Half of those who receive the AstraZeneca vaccine experience side-effects, but most of them are minor, despite the very small risk of blood clots.
Last Thursday night, the federal government labelled AstraZeneca as “no longer preferred” for Australians under the age of 50, due to its “extremely rare but potentially fatal ability to cause blood clots”. There have been concerns some vaccinated people develop thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS).
TTS can cause serious long-term disability and deaths occur in about 25 per cent of reported cases.
The New Daily talked with seven Australians aged 23 to 81 who took the AstraZeneca vaccine. All endorsed it, had no regrets about taking it, and encouraged others to do so.
All but one reported expected side-effects including fatigue, nausea, headache, fever and muscle soreness.
Brendan, 71, said: “Fatigue set in about 10 hours after he had the injection – it lasted 30 hours. Shivers, a few aches, and tired. So I took myself off to bed and slept for 12 hours.
“Imagine if you got the real thing? I’m glad I’ve taken it. I wouldn’t want to run the risk of actually getting it (COVID-19).”
Shirley, 89, said: “I felt completely normal. It didn’t even hurt. It was just a jab and I had no after effects at all. It might affect other people, but not me.”
Another woman aged 60-plus said: “Early the next morning about 1.30am, I woke up with a headache, temperature, a bit of the shakes and not feeling bright. And then it was basically like that all day. I didn’t have cold symptoms, but I did have a fever and shivers and shakes. “Those side-effects, they’re sort of what you expect with a vaccine. They were exactly what I had.”
Ross, 51, who has an existing medical condition, said he had “a slight headache about two days in” but that the side-effects were “generally minor”.
Others interviewed said: “You can cope with it. It was hardly anything. It passes. I would be very encouraging for anyone having doubts. It is the best option.”
Official Australia advice is that some people will experience flu-like symptoms from the vaccine “compared to other common vaccinations” and may need time away from normal activities.
“For the Pfizer (COMIRNATY) vaccine, these symptoms are more common after the second dose. For the AstraZeneca vaccine, these symptoms are more common after the first dose.”
Kelly Elterman, MD, writing for goodrx.com, says side-effects from the Pfizer vaccine are more common after the second dose because the immune system “recognises the virus spike protein from the first dose of the vaccine and mounts a stronger response”.
“People who have side-effects usually experience them on the first or second day after the second Pfizer vaccine. Younger people and women are more likely to develop side-effects from the vaccine.”
A survey has been launched to ascertain whether COVID-19 vaccinations affect women’s menstrual periods.
The government-funded AusVaxSafety monitors the safety of vaccines and found that of those who received the AstraZeneca vaccine, half were likely to develop a side-effect.
Read more: When is it your turn for COVID vaccine?
Nine reports that the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), suggests dangerous clotting may occur in “about four to six people in every one million people in the four to 20 days after the first dose of vaccine”. Some European countries have reported higher rates. Germany, Spain and Italy have restricted the use of AstraZeneca to people under 60 years of age; Canada has set the limit at 55.
European Medicines Agency (EMA) executive director Emer Cooke said “the risk of mortality from COVID is much greater than the risk of mortality from these side-effects.”
Associate Professor Paul Griffin, the director of infectious diseases at Mater Health Services in Queensland, said Australia could afford to be extra cautious with its directive given the lower threat posed by COVID here.
“For comparison, the oral contraceptive pill carries a risk of clotting issues (different from the rare clotting associated with the vaccine) in the order of four out of every 10,000 people taking this pill,” he said.
“When assessing the risks and benefits we also have to keep in mind the risks of not vaccinating.”
It is not yet confirmed that there is a higher risk of clotting in those under 50. The ATAGI is being cautious with its advice while it waits for more evidence.
Read more: War of words with EU over vaccine rollout
University of NSW epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws told ABC radio 774 that frontline workers and younger people should be vaccinated first, because they were most likely to catch and transmit the disease.
“If we prevent them getting it, the elderly will be at no risk at all,” she said.
Professor McLaws said existing Pfizer vaccines should be given to those at greatest risk of contracting COVID-19 – the young, clinicians and nurses in hospital and anyone who deals with returned travellers in quarantine.
She said people aged 20-49 comprised 40 per cent of cases, and once the under-50s are protected, older people will be “ring-fenced” from infection.
She insisted no frontline worker should have any contact with a returned traveller in quarantine unless they’ve had two doses of vaccine.
Prof. McLaws said under the most “highly optimistic” vaccination rollout scenario, 60,000 Pfizer vaccinations and 40,000 AstraZeneca vaccinations could be occurring each day later this year.
That would mean international borders would need to remain shut until at least May or June 2022. Any less than that rate of immunisation would mean the borders might stay shut until 2023.
Have you discussed your vaccination options with your doctor? When do you think our borders will be opened?
Read more: Are over-50s being treated as ‘second-class citizens” over vaccine?
If you enjoy our content, don’t keep it to yourself. Share our free eNews with your friends and encourage them to sign up.