The Victorian government is pausing its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine to people under 50 for at least another two weeks, amid concerns about potential blood clotting.
Victoria is asking the federal government to only send shipments of the AstraZeneca vaccine to GPs, so that more older people can get the jab.
Victoria’s Acting Premier, James Merlino, said the pause would allow for new training for staff to discuss the risks of the vaccine, and for indemnity issues to be resolved after reports some doctors were reluctant to offer the AstraZeneca vaccine to under 50s because of legal concerns.
“The implications of the advice we received from ATAGI (the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation) last week are quite significant and require a recalibration or reset of the Commonwealth’s vaccination program roll-out,” he said.
Mr Merlino said there was information about the AstraZeneca vaccine that needed to be translated into languages other than English, to provide all communities with information about the risks.
“Those things all need to happen so that people can truly make an informed decision as per the ATAGI advice from last week,” he said.
ATAGI, which advises the federal government on immunisation issues, said the advice was based on assessment of the risks and benefits of the vaccine.
The expert panel said the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine may be used in adults aged under 50 years where the benefits were likely to outweigh the risks for that individual.
The federal government last week said the Pfizer vaccine would become the preferred vaccine for people under 50.
The advice from ATAGI led to healthcare workers being turned away from vaccination centres in Melbourne last week.
Vaccination of over 70s to continue
Mr Merlino said he had asked the federal government to divert shipments of the AstraZeneca vaccine that were to be sent to state vaccination centres, to community doctors who could then vaccinate more people aged over 70.
“We’ve got enough AstraZeneca to deliver what we need to deliver, GPs are calling out for more,” he said.
“We are ready, willing and able to do more, it’s of course always contingent on supply but this is a common sense way.”
Call for rethink of vaccination schedule
A leading epidemiologist has said delays in the COVID-19 vaccination program in Australia will push back the re-opening of international borders for at least another year or two.
Mary-Louise McLaws, from the University of New South Wales, said at the current rate of vaccination, it would take a couple of years for a majority of Australians to be covered.
She said the vaccine timeline would improve if the Pfizer vaccines could be secured and delivered by September – but that seemed unlikely.
“We may be able to fully vaccinate everybody who wants to be vaccinated – and I have estimated that at 85 per cent of the population – we might be able to open up our borders by May or June next year,” she told ABC Radio Melbourne.
Professor McLaws, who is also a member of the World Health Organisation’s advisory panel on COVID-19, said Australia should reconsider the vaccine rollout schedule.
She said we should be vaccinating frontline workers and younger people with the Pfizer vaccine in order to “ringfence” the elderly.
“For those 50 and over, AstraZeneca does give a good level of protection,” she said.
“Once our young have their Pfizer, the elderly are even more protected.
“Really, we need the Pfizer to start with the young ones because they are the ones that place the older people at risk.”