It’s been a whirlwind 48 hours for Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination program.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is no longer the preferred jab for those under 50, a decision made by our expert medical taskforce based on growing evidence of blood clot risks.
The snap decision, announced on Thursday night, has created a wave of confusion and raised some glaring questions.
So, below, we take a look at the five biggest questions to come out of the rollout changes, alongside a snapshot of where we stand in comparison with other countries’ vaccination programs.
Here we go.
What does it mean if you’re already booked in for a shot?
If you’re booked in for an AstraZeneca shot (and under 50), you can choose to go ahead with it, or you can wait for the Pfizer jab to become available.
While Pfizer is preferred for those under 50, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) said if a person was informed and wanted to get the jab they still could.
Patients in this bracket who are choosing to accept AstraZeneca will have to sign a consent form, to show they understand the risks.
It is important to note the rare clotting disorder has only occurred in the two weeks after people received the first jab.
Those who have had their first shot, without serious side effects, can and should get their second dose.
Why has Australia made recommendations for adults under 50, while Britain has made them for adults under 30?
Because Australia is in the fortunate position of having no community virus transmission, the risk-versus-benefit of taking the vaccine is different to that of other countries – such as Britain and Papua New Guinea – where the virus is running rampant.
So in a country where the virus is transmitting through the community at a rapid pace, your risk of dying or becoming seriously ill from the virus is greater than that of experiencing a severe side effect from a vaccine.
In Australia, where your risk of contracting COVID-19 right now is minimal, the benefits-risks are reversed.
“The risk of ongoing health issues and death from COVID-19 is highest in older age groups, particularly rising from 50 years of age,” it said.
“By comparison, the rate, and thus possibility of disability and death from [blood clots from AstraZeneca] may be higher in younger people.”
What about Australia’s other vaccines?
They are on the way – but we don’t know when they will arrive.
Australia has already ordered 51 million doses of Novavax, which is waiting to be given the green light by Australian regulators.
“We hope they will come in the second half of the year,” Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said of the vaccine, which is the main dose in the US.
On top of this, the government announced on Friday it had bought 20 million more doses of Pfizer, taking our total order to 40 million.
“[Manufacturers] have guaranteed they will increase the rate at which that’s coming,” Professor Kelly said.
“We’re in negotiations with them in terms of potentially increasing that number of doses.”
Why can we make AstraZeneca but not Pfizer in Australia?
The reason the new Pfizer vaccines won’t be made in Australia (instead, they’ll be made overseas and shipped here) comes down purely to manufacturing capability. You can read the finer detail on that here.
What is the actual risk of blood clots?
The risk is rare. Extremely rare.
It is estimated that about four people in every million vaccinated will develop this kind of clotting, though data is still being collected.
However, clotting does carry a fatality rate of 25 per cent.
Most of the cases in Europe have occurred in women under 60, though there is one theory this group has been over-represented due to women dominating the health-care fields, where workers are being priority vaccinated.