Blood clot fears have derailed Australia's vaccine rollout. So what happens next?

The majority of Australians were set to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine by October but the new advice has thrown the government’s plans into disarray.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and chief medical officer Paul Kelly are vaccinated against coronavirus.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and chief medical officer Paul Kelly are vaccinated against coronavirus. Source: AAP

Australia is in talks with drugmaker Pfizer to obtain more coronavirus jabs as the federal government tries to get its nationwide vaccination campaign back on track. 

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is now the preferred shot for adults in Australia under the age of 50, after the government received new medical advice about the AstraZeneca jab and its link to rare blood clots.

The majority of Australians were set to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine by October - but the new advice has thrown the government’s plans into disarray.

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Australia has also ordered more than 50 million doses of the Novavax vaccine, which is still under trial but could be delivered in the second half of the year.

Talks underway with Pfizer

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the government was in “close contact” with Pfizer to get more vaccine doses delivered.

“We are talking to that company and we have been talking to that company. We continue to talk to that company and we'll see what transpires from those talks,” he said on Friday morning.

Professor Kelly also did not rule out talking with Moderna for its vaccine, or seeking more vaccine doses from Pfizer and Novavax.

“All of those things are on the table. We are looking at all of those options right now,” he said.



Pfizer on Friday said it remained on track to deliver some 20 million doses to Australia throughout 2021, and remained in talks with the federal government. People require two doses of the Pfizer jab to be vaccinated. 

“Pfizer is in ongoing constructive discussions with the Australian Government to support its vaccine rollout plan,” the company said in a statement.

Risks ‘rare’

The co-chair of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, Professor Allen Cheng, defended the group’s advice around the AstraZeneca vaccine’s risk to younger people.

“While DVTs (deep clots) in general are common and don't seem to be increased following vaccination, emerging evidence suggests that this unusual disorder is probably caused by vaccination,” he wrote on Twitter.

“However, it appears to be quite rare - UK data suggest that it is in the rate of 1 case per 200,000 to 250,000 vaccines. Other estimates put the risk as somewhat higher, but still pretty rare.”

Professor Cheng said Australia was in a different position that most other countries with different advice.

“If there was a lot of COVID about, then the benefit in preventing COVID would outweigh the risk for almost all adults, except for very young adults. This is pretty much the situation in the UK at the moment.

“In Australia, we don't have COVID in the community at the moment, but we recognise that the risk of incursion is ever present. So the balance of the risks and benefits are different.”

AstraZeneca advice not a ‘directive’

Australians under 50 can still choose to have the AstraZeneca jab based on their own health assessments.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday night stressed that the new advice was not a directive nor an instruction.

“There is an expression of a preference,” he said.

“Australians will look at that risk, they will ask their doctor about that risk, their doctor will know their own personal health circumstances.”



But the federal opposition took aim at what it described as a “debacle” of a rollout.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said the government had put all its eggs in one basket - referring to the AstraZeneca vaccine - and should have also struck deals with Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

“This government has failed,” he told reporters on Friday.

“This government couldn't run a choko vine up a back fence.”

Part of the attraction to the AstraZeneca vaccine was the fact that - unlike others - it could be manufactured locally in Australia. 

According to the federal health department, Australia is planning to manufacture some 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

Delays 'no question'

There are also concerns the new advice will delay the vaccine rollout timeline, prolonging Australia's return to pre-pandemic normalcy.

Professor Cheng said there was no doubt the AstraZeneca hitch would slow the rollout down.

“So over the next few days, Commonwealth and state governments will be working out how the program will look in the coming weeks and months. But because we’re thankfully not dealing with ongoing COVID outbreaks, we can make this choice to take a safer path.”

Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles said a timely vaccine rollout was tied to many things.

“We don't get to open the border until we've been vaccinated. We don't get to have international students back here. We don't get to have trade up and running until we all get vaccinated,” he said. 


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5 min read
Published 9 April 2021 at 12:02pm
By Rashida Yosufzai