Australian health advisors and the government remain committed to the rollout of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, despite safety concerns overseas and on the backbench.
- Germany, France and other countries have paused their AstraZeneca rollouts after anecdotal reports of blood clots
- There is no evidence linking the clots to the vaccine, and a report from the European Medicines Agency is underway
- Australia is set to manufacture 50 million doses of the vaccine
Multiple European countries, including Spain, Italy, France, Germany and Portugal, have suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, following reports that people who received it went on to form blood clots.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Tuesday morning there was no evidence yet to confirm a link between clotting and AstraZeneca.
“The European equivalent of the TGA [Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration] as well as the World Health Organization have said the AstraZeneca vaccine is effective, and there’s no evidence of causation between the vaccine itself and the blood clots,” he told Radio National.
“In the case of the United Kingdom, they’ve already distributed more than 12 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and they haven’t seen those trends or patterns across the community.”
Former Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone said the European countries had taken precautionary steps pending the release of a report from the European Medicines Agency, which he said was expected “any day now”.
“We need to remember there is still not proof, no evidence to that effect,” he told Channel Nine.
“They [the European nations] have even acknowledged that in their statements.”
However Nationals backbencher Matt Canavan called for the rollout to be paused.
“Given we are in a country that does not face an imminent risk of coronavirus spread, surely the prudent approach here is to suspend our rollout and just take heed of the evidence that will emerge in coming months,” he said.
In a statement, AstraZeneca said: “The safety of all is our first priority.”
“We are working with national health authorities and European officials and look forward to their assessment later this week,” the statement said.
“Around 17 million people in the EU and UK have now received our vaccine, and the number of cases of blood clots reported in this group is lower than the hundreds of cases that would be expected among the general population.”
Australia’s vaccine program relies on AstraZeneca
Mr Frydenberg remains committed to the rollout and said Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly had considered the European situation as recently as Monday evening.
“We have, of course, the data available to us, and that data says that it’s safe and effective,” he said.
Professor Kelly said the government remained confident in the AstraZeneca vaccine and said there was currently no evidence it caused blood clots.
“Our focus during the vaccine rollout remains the safety of all Australians,” he said in a statement.
“With a vaccine rollout like this, we need to monitor carefully for any unusual events.
Environment Minister Sussan Ley, who was health minister for almost two years, said Australia was “in good hands”.
“Please feel confidence in the vaccine, please, if you are offered it, take it, and remember that you’re helping many vulnerable people in the community if you are,” she told Channel Nine.
Australia has ordered several million doses of both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines from overseas.
It has also arranged for 50 million AstraZeneca doses — the bulk of the national vaccine supply — to be made by medical manufacturer CSL in Melbourne.