Australia NSW readies vaccine plan B amid AstraZeneca uncertainty
Health boss admits he has NO idea if Covid vaccine causes blood clots
In March more than a dozen countries suspended the AstraZeneca jab after a handful of European patients suffered brain blockages that can cause strokes. Germany is still banning the vaccine for under 60s amid fears the clots are more prominent in young people, particularly young women.
The NSW government is preparing a major overhaul of its coronavirus vaccination program, including larger volumes of Pfizer and the possible need for new vaccines, as uncertainty hangs over the future of the AstraZeneca rollout.
A senior NSW Health source has told The Sydney Morning Herald the government was already revisiting its vaccination rollout to potentially include more Pfizer clinics and the possible distribution of new vaccines across the state.
The planning is being undertaken ahead of Monday's national cabinet meeting, where the future of the AstraZeneca vaccine rollout for over-50s will likely be discussed.
AstraZeneca jab shouldn't be given to under-30s, UK regulator rules
British experts called for under 30s to be offered alternatives to the AstraZeneca jab while experts continue to investigate its link to rare blood clots. In Australia, the AstraZeneca Covid jab has been declared safe by The Therapeutic Goods Administration and is an integral part of the nation's slow-moving vaccine rollout - meaning there is no sure-fire way to demand another vaccine.Health chiefs are continuing to back the vaccine and offer it nationally while the link to blood clots is monitored - with just 79 cases in the UK out of 20 million who received the jab.
The meeting is also set to explore a new system of home quarantine for vaccinated Australians who gain approval for foreign travel. Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday said the home isolation plan was the "sensible next step" in a shift from the hotel quarantine regime.
The proposal, which Mr Morrison said would be based on health advice, would need the backing of the states who are not convinced about the idea of allowing more people in and out of the country.
"It's imperative for the states and territories to be very involved in that process because ultimately they would have to sign off on those arrangements because they look after public health," he said.
"Let's wait for the medical advice before we can set any timetable."
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Frenchman Pascal Soriot, who has been Down Under with his family since Christmas, was accused of not properly explaining the benefits of the jab to the public as it was linked to rare blood clots. Regulators have stressed that the benefits far outweigh the risks but they have recommended alternatives for people aged under 30. On Thursday night the Australian government recommended not administering the AstraZeneca vaccine to people under 50 because of an extremely rare but serious blood clot side effect.
On Friday night the Therapeutic Goods Administration found the death of a 48-year-old diabetic woman on the Central Coast was likely linked to her receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine four days earlier. The woman, who had several chronic diseases, developed blood clots and died at Newcastle's John Hunter Hospital on Wednesday.
It is the third reported case of the rare blood clotting disorder linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine in Australia and the first death.
The federal government in February set a 12-week plan for the distribution of 300,000 vaccines in NSW. However, following a drop in frontline workers receiving their shots after health advice for administering the AstraZeneca vaccine changed last week, NSW is unlikely to administer that number of vaccines by mid-May unless daily rates increase.
The NSW Health source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the government would have two potential challenges of distributing Pfizer across the state - the vaccine must be stored at cool temperatures and be more widely available due to potential changes in the country's approach to the rollout.
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The government previously predicted overseas travel would be 'widespread' by October which was when everyone was expected to have received the jab. But the recommendation that under 50s should have the Pfizer vaccine due to a very low risk of blood clots caused by the AstraZeneca jab is expected to push back the timeline.
"[There is] also scenario planning for different approaches to distribution for possible new vaccines and larger volumes of vaccines," the source said.
They added that differential approaches to at-risk populations were being considered, with all options needing to be scenario-tested ahead of any potential change to Commonwealth directions.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation recommended people under 50 receive the Pfizer vaccine last Thursday in light of an extremely rare blood clotting condition which has been observed in fewer than five per million recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine abroad.
On Friday, NSW Health completed 4429 coronavirus vaccinations, bringing the total number of doses administered as the state approaches the end of its eighth week of the program to 169,284.
If the state continues to administer doses at the rate observed over the past week, it will fall roughly 40,000 doses short of its 300,000 target. The remaining vaccinations will take an extra two weeks to complete.
Prior to the change in advice, NSW had been completing more than 6000 vaccinations on weekdays. However, since the advice, the state has been yet to complete more than 5000 vaccinations in a day, with most days below 4500 doses.
Once NSW's promised 300,000 vaccinations are completed, the state has arranged to assist the federal government in vaccinating other Australians, including other eligible people in phase 1b, as well as the broader population once eligible.
Part of the plan is to open a mass vaccination hub in a leased commercial building at Sydney Olympic Park. The state has announced it will administer 30,000 vaccinations a week from the hub, for a total of 60,000 a week across the state.
The hub will operate six days a week, a departure from current clinics which are largely open Monday to Friday, and be staffed by NSW Health, unlike the larger Commonwealth respiratory clinics which are staffed by private operators.
The Blood-Clot Problem Is Multiplying .
So are theories to explain it.The world is now engaged in a vaccination program unlike anything we have seen in our lifetimes, and with it, unprecedented scrutiny of ultra-rare but dangerous side effects. An estimated 852 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered across 154 countries, according to data collected by Bloomberg. Last week, the European Medicines Agency, which regulates medicines in the European Union, concluded that the unusual clotting events were indeed a side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine; by that point, more than 220 cases of dangerous blood abnormalities had been identified.