Australian authorities will review the findings of British and European regulators over concerns about the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine – but continue to emphasise that the benefits outweigh the risks.
The review follows a decision in the United Kingdom to offer healthy adults aged under 30 an alternative to the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab following concerns over rare blood clots.
The European Medicines Agency also announced on Wednesday that the rare blood clots would be listed formally as a very rare side-effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine, though it did not announce any restrictions on use.
The Australian government said on Thursday it had asked the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (Atagi) and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) “to immediately consider and advise on the latest vaccination findings out of Europe and the UK”.
A spokesperson for the government said Australian regulators had already been working with their international counterparts to consider the latest international evidence.
Any updated advice will be provided to the federal government for “immediate consideration” and would be relayed to the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, which includes all state and territory chief health officers.
The government spokesperson said federal, state and territory health ministers would discuss the issues at a ministerial meeting, and it would also be raised at the next national cabinet on Friday.
“The Australian government places safety above all else, as it has done throughout the pandemic, and will continue to follow the medical advice in protecting Australians,” the spokesperson said.
Australia’s chief medical officer, Prof Paul Kelly, said the issues with the AstraZeneca vaccine would be weighed up by TGA and Atagi and “we’ll go from there”.
Kelly said authorities were mindful that even though possibly vaccine-related blood clotting was an “extremely rare event”, it could affect confidence in the vaccine.
“There seems to be a trend in younger people and, at least in the European data in women being more common, but I would really stress these are extremely rare events and like with any treatment … we have to look at the risk and benefit,” Kelly told the ABC’s AM program.
Kelly said it was important to weigh the benefits of vaccinations against a “very serious” disease such as Covid-19. He said vaccines were “the way out of the pandemic for the world, including Australia”.
Ultimately, he said, it would up to the Australian government to decide on any impact on the vaccine rollout.
The review comes amid broader scrutiny over the government’s handling of the vaccine rollout. The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has pointed to difficulties in obtaining vaccine doses from overseas, including from Europe, as a key factor in missing early targets in the rollout.
The Nine newspapers reported on Thursday that 717,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine had been flown from the UK to Australia in February and March, but the source was initially kept quiet to prevent a domestic backlash in Britain, where Covid-19 infection rates remain high.
An Australian National University researcher on Thursday raised concern that the government’s handling of allegations of sexual harassment could harm the fight against Covid, because trust in government is linked to the community’s willingness to be vaccinated.
Prof Kate Reynolds issued the warning after a new longitudinal survey found women’s confidence in government and willingness to be vaccinated both fell in 2020.