A federal government backbencher has called for Australia to pause its rollout of the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine, claiming the national medicines regulator is “not infallible”.
Nationals senator Matt Canavan’s call came despite senior government colleagues labelling any such a move an overreaction.
“I don’t believe the [Therapeutic Goods Administration] is infallible. I don’t think they’re the Vatican,” Nationals senator Canavan said in Canberra on Tuesday.
“I don’t have a lot of faith in the [World Health Organisation].”
Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek responded simply: “I wouldn’t take my medical advice from Matt Canavan”.
Senator Canavan made the controversial call just hours after more European nations paused their rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine amid a handful of health issues. The European Medicines Agency reported 30 cases of blood clotting from nearly five million people given the shot, while AstraZeneca said its review of 17 million people had shown no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots.
The WHO and Australia’s own TGA have backed AstraZeneca’s shot. The TGA said on Saturday that “extensive international experience does not indicate an increased risk of blood clots associated with the vaccine. Blood clots can occur naturally and are not uncommon”.
However, Senator Canavan cast doubt on both the TGA and WHO.
We should pause the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine because almost every European country now has concerns over its safety. There is no imminent threat of coronavirus here so why would we blindly rush on when others are concerned?
— Matthew Canavan (@mattjcan) March 15, 2021
“I think it’s clearly time for us to suspend the rollout here in Australia … We should heed the concerns,” he said.
“Given we’re in a country that does not face an imminent risk of coronavirus spread, surely the prudent approach here is to suspend our rollout.
“This may well prove to be a safe vaccine. There’s just not the imminent risk in this country, so why don’t we pause and take a breath?”
The AstraZeneca vaccine is the bedrock of Australia’s vaccine rollout strategy, with the government securing 54 million doses. Most Australians will receive it.
Senator Canavan’s timing is damaging for the federal government, with one million locally-produced doses a week of the AstraZeneca vaccine to roll off production lines at Melbourne’s CSL plant from next week.
A government spokesperson told The New Daily on Tuesday that “we will follow the advice of the medical experts”.
.@mattjcan is calling to pause Australia’s AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine rollout after several European countries suspended use of the jab over reports of bleeding and blood clots #auspol pic.twitter.com/b8teh0KAnT
— Samantha Dick (@samanthadick00) March 15, 2021
Senator Canavan said he had contacted Health Minister Greg Hunt about his concerns, but had not received a reply.
“I’m not a health regulator but European health authorities are health regulators and I think we should listen to them too,” he said.
“The Australian regulator is isolated with the UK regulator with a certain position.”
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said there were no plans to suspend Australia’s rollout, insisting it was safe to continue.
“Both the European equivalent of our TGA as well as the World Health Organisation have said that the AstraZenca is effective,” he told ABC radio.
“They have not found any causal link between the vaccine itself and blood clots.”
Labor’s shadow health minister, Mark Butler, said he backed the TGA.
“Labor has strong confidence in the ability of the Therapeutic Goods Administration to monitor any reports about potential adverse events, and to give appropriate advice to the Australian people and Australian governments,” he told The New Daily.
Environment Minister Sussan Ley, a former health minister, said Australia was “in good hands”.
“Please feel confidence in the vaccine, please, if you are offered it, take it, and remember that you’re helping many vulnerable people in the community if you are,” she told Channel Nine.
Health experts back AZ shot
There is no proof the AstraZeneca vaccine causes blood clots.
Blood clots are a common condition, particularly among older people, who are the highest priority for the jab.
Out of the 17 million people across Europe who have received the vaccine, AstraZeneca said there had been just 15 cases of deep vein thrombosis and 22 of pulmonary embolism.
Other licensed COVID-19 vaccines have reported similar rates of clotting in patients who have been vaccinated, according to AstraZeneca.
The European Medicines Agency, TGA and the WHO all say there is no evidence of any link between the vaccine and blood clots.
“There is currently no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions, which are not listed as side effects with this vaccine,” the EMA said in a scientific statement published on Friday.
The TGA’s statement stressed that “blood clots can occur naturally and are not uncommon.”
The regulators have urged countries to keep administering it. Britain – where more than 11 million people have been vaccinated against the virus – will continue its rollout.
-more to come