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Vaccination program hits a snag

Australians under 50 will no longer be given the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine after health advice on rare blood clots linked to the jab.

Australia is facing a major delay in its coronavirus vaccine rollout after new bombshell advice plunged the program into chaos.

Health supremos have recommended not administering the AstraZeneca vaccine to people under 50 because of an extremely rare but serious blood clot side effect.

Weeks ago, FlowNews24 carried stories from Scandinavia when they were the first to start expressing caution with the AstraZeneca vaccine. At the time, the Australian Chief Medical Officer assured readers and listeners there was no cause for concern.

On the FlowFM Morning Show, Rikki Lambert responded to the PM's announcement delaying the rollout - listen here on the FlowNews24 podcast player. The article continues further below.

The advice destroys the Morrison government's October rollout target with the immunisation effort not likely to be completed until 2022.

However, on 12 March, Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly told FlowNews24 in a statement:

"There is currently no evidence that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine causes blood clots. The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is effective, it is safe, and it's a high quality vaccine.
"The Australian Government is aware of reports some European countries have suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine due to some reports of blood clots in people who have been vaccinated.
"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. 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.
"There have been more than 11 million people vaccinated in the UK without evidence of an increase in blood clots."

On Thursday night, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the program would be recalibrated over the weekend as officials come to grips with the new development.

"The overall impact of this on the timetable of the rollout, it is far too early," he told reporters just minutes after receiving the advice on Thursday night.

Australia was relying on AstraZeneca jabs to be the backbone of coronavirus immunisations through 50 million locally produced doses.

Labor has lambasted the government for failing to secure more deals with other vaccines successfully being rolled out to millions of people worldwide.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese described the rollout as a debacle and demanded certainty about when Australians would be vaccinated, telling reporters in Sydney on Friday:

"This government has failed. This government couldn't run a choko vine up a back fence."

Health Minister Greg Hunt defended the government's vaccine portfolio, arguing the AstraZeneca change was made out of an abundance of caution, telling ABC radio:

"We'll get through it. We'll protect everybody.
"There will be some adjustments but we'll keep everybody safe and we'll get them vaccinated."

More people under 50 will now receive the Pfizer jab with health workers pushed to the front of the queue.

But Australia has a contract for only 20 million doses - enough for 10 million people - and less than one million have been delivered.

The government's immunisation advisory group made the cautious decision after blood clots linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine were mostly associated with younger people.

The reaction has appeared in four to six people for every million to receive the jab, with a 25 per cent death rate for people who develop the syndrome.

A man in his 40s who was admitted to hospital in Melbourne is the only person in Australia to develop the problem.

People who have already received their first dose of AstraZeneca have been given the green light for a second jab with clotting only detected after the first shot.

Others under 50 could also be administered the jab if consultation with a doctor determined benefit outweighed risk.

AstraZeneca noted Australia's decision factored in having no community transmission of the virus, saying in a statement:

"Overall, regulatory agencies have reaffirmed the vaccine offers a high-level of protection against all severities of COVID-19 and that these benefits continue to far outweigh the risks."

The advice compounds the federal government's headaches with the rollout already under fire for lagging behind most other developed nations.

While 51 million doses of the promising Novavax vaccine could be added to the effort from October, that jab is yet to gain approval anywhere in the world.

State premiers and territory chief ministers will be briefed on the rollout at Friday's national cabinet meeting.

-- with AAP


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