Scott Morrison stands by AstraZeneca COVID vaccine rollout after blood clot concerns overseas



Scott Morrison says Australian health authorities have not raised any concerns about using the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, after some European countries paused their rollouts amid reports of people developing blood clots after their injections.

The Prime Minister, who is also the acting Health Minister while Greg Hunt is on sick leave, said he had spoken to Health Department Secretary Brendan Murphy on Friday morning, and there was no advice to pause Australia’s rollout.

“The [Therapeutic Goods Administration] obviously looks at these reports when they come through, but they do their own batch testing,” he said.

“I was watching them do it just earlier this week.

Mr Morrison said Australian authorities would continue to monitor developments overseas.

Denmark, Norway and Iceland have suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, following reports that people who received it went on to form blood clots.

However, the European medicine regulator EMA says the vaccine’s benefits outweigh its risks and it should continue to be administered.

When asked if he was personally worried about the news from Denmark, Norway and Iceland, Mr Morrison said he was not.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack also wanted to assure Australians the vaccine remained safe to use.

“We’re getting on with the vaccine, we’re getting on with the rollout, and Australians should be assured our TGA — which is world class — they’ve said it’s OK,” he said.

The AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for use in Australia last month. The majority of the doses will be produced onshore in Melbourne by biotech company CSL.

A man with grey hair and glasses holds up a vial of the AstraZeneca vaccine while wearing a white labcoat and blue gloves
Scott Morrison is standing by the government’s vaccine rollout plans.(ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

In a statement, Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said there was currently no evidence to suggest the vaccine caused blood clots.

“Safety is our first priority and in a large vaccine rollout like this, we need to monitor carefully for any unusual events so we will find them,” he said.

“This does not mean that every event following a vaccination is caused by the vaccine.

“But we do take them seriously and investigate — and that’s what Denmark is currently doing.”

He said his team had spoken with the EMA overnight.

“Because of Australia’s close working relationship with European regulators, the TGA is one of the first non-European regulators to routinely receive early notification of any possible serious adverse events with COVID-19 vaccines,” Professor Kelly said.

“As noted by the European Medicines Agency, the action taken by several European countries is a precautionary measure so that a full investigation can be rapidly conducted.”

October deadline delay defended

Mr Morrison defended the slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, but insisted all Australians would receive at least their first dose by October.

The Department of Health has blamed uncertainty around local production and international supply issues for putting vaccine rollout targets in doubt.

In January the government said it wanted to have 4 million vulnerable Australians vaccinated by early April.

So far only around 150,000 people have been vaccinated.

The Prime Minister said a decision by Italy and the European Union to block 250,000 AstraZeneca doses from being exported to Australia had taken its toll.

“We said many months ago … that we would hope to get, in those early phases, to around 80,000 vaccinations a week.

“We are getting up to those levels now as we conclude our third week.”

Mr Morrison said a change in the medical advice had also impacted the October deadline.

Experts changed their advice to say that vaccines should be given 12 weeks apart, not four weeks as originally planned.

“We were clear a month ago that the October deadline would not include the second dose,” he said.

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