Australians over 50 are being urged to get vaccinated against coronavirus despite blood clotting concerns following the death of a 48-year-old woman with “several chronic diseases”.
Chief medical officer Paul Kelly said the cause of the woman’s death had yet to be determined, but that should not trigger people in phase 1a and 1b of the rollout to cancel their inoculations.
He said more than 1.42 million doses of the vaccine had been administered in Australia, including more than 61,000 in the past 24 hours, with 40,000 given to those working in primary care.
“We are in a very unusual situation here in Australia at the moment, with no community transmission and very few cases right throughout this year. That will not continue,” he warned.
“We will at some point in the future, we do not know when, but we will have cases here in Australia.
“We know from information … the risk of severe COVID infection increases with age, whereas the risk of clots decreases with age.
“The benefit absolutely, particularly for those over 50, outweighs significantly, the risk of that particular event (clotting) from the AstraZeneca vaccine.”
Professor Kelly said the woman, who died on Wednesday night following her AstraZeneca injection, had been inoculated about “three to four” days before she started feeling unwell.
“I do know she did have several chronic disease issues, but whether that was why she was vaccinated or if it was because she was one of the workers in those categories, I don’t know that information,” he said.
He said he was likely to obtain more details regarding her death later on Friday.
“It is true she had the AstraZeneca vaccine a few days before she became ill. Whether those two events are related is a matter for those experts that will be meeting today,” he said.
The Prime Minister echoed the sentiment of Professor Kelly, imploring the nation to wait until the results of the investigation into the death were completed and not “jump to conclusions”.
“It would be unwise and potentially be quite unhelpful,” Scott Morrison said of suggestions of a causal link between the death and the vaccine.
“We just (need to) wait for the facts and the advice in the situation.”
Although community transmission was low and there had been 65 days, including Friday, of no community transmission nationwide, now was the time to be vaccinated against COVID-19, Professor Kelly said.
“So being vaccinated is a protection not only for yourself but also for the people you care for,” he said.
“If you’re working, for example, in an aged-care home or a hospital, your family, and the wider community, that is why we have a vaccination program, and the benefits of being vaccinated outweigh the risk of this rare event.”
He said four people per million in the UK had suffered blood clots because of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and it was a similar rate in Australia.
However, there have been people who have not been inoculated, but have contracted the virus, who have also suffered blood clots.
“So having COVID itself is a risk of clotting when we look at what is happening with people who have been admitted to hospital throughout the whole pandemic. Sixteen per cent of them have had clots of some sort related to their COVID disease,” he said.
“So clotting is a feature of COVID, it also happens to be a feature, very rarely, of the AstraZeneca vaccine.”
Younger people can still get the vaccine, but the consent procedures around the risk of side effects will be updated.