Australia ATAGI have told the Prime Minister to pull back on the AstraZeneca vaccine for under 50s and use Pfizer, but who are they?
Young Australians' hopes for an overseas holiday could be dashed
Australia had been aiming to open its international borders beyond New Zealand from the end of October when every citizen was expected to receive at least their first vaccine dose. But that timeline is now almost impossible to meet following Thursday's announcement the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine - which Australia had purchased the most doses of - was no longer recommended for under 50s, only the Pfizer jab.
On Thursday evening, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Secretary Brendan Murphy announced that Australia was diverging from its plan to use the AstraZeneca vaccine for the bulk of the population.
In doing so they said that Australians under 50 would no longer receive that vaccine, but the Pfizer one, less than 24 hours after the UK announced similar measures for citizens under 30 years of age.
During the announcement from the PM and Dr Murphy they frequently cited ATAGI research as the reason for their change in policy, so who are ATAGI? Why is the government listening to them? And what did they say about the AstraZeneca vaccine to change the minds of the federal government on Australia's planned vaccine rollout?
Decision about AstraZeneca's use in Australia to be make this week
An urgent investigation was launched into the potential side effects of the Covid-19 vaccine after a Melbourne man who received the jab was hospitalised with a rare blood clotting condition. Experts have been holding talks with European regulators to determine whether the 44-year-old's low blood platelets and 22 other similar cases in the UK are linked to the vaccine. The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) will convene on Wednesday to weigh up the risks and benefits of AstraZeneca jabs once further information is provided from international discussions.
Who are ATAGI and what do they do?
ATAGI is the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation and advises the Minister for Health on the National Immunisation Program (NIP) and other immunisation issues.
Made up of a group of 14 medical experts, the group is co-chaired by Associate Professor Christopher Blyth, a specialist in paediatric infectious diseases, and Professor Allen Cheng, who specialises in epidemiology and public health.
Their role is to advise the National Health Minister on the medical administration of vaccines, provide advice on immunisation research, consult with organisations to produce the Australian Immunisation Handbook and help to implement immunisation policies, procedures and vaccine safety.
Got a COVID vaccine question? Ask our medical experts in the ABC coronavirus blog
To bring you up to speed, here's a rundown of common COVID vaccines and where they fit into Australia's vaccination rollout.Associate professor Hassan Vally from La Trobe University and the ABC's national medical reporter Sophie Scott will be answering questions in the COVID blog from 11:00am AEST.
Why is the PM taking their advice?
As Australia's leading research agency on immunisation, ATAGI briefs the Health Minister and as recently as last week had said that although they were investigating a case of unusual thrombosis following the administering of the AstraZeneca vaccine to a patient, they had not changed their advice on its use in Australia.
They did however say they would take a week to review and consider what other international agencies said in regards to the link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and rare blood clots in some patients.
Now, less than a week later, they have changed their advice, which gave Mr Morrison cause to hold the press conference and brief Australians on the changing national strategy on the vaccine rollout.
What did they have to say about the AstraZeneca vaccine and the switch to Pfizer?
During the press conference, Australia's Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly cited the recommendations from ATAGI for Australia. This is what they had to say:
Urgent AstraZeneca Covid vaccine probe lauched after man hospitalised
Australia's medicines regulator has begun an urgent investigation into the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine after a man was hositalised with a rare blood clotting condition. The Therapeutic Goods Administration held talks with British regulators overnight probing whether the 44-year-old's low blood platelets and 22 other similar cases in the UK are linked to the vaccine.Discussions will continue on Saturday between the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.
At the current time, the use of the Pfizer vaccine is preferred over the AstraZeneca vaccine in adults aged less than 50 years who have not already received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine. This is based both on the increased risk of complications from COVID-19 with increasing age, and thus increased benefit of the vaccination, and the potentially lower, but not zero risk, of this rare event with increasing age.
The second recommendation is that immunisation providers should only give a first dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to adults under 50 years of age where the benefit clearly outweighs the risk for that individual's circumstances.
The third recommendation is people who have had their first dose of the COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccine without any serious adverse events can safely be given their second dose.
This includes adults under the age of 50.
People who have had blood clots associated with low platelet levels after their first dose of COVID-19 AstraZeneca should not be given the second dose.
So, apart from one person so far in Australia, everyone who has had their first dose should safely have their second dose.
Australia needs to rethink its Covid-19 vaccine rollout, doctor says
Epidemiologist professor Nancy Baxter says the Federal Government won't reach its target to have the entire population vaccinated by the end of the year if they continue on the current trajectory. 'We need to do it faster than we were hoping before, if we're hoping to get everyone vaccinated by the end of the year,' she told Weekend Today. Her doubts come after several setbacks to the vaccine program, which include a delayed rollout and advice, from the country's chief immunisation authority, against the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The final recommendation is that the Department of Health further develop and refine resources for informed consent that clearly convey the benefits and the risks of the AstraZeneca vaccine for both immunisation providers and consumers of all ages. That is underway and will be provided overnight and into the morning.
How did ATAGI come to their decision?
In the wake ofand the recommendations issued there about the risk of rare blood clots from the AstraZeneca vaccine, the group met for several hours on Thursday, their second meeting in as many days.
According to Professor Kelly, ATAGI made their decision by looking at the evidence provided and took note of the decisions made in other countries with a view to what could happen in Australia during the vaccine rollout.
They also said that the issue of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) is a newly described serious condition, with unusual blood clots in the brain (cerebral venous sinus thrombosis) or in other parts of the body, associated with low platelet levels.
They said that some people have antibodies which activate platelets (anti-PF4 antibodies) and those antibodies have been detected in another disorder, caused by the blood-thinning drug heparin, which has a similar presentation.
What do they recommend?
- Pfizer vaccine over AstraZeneca in those under the age of 50
- People under 50 who have had their first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine without side effects can have their second dose
- People over 50 should receive the AstraZeneca vaccine
Could ATAGI change the process for other vaccines?
In a word, yes.
They oversee all of the research on Australia's vaccination programs and the Prime Minister said that if they provided evidence there are dangers from other vaccines, including Pfizer, then the use of those COVID-19 vaccines would come under review.
Australian man, 44, hospitalised with blood costs after Covid vaccine .
The 44-year-old got the jab on March 22 and later presented to a Melbourne hospital suffering fever and abdominal pain, and was found to have blood clots in his abdomen.The 44-year-old got the jab on March 22 and later presented to Box Hill Hospital in Melbourne suffering fever and abdominal pain.