies? Or why are we treated as second-class citizens?” asked one woman.
We sought clarification from several sources but at the time of publication, the best answer was from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). It explains: “This recommendation is based on the increasing risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 in older adults – and hence a higher benefit from vaccination – and a potentially increased risk of ‘thrombosis with thrombocytopenia’ following AstraZeneca vaccination among those aged under 50.
“ATAGI has further recommended the AstraZeneca vaccine can 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.”
In Europe, about one in 250,000 people vaccinated with AstraZeneca was diagnosed with the rare blood clots, states the federal health department. So far, one person in Australia developed the syndrome after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Read more: Do you need to register for a COVID vaccine?
The health department states: “It is important to note the AstraZeneca vaccine remains highly effective at preventing death and severe illness among people who have contracted COVID-19 – and that the incidence of the blood-clotting syndrome is very rare.
“The most effective way for eligible people over the age of 50 in the Phase 1b category of Australia’s rollout program to protect themselves from the effects of COVID-19 is to be vaccinated.”
Meanwhile, general practices have “flocked to participate” in the rollout of COVID vaccines, says federal health minister Greg Hunt, with about 23,000 Australians vaccinated over the weekend.
He was speaking after many of the country’s GPs were reportedly refusing to offer the AstraZeneca vaccine to people under 50 until their legal liability could be clarified should a patient suffer serious or fatal side effects.
The Age reports that GPs fear being hit with expensive lawsuits if they advise a patient under 50 to have the AstraZeneca vaccine and that person then experiences severe side effects.
Australian Medical Association (AMA) NSW branch president Danielle McMullen had advised doctors in her state not to administer AstraZeneca to anyone under 50 unless there were exceptional circumstances.
But Mr Hunt told reporters on Sunday that doctors were covered by a commonwealth government indemnity scheme should a patient develop blood clots as a result of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
AMA national president Dr Omar Khorshid describes both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines as “very safe” and says the risks were “tiny at this stage”. He says patients should talk with their GP about their personal circumstances.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said late last week that the government had ordered 20 million more doses of the Pfizer vaccine, but chief medical officer Paul Kelly said on Monday morning they may not be available until the last quarter of the year.
As of 31 March, 574 million doses of the vaccine across 141 countries have been administered, reaching 3.7 per cent of the world’s population, The New Daily reports.
Israel leads the pack in terms of doses per population, with the United Arab Emirates second, followed by Chile, the UK, Bahrain and the US.
Associate Professor Paul Griffin, director of the Mater infectious disease unit at the University of Queensland, says Australia’s vaccination rate means we’ll be staying on home soil for longer and that we should expect more lockdowns.
He said overseas travel bubbles – beyond New Zealand – were “completely off the cards for a while yet” but added that we should not be “too concerned” because of the nation’s success on community transmission.
Read more: Vaccine rollout setback
University of NSW epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws said there was no point in being the first country fully vaccinated if it wasn’t done properly.
“I’m more interested in us missing out on COVID,” Professor McLaws said.
Ensuring we protect our frontline workers means we lower the risk of lockdowns and state border closures, she added.
“If all the quarantine staff and frontline health clinicians have had Pfizer, there should be no reason to close internal borders – that group are looking after our front line.
“So we will be able to enjoy our own country without fear.”
University of Sydney Immunisation expert Professor Robert Booy said there was a silver lining to a slower rollout.
“Australia’s rollout has been slow, we could have done better, but because we’ve taken a careful approach it means we’ve been able to learn from the experiences in Europe and the US,” he said.
Are you planning to go ahead with an AstraZeneca vaccine? Or will you wait until there are more Pfizer vaccines available?
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