Junk Explained: Why The Government Keeps Giving Confusing Advice About The AstraZeneca Vaccine

Australian health experts have announced that the AstraZeneca vaccine is now only recommended to Australians 60 and over. And naturally people are, once again, conflicted and confused.

astrazeneca vaccine

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Australian health experts have announced that the AstraZeneca vaccine is now only recommended to Australians 60 and over, after concerns remain over rare blood clots linked to the vaccine. And naturally people are, once again, conflicted and confused.

It’s the second update for the AstraZeneca vaccine (AZ) and feels like another major shake-up to Australia’s already poorly executed vaccination program.

Not only does the update shift reliance onto foreign supply chains of vaccines like Pfizer leaving millions of people in a wait line for more imports, but it most likely means Australia’s already snail pace of a national rollout has the potential to slow down even more.

Breakdown Of The New Update

Yesterday, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) released a statement recommending the new changes — that the AstraZeneca vaccine should only be used on those aged 60 and over.

Previously the cut-off age for AZ was for 50-year-olds, but this age bracket was “revised due to a higher risk and observed severity of thrombosis and thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS)” found in 50 to 59-year-olds.

Now, the advice that stands is that the Pfizer vaccine is the preferred vaccine for those ages 16 to under 60 years, in Australia.

According to Health Minister Greg Hunt, the ATAGI still strongly recommended that those under 60 waiting on their second dose of AZ, have that completed.

Health officials are calling the update to the vaccine rollout “highly precautionary”, but some experts have questioned why the decision wasn’t made sooner.

Why Exactly Is Health Advice Changing Again For AstraZeneca?

Out of all the other vaccines, AZ really does seem like the poor younger sibling, who is always getting bullied.

The COVID-19 vaccine that is being made in Melbourne could’ve been the one that Australia relied on the most, being easily dispatched across the country to vaccinate large populations quickly.

But ever since a risk of rare blood clots linked to AZ surfaced, this hasn’t been the case.

The rare blood clotting disorder is called thrombosis and thrombocytopenia syndrome or TTS, and the chances of developing the clots after getting the AstraZeneca vaccination is extremely low.

So far in Australia, there has now been a total of 60 cases of TTS, with 37 of those being confirmed cases and 23 just probable.

That’s out of roughly 6.2 million total vaccine doses that have been administrated since June 16th 2021.

The new age change to AZ is based on ATAGI’s assessment of the risk of the rare clotting disorder, while comparing those figures to the benefits of receiving AZ vaccine to protect against COVID-19.

While the risk of TTS is still extremely low, the chances of getting the disorder is more of a risk right now for people under 60 than dying or becoming really sick from COVID-19. 

Speaking to Junkee about the first change to AZ, Dr. Paul Griffin Director of Infectious Diseases, Mater Hospital said:

“Risks and benefits are very different for different people. At the moment, this assessment of benefits versus risks is based on us having such excellent control of COVID [in Australia]. That really could change the drop of a hat.”

How The Government Fked Up Health Advice & The Rollout

It’s important to note here that many people stand by health experts updating their developing health advice on vaccines.

After all, COVID-19 vaccines were developed especially fast to help combat the coronavirus as quickly as possible, and because of this, they are bound to have a few recommendation changes along the way.

However, the mixed messaging by the government has led to a lot of confusion and criticism.

Dr. Norman Swan — host of RN’s Health Report, and co-host of Coronacast — controversially said on ABC Radio yesterday following the announcement, that if it weren’t for the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic, AstraZeneca would probably be taken off the market.

People are calling out the comment as irresponsible and totally uncalled for, especially since some people under 60 are still waiting on their second dose and are probably more hesitant now — despite health officials recommending the two doses.

Health Minister Greg Hunt has also been previously caught out for allegedly saying there’s “no rush” for people to get vaccinated.

But currently only roughly 3% of the population has been fully vaccinated, and fuelling vaccine hesitancy is really not what Australia needs right now.

Since the latest AZ update, Minister Hunt is confident that younger Australians won’t have to wait longer for Pfizer, because the government have said there is about 1.7 million doses of Pfizer arriving this month and 2.8 million doses in July.

But doctors are more wary and believe their will be more short-term demand for Pfizer.

The government definitely got unlucky with choosing to make AZ here in Australia. Now we are having to rely on major overseas vaccine exports, rather than using what we are making here.

But instead of owning the unluckiness of the situation, the government hasn’t really improved our slow vaccine rollout and has allowed for mixed messaging to influence vaccine hesitancy — which during a pandemic just isn’t great.