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Weighing risks key to vaccination

Wimmera Health Care Group has stopped vaccinating people younger than 50 with the AstraZeneca vaccine due to concerns about a link to a blood-clotting finding.

Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, ATAGI, has recommended Australia consider an alternative COVID-19 vaccine for people under 50.

The recommendation is based on European Medicines Agency finding a possible link between the vaccine and the rare form of blood-clotting.

The health-care group’s Horsham base, one of two vaccine ‘hubs’ in the region, is reassessing its vaccine program for people under 50.

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However, clinical leaders said they would continue to use AstraZeneca vaccines to vaccinate people over 50.   

Medical services director Rob Pegram said Australia’s low rate of community transmission meant it could afford to slow down its vaccination program.

“We have virtually zero community transmission – there’s no need to hurry this in Australia, we need to get it right and absolutely minimise the risk,” he said.

He said figures showed the risk of the AstraZeneca vaccine causing the reaction were ‘relatively low’.

“We know that, depending on what country you’re in, at a rate of about four to five-million doses, there are about four to five cases per million people vaccinated,” he said.

“These are central blood clots, so they’re quite dangerous and the mortality rate is about 25 percent – but it’s extremely rare.

“As a comparison for women taking the contraceptive pill, we would expect that to be about 30 to 40 blood- clot events per 100,000 – that’s a low risk, but it’s a real risk.”

A doctor deeply involved in Australia’s role in international vaccine efforts to tackle the virus from a home base in Natimuk has reaffirmed his position that vaccination is about weighing up risk.

Grenfell weighs in

CSIRO health and biosecurity director Dr Robert Grenfell spoke on the issue in the wake of protocols involving the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“As with all medicines, we need to carefully consider the risks of vaccinating alongside the risks of not vaccinating,” he said.

“For context, the risk of dying from a motor vehicle accident in Australia in 2018 was five in 100,000.

“The risk of death from COVID in people over 30 is one in 900, and for those over 50 it’s one in 90.

“And ‘long COVID’, where debilitating symptoms last for months after initial infection, is a real concern.

“Tens of millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been given worldwide so far, and from that, we’ve seen a substantial decrease in serious illness from COVID-19.

“What’s important is that we do find a way to continue vaccinating Australians against COVID-19, whether that’s using the AstraZeneca vaccine for people over 50 and those at higher risk of COVID-19 under 50; using the Pfizer vaccine where available; or even through the Novavax vaccine expected to be reviewed by the TGA later this year.”

The Federal Government has accepted the ATAGI advice and prioritised the Pfizer vaccine over the AstraZeneca vaccine for Australians under 50.

The State Government has advised that in adults under 50 where the benefits of protection against COVID-19 are likely to outweigh the risks of the side effect, the AstraZeneca vaccine can be used.

The government is also advising people who have received the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine with no major adverse reaction to receive the second dose as planned, including if they are under 50.


The entire April 14, 2021 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!