Federal health officials are urging Queenslanders of all ages to “strongly consider” getting the AstraZeneca vaccine.
But even in the face of Brisbane’s spiralling outbreak and an extended lockdown, the state’s chief health officer won’t make the same appeal.
“I said I didn’t want 18-year-olds to have AstraZeneca, and I still don’t,” Queensland’s chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young reiterated on Monday, as Queensland recorded another 13 COVID cases.
Her comments are the latest sting in a simmering cold war between the two levels of government.
Federal deputy chief medical officer Michael Kidd and Health Minister Greg Hunt on Monday directly contradicted Dr Young, in the latest round of conflicting advice on the safe and effective AstraZeneca.
“ATAGI has reaffirmed their previous advice that in a large outbreak, the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca are greater than the risk of the rare side effects occurring, for all age groups,” Professor Kidd said on Monday afternoon.
“Eleven local government areas in south-east Queensland are a Commonwealth hotspot, therefore this meets the definition of a significant outbreak.”
Standing alongside the acting CMO at a Canberra press conference, Mr Hunt went further, specifically saying people in Queensland hotspots should “strongly consider” AstraZeneca.
He said advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) had been “reframed” in response to the state’s outbreak.
“[The advice] is if you are over 60, AstraZeneca is the preferred vaccine. If you are under 60, it is something in a hotspot, which again, Michael has set out in an outbreak area, that people should strongly consider,” Mr Hunt said.
“And more broadly than that, anybody can consult their doctor and seek advice.”
Hours earlier, Dr Young had said people under 60 who wanted an AstraZeneca should consult their doctor.
However, she again reiterated her advice that she personally didn’t recommend young people get that vaccine, and instead wait for Pfizer.
Pfizer won’t be widely accessible for Australians under 40 until September or October.
Younger Australians at ‘greatest risk’
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Monday cited health advice that “people aged between 20 to 40 are the greatest at risk of getting and spreading the virus”.
NSW Health figures from last week showed 25 per cent of recent cases were aged under 20, and 45 per cent under 30.
In Queensland, Dr Young has previously railed strongly against the locally produced vaccine for younger people, saying a month ago “I do not want under-40s to get AstraZeneca”.
“We have had very few deaths due to COVID-19 in Australia in people under the age of 50 and wouldn’t it be terrible that our first 18-year-old in Queensland who dies related to this pandemic, died because of the vaccine?” Dr Young said on June 30, in comments that provoked fury in the federal government.
On Monday, Dr Young was asked if the outbreak in Queensland necessitated a shift in that stance.
She cited ATAGI advice and said “that’s something that everyone should consider and … should go and talk that through with their doctor”.
But when asked by a journalist “what age should they get” AstraZeneca, Dr Young replied “60”.
“Please. I don’t know how I can be clearer than this,” she said.
Federal Employment Minister Stuart Robert, from the Gold Coast-based seat of Fadden, posted several tweets critical of Queensland’s stance on AstraZeneca.
He wrote that Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk “needs to get ATAGI outbreak advice and start allowing AZ for QLD adults [sic]”.
“How about QLD learns from NSW and opens up AZ vaccines for all adults in an outbreak, as recommended by ATAGI? Or will QLD Govt stubbornly continue with rolling lockdowns?” Mr Robert tweeted.
Ms Palaszczuk is currently in Japan attending the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Advice shifts as outbreaks worsen
Under advice from ATAGI, Pfizer is the recommended vaccine for those aged under 60, while AstraZeneca is recommended for those over 60.
Those under 60 can request AstraZeneca, after giving informed consent and being notified of the minimal risks of rare blood clots associated with the vaccine.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration reported last week it had detected 90 cases of blood clots among some 6.3 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
ATAGI recently shifted its advice specifically for people in Sydney outbreak areas, saying they “strongly consider” getting whichever vaccine was available to them, regardless of age.
That has been in force in Sydney for several weeks, with many thousands of young people accessing AstraZeneca as NSW’s cases swell above 200 per day.
As of Monday night, ATAGI had not issued similar guidance for Queensland.
However, in a statement from the Department of Health, an ATAGI spokesperson told The New Daily that “increasing risk of outbreaks in places other than Sydney” meant the risk-benefit of vaccines “may change”.
“ATAGI reaffirms previous advice that in large outbreaks, the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca are greater than the risk of rare side effects for all age groups,” the ATAGI spokesperson said.
The group did not dispute the interpretation of its advice provided by Mr Hunt or Professor Kidd.