Under-40s can now easily access the AstraZeneca vaccine in Sydney and Melbourne, and they are rolling up their sleeves by the thousands.
The vaccine has a confusing history in Australia, having been recommended only for over-60s after reports of rare but serious blood clot side effects presenting more often in younger people.
But as the Delta outbreak overwhelmed Sydney – and has since spread to Melbourne – the health advice for the vaccine changed.
At the end of June, Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared that under-40s (at the time not eligible for Pfizer) could get the AstraZeneca vaccine in consultation with a GP.
A month later, adults of all ages in Sydney were urged to get whatever vaccine they could, as the outbreak tore through the city and suburbs.
And on Sunday in Victoria, Premier Dan Andrews announced nine of his state’s vaccination hubs would now start offering AstraZeneca to under-40s.
The take-up from young Australians has been remarkable.
In New South Wales, the number of first-dose vaccinations of AstraZeneca given to under-40s has increased since July 24 from 44,355 to more than 137,600, according to Department of Health statistics.
Over the same period, the number of second doses of AstraZeneca to under-40s has also surged – from 788 to more than 25,000.
In Victoria, the story is similar.
On Monday, the first day of expanded access to under-40s, 2356 first doses were administered to that age group in state-run clinics alone.
That is more than a three-fold increase compared to the previous Monday.
“That gives strong emphasis to the fact young people under 39 want to get vaccinated,” Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said.
Australian Medical Association vice-president Chris Moy told The New Daily that GPs around the country had seen a surge in vaccine interest, in line with the surge in Sydney cases.
“Young people are seeing what’s happened with Delta in NSW and a lot of them have done the research on it and understand the risk and they want to be protected,” Dr Moy said.
“Most people have been living in a wonderland where COVID was an abstract concept and all we focused on was anxiety-producing news and confusing messaging.
“Delta has changed the balance.”
He said it was “heartening” to see under-40s come out in droves for AstraZeneca.
“There’s a sense of community responsibility in this younger age group – they are thinking as much of others as themselves,” he said.
A slow and steady increase
Despite the fluctuating health advice, young people have been slowly warming to AstraZeneca.
In April, Department of Health figures showed 41,319 shots were given to the age group; in June that jumped to more than 78,400, and in July it was 114,498 people.
The figures are expected to be even greater in August – so we tracked down three-under 40s who recently got the jab to ask them what made them roll up their sleeves.
Just over a month ago, Elly Bruin told TND she would wait for Pfizer.
But she had her first shot of AstraZeneca last week and is encouraging her mates to get it, too.
“The messaging was really confusing and I wanted to wait for Pfizer because of the fear-mongering involved with potential blood clots,” Ms Bruin said.
“But with the recent outbreak, I got more concerned about getting COVID. I think the fact that people in their 30s are dying scared me a little bit.
“I changed my mind last week and I honestly haven’t thought about it since. The worry has all gone.”
Angus Lonergan received his first AstraZeneca dose last week.
“I felt so good having it. I automatically felt like I had some control after being in lockdown for six weeks, to do something about the situation and my own health,” Mr Lonergan said.
He’s concerned about the level of hesitancy among his peers.
“When people say [they’re hesitant], I can understand their concerns about the confusing messaging … because they have been given the wrong information,” Mr Lonergan said.
“On Thursday six people died from COVID in NSW. That’s as many people who have died from a blood clot since the rollout began around the whole country.
“That’s one day in a NSW outbreak, compared to the millions of doses of AstraZeneca that have gone into people’s arms.”
Tom Hocking was originally going to wait for Pfizer – then Melbourne’s fifth lockdown hit and he started to do his research.
“Getting into lockdown five and six, it was just like, ‘This is what it will be like until people get vaccinated’, and we have no clear knowledge of when Pfizer is coming,” Mr Hocking said.
“It made me realise I probably should get it – that it will help us get to where we need to be and gain some control again.”
He reported some temporary side effects after getting the jab – mainly flu-like symptoms – but said it was all worth it.
“Once I was done there was a sense of relief. I’ve started on the right path of being fully vaccinated.”