Australia Here's why the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine is recommended for over 50s but not other Australians

06:21  09 april  2021
06:21  09 april  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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Australia's health advice has changed to preference the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine over AstraZeneca's for a large portion of the country's population.

With the government accepting advice that the small risk of blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine means it should not be given to people under 50, its plan to vaccinate Australians against the virus is in disarray.

But if you're wondering what it means for you, or whether it's still safe to take the AstraZeneca vaccine, read on to see what the expert advice is saying. You can also jump to your question here:

  • Is the AstraZeneca vaccine safe?
  • Why is it recommended for people over 50?
  • I've already had my first dose, should I be worried?
  • When will under 50s be vaccinated?
  • Can I get the Pfizer vaccine if I'm in 1b?
  • I'm comfortable with the risk, I still choose to get the AstraZeneca vaccine?

Is the AstraZeneca vaccine safe?

The AstraZeneca vaccine remains approved for use in Australia.

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The risk of developing blood clots has been associated with the vaccine by some medical bodies, but the risk of this happening in an individual case is extremely small.

The rare new illness that has caused this scare has been given a name by Australia's vaccines advisory group: Thrombosis with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome, or TTS.

It describes when someone develops a blood clot with the number of platelets in their blood dropping.

The advice to government notes the condition has been seen in a small number of people who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe, and one person in Australia is also suspected to have developed TTS after getting the shot.

Studies have suggested TTS affects four to six people per million vaccinations, or somewhere in the realm of one in every 200,000 people.

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Expert advice that led to the Government's decision says about 25 per cent of people who develop TTS die, which means at the current rate, roughly one person per 800,000 given AstraZeneca's vaccine can be expected to die from TTS.

Why is the vaccine OK for people over 50?

The government says it's taking a deliberately cautious approach by changing tack on the rollout strategy.

It says it can do this because Australia has such low rates of community transmission, which reduces the urgent need to vaccinate the entire population.

But the risks of TTS — and COVID-19 — differ depending on your age.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly explained it appeared that because the rare syndrome was likely an immune response, it had a greater chance of affecting young people with "robust" immune systems.

And, as we know, your risk of death or hospitalisation from COVID-19 increases the older you are.

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"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," Professor Kelly said.

In a nutshell, the government believes the AstraZeneca vaccine contains fewer risks and greater benefits for older people, and therefore is worth the very small risk associated with the vaccine for people over 50.

I'm under 50 and have already had my first dose — should I be worried?

The advice to Government was presented by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).

It's made up of 14 health experts who specialise in vaccination and safety.

Their full advice states that if you've received your first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine without "severe adverse effects", then you should receive the second dose as planned.

The limited data available also suggests people are more at risk when receiving their first shot than their second.

"It's only been found in the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, usually within four to 10 days after that vaccine," Professor Kelly said.

Young Australians' hopes for an overseas holiday could be dashed

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When will under 50s be vaccinated?

We don't know.

Stage 2b of the vaccination rollout is when most Australians under 50 will get their vaccines, and that was not meant to begin for several months.

The rollout will likely be affected now that the Pfizer vaccine is preferred for millions of Australians, as we have far more arms to jab than Pfizer vaccines in supply.

The government is working to improve Australia's access to the vaccine, and it also has pre-ordered more than 50 million doses of the Novavax vaccine, which is still in development.

But in the meantime, its plan to have everyone partially vaccinated by October is in doubt.

Can I get the Pfizer vaccine if I'm in 1b?

The changes also affect anyone currently eligible for vaccination under phase 1b of the rollout who has not received a vaccine yet.

1b covers people over 70 and Indigenous people over 55, who the Government wants to keep using the AstraZeneca vaccine.

But it also covers people in healthcare and other high-risk jobs, some of whom are under 50.

The Government will redirect its surplus supplies of Pfizer to those groups.

"Those over 70 and 80 will continue to get AstraZeneca at their GPs and be confident in its efficacy and its safety. For those healthcare workers under 50, they will now be prioritised to Pfizer, and that might delay that particular phase of 1b," Health Department Secretary Brendan Murphy said.

Can I choose the AstraZeneca vaccine if I'm under 50?

The ATAGI advice makes it clear that immunisation providers can administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to people under 50 if the benefit of being protected from COVID-19 clearly outweighs the risk in that person's circumstances.

"Ultimately here, the choice is with individual Australians and their doctor," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

"This advice is provided into the medical community, and then it's important to have that discussion with your local doctor."

Professor Allen Cheng, who co-chairs ATAGI, said if a person under 50 made an informed choice to take the AstraZeneca vaccine then that should be respected.

Part of the ATAGI recommendations is for resources to be formulated on the risks and benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine, to be available to consumers of all ages.

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The AstraZeneca jab and the price of fragmented decision-making .
Experts warn authorities’ divergent policies may damage trust and increase hesitancy in countries facing shortages.Sure enough, when a healthcare worker approached her with a shot of the jab developed by the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical giant and the University of Oxford, the 75-year-old stood firm to her conviction. With Hugony refusing to leave, a doctor finally relented after four hours and gave her a shot of the Moderna vaccine.

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