Australian experts weigh in on AZ vax advice changes amid virus outbreak

In response to the Covid-19 outbreak in NSW and the real need to vaccinate the population, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) provided an update on its advice around Covid-19 vaccination, particularly the AstraZeneca vaccine.

While Pfizer remains the preferred vaccine for those under 60, in a statement released on 13 July, ATAGI recommends that “in the context of a Covid-19 outbreak where the supply of Pfizer is constrained, adults younger than 60 years old who do not have immediate access to Pfizer should reassess the benefits to them and their contacts from being vaccinated with Covid-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca, versus the rare risk of a serious side effect”.

The statement continues: “All people who receive Covid-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca should be provided with information about common and rare but serious side effects, including the symptoms and signs of the thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS). They should be advised that if they experience any signs or symptoms consistent with TTS, they should seek immediate medical attention.”

‘Careful consideration and consultation with GP’ required

Dr Roger Lord, senior lecturer within the Faculty of Health Sciences at The Australian Catholic University and Visiting Research Fellow with The Prince Charles Hospital (Brisbane), says that while “vaccination with the Pfizer Covi-19 vaccine is preferred for individuals under the age of 60 years, where this is not available, careful consideration in consultation with a general practitioner should be given to having the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine”.

“The risk of contracting the Delta strain of Covid-19 and suffering serious illness in an outbreak situation is far greater than the risk associated with a possible adverse effect from the AZ vaccine,” he says.

‘Time to rethink early vaccination’  

“The overarching message is that the AZ vaccine is a safe vaccine, that has been approved by the TGA for the purposes of vaccinating against the SARS-COV2 virus,” says Professor Bruce Thompson, Dean of the School of Health Sciences at Swinburne University of Technology.

“The concept of recommendation for certain populations is quite a different concept, and these recommendations can change as we have seen.

“It doesn’t mean that the vaccine is not safe or is what we call a contraindication.”

Professor Thompson says that with “more and more cases of Covid-19 appearing in the Sydney area, the risk of contracting the virus is therefore higher”.

“We know in the current outbreak that 10% of active cases are now in hospital with an escalating pneumonia-like illness,” he says.

“Approximately 3% are in ICU, of which one is a teenager. This is a serious medical condition, and as the risk of contracting the virus has increased, it is time to rethink early vaccination.

“Ultimately, the main thing is to get everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible.”

To read the full ATAGI statement, visit: health.gov.au/news/atagi-statement-on-use-of-covid-19-vaccines-in-an-outbreak-setting

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