August 6, 2021

Reason for AstraZeneca age cut off changeProjections of vaccine supply given to all of the states in the future will be publicly released in ‘due course’. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Wayne Taylor

Australians aged in their 50s who are worried about getting a second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine after a “sudden” cluster of blood clotting cases are being urged not to switch to the Pfizer jab instead.

It comes after the AstraZeneca vaccine was only recommended for use in people aged 60 and over, following the federal government accepting new advice from the nation’s vaccine experts last week.

The vaccine was previously recommended for use in people over 50.

But the death of a 52-year-old woman on June 10 – the country’s second person to die from an extremely rare clotting condition linked to the vaccine – sparked an urgent age cut off.

Department of Health secretary Brendan Murphy told a Covid-19 senate committee hearing on Monday night that people aged between 50-59 who had received the first dose of AstraZeneca and might be worried about adverse effects must still get the AstraZeneca vaccine for the second jab.

Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) head John Skerritt also said if people “were fine” with their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, there should be no health complications after receiving the second dose.

“The ATAGI (Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation) advice remains there should be no mixing of vaccines,” he said.

Mr Skerritt said a “sudden and worrying trend” of people aged in their 50s getting blood clots after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine sparked the change in vaccine advice.

“We do a weekly assessment of cases of any adverse events and what was remarkable in the cases received between June 11 and June 17 … we had seven out of 12 new cases occurring in their fifties,” he said.

“Of the total 60 (adverse cases) reported in last cut off date, we actually hadn’t had all that many in their 50s and suddenly we were saying this worrying trend.”

After the ATAGI made the federal government aware, it was “literally only a matter of less than an hour before the announcement was made”, Mr Skerritt said.

ATAGI co-chair Christopher Blyth told the committee the risk of dying from the AstraZeneca vaccine was one in two million, based on Australian data.

The risk of dying for people who got a blood clot as a result of the vaccine was 3-4 per cent, he also said.

When compared with the UK – where 71 deaths have occurred in 24.6 million people after receiving the first dose of the vaccine – Mr Skerritt said Australia was “picking up cases earlier”.

“Thirty per cent of our (adverse) cases are more serious and 70 per cent are not … Australia is picking up larger amounts of cases so our percentage of cases compared to number of doses given is actually higher than the UK,” he said.

“But on average, the seriousness (of adverse cases) seems to be significantly less, fatalities are very much less – we’ve had two deaths and 60 cases.”

Operation Covid Shield boss Lieutenant General JJ Frewen – who is spearheading Australia’s vaccine rollout taskforce – told the committee he could not provide projections of vaccine supply given to all of the states.

He said they would able to be released in “due course” but the states’ health authorities would need to be consulted first.

He said the documents would include three bands – near term, ramp up and final quarter, when mRNA stock will be greater.

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