News Government faces AstraZeneca challenge as vaccine recommended to only 60 and over
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Government faces AstraZeneca challenge as vaccine recommended to only 60 and over

AstraZeneca rollout changes to over-60s
Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton, 51, received an AstraZeneca shot. Photo: AAP
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Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton says he is “glad” to have received AstraZeneca’s COVID vaccine and encourages others to do the same, as the federal government faces more headaches after being forced into more changes for its troubled rollout.

The AstraZeneca vaccine will now generally be given only to those aged 60 and older, up from the previous benchmark of 50 and above.

It came after rare blood clot cases in people aged 50-59 in recent weeks. But federal health authorities are urging Australians who have had one dose of the shot to return for their second.

“AstraZeneca remains a very effective vaccine,” chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly said on Thursday.

“The benefit of AstraZeneca in the over-60s remains much higher than the risk of this particularly rare, but sometimes serious, syndrome.”

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, 50, also backed the AstraZeneca vaccination, saying she followed health advice at the time in getting it.

“Obviously, what is really important is for us to follow the health advice,” Ms Berejiklian said on Thursday morning, prior to the government’s 60-plus ruling.

AstraZeneca changes, Pfizer arriving

The good news is, more Pfizer doses are on the way.

The government expects to receive 700,000 doses of Pfizer every week in July, up from previous expectations of 600,000 a week. Another 32 million shots are due in Australia by year’s end.

But shadow health minister Mark Butler said he was concerned this could be yet another “brake” on the vaccine rollout, just as it was picking up speed.

COVID-19 taskforce commander Lieutenant General John Frewen and Health Minister Greg Hunt. Photo: AAP

“This is going to slow the vaccine rollout for the whole population and those cohorts that are further down the track are going to have to wait longer,” Mr Butler said.

He criticised the government for putting “too many eggs in the AstraZeneca basket” and not having “enough back-up options”.

Professor Adrian Esterman, chair of biostatistics at the University of South Australia, had similar sentiments.

“This will again disrupt the vaccine rollout, since Pfizer vaccine supplies are limited, and we are unlikely to get additional Pfizer vaccine, or for that matter, Moderna or Novavax, until much later this year,” Professor Esterman said.

“Unfortunately, the federal government put most of their eggs in the AstraZeneca basket, and this is now becoming a major problem.”

Rare clots change vaccine preferences

The Pfizer vaccine will now be preferred for all people aged up to 60.

The change comes after 12 new cases of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS), a combination of blood clots and low platelets that is a rare side effect of the AstraZeneca shot.

Of those, seven were aged 50 to 59, prompting Thursday’s change to official guidelines.

They include the death of a 52-year-old NSW woman last week, the second in Australia thought to be linked to the shot.

Health department secretary Professor Brendan Murphy said the change was a “highly precautionary approach given our good epidemiological situation”, due to such a low risk of COVID infection.

Health Minister Greg Hunt, and professors Kelly and Murphy, repeatedly stressed that Australians who have had one shot of AstraZeneca should have supreme confidence in getting their second. Australia has not had a single case of TTS from second doses.

Professor Kelly said his elderly father was one of those who had received one shot of AstraZeneca, and said he would be strongly encouraging his dad to get the second.

About 815,000 Australians aged 50-59 have had at least one shot of AstraZeneca. Another 25,000 have had a second dose.

In Britain, where 15.7 million second doses of AstraZeneca have been given, just 23 cases of TTS have been recorded, at a rate of just 1.5 per million.

Kirby Institute infectious diseases expert Greg Dore noted the risk of any complications was “extremely low”.

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