Older Australians waiting for mRNA vaccines at back of the queue

Many older Australians have delayed getting a COVID vaccine because they would prefer to get an mRNA-based vaccine such as the Pfizer or Moderna. But as supplies begin to arrive in the country, politicians say priority will be given to younger Australians, particularly those in the 12-15 age group.

At present, those aged 12 to 15 are approved only to receive Pfizer and Moderna has been approved only for those aged under 60.

ACT chief minister Andrew Barr said on Sunday that giving older Australians a choice as to which vaccine they receive “would be considered once vaccine supplies are there”, but cautioned that was likely to be “at the very tail end of the vaccination program”.

Government data shows almost 80 per cent of Australians aged 60 and over have already received at least one dose of COVID vaccine, mostly the widely available AstraZeneca. But a not-insignificant minority appear to be holding out for the mRNA-based vaccines. These people are, however, at the back of the queue, putting an already high-risk group at even higher risk., according to medical professionals.

Read: How to talk to someone who doesn’t want a COVID vaccine

This is despite advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) that older Australians should be given a choice of which vaccine they wish to receive once supplies of the vaccines reach the projected three million doses per week from October.

“ATAGI recommends that vaccination of [the] 12-15 year age group is of a lower priority than older adults (as the direct benefits of vaccination in preventing severe COVID-19 are greatest in this group),” the advisory group says.

“ATAGI therefore recommends that all strategies are considered, including provision of choice of vaccine to ensure older adults are vaccinated. Vaccination still does benefit children by preventing COVID-19 and its complications, and in lowering the risk of school disruption, although their contribution to community transmission is thought to be less than in adults.”

The main areas of concern are ATAGI’s own advice released in April indicating that the AstraZeneca vaccine may pose an increased risk of blood clots among patients aged under 60 and that the mRNA-based vaccines are perceived as being ‘better’, despite recent data showing AZ may in fact be more effective against the Delta strain.

Read: How other countries are bringing COVID vaccines to the people

But for older Australians, waiting to get your jab, whichever one it is, comes with its own set of risks.

“The biggest threat to all of us is the disease we’re trying to prevent, not the vaccines,” Dr Anita Munoz, chair of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), told The Age.

“The risk of COVID and long COVID is infinitely greater than the risk of any vaccine. And AstraZeneca has got really minimal risks in the over-60s, whereas the disease we are preventing is deadly.”

It has been repeated ad nauseum that any of the COVID vaccines are very effective at preventing death and hospitalisation due to the virus. Data released last week by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) shows that the unvaccinated are 29 times more likely to end up in hospital with COVID symptoms.

Read: Pain-free COVID vaccine trial has researchers, developers excited

Adding more weight to the argument to get a jab, Victorian chief health officer Professor Brett Sutton said on Friday that if more people over 60 were vaccinated it would allow more options for authorities to ease lockdown restrictions.

“From the global picture and from ICU admissions in Victoria and New South Wales, in particular, a fully vaccinated person is a rare individual in ICU,” Prof. Sutton says.

“So, of course, that provides greater assurance that we can ease restrictions without putting that very significant cohort of the population at risk.”

Have you received a COVID jab yet or are you waiting for mRNA vaccines? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Written by Brad Lockyer



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