A leading epidemiologist says the federal government’s vaccine rollout was already “pretty much in disarray” before blood-clot concerns with the AstraZeneca jab derailed the program.
Professor Nancy Baxter said the government needed to “entirely rethink” its vaccination strategy after issuing new advice suggesting an alternative to AstraZeneca be given to people younger than 50.
The advice has caused concern, both about the side effects and the logistics of acquiring a new vaccine.
While the government has secured another 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, the new batches are not scheduled to arrive until December.
Professor Baxter said the federal government would “have to rethink the program entirely” given the lengthy wait.
Earlier in the week, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) issued updated advice recommending the AstraZeneca jab only be given to those older than 50 because of rare links to serious blood clotting.
“It’s uncommon. About one in 100,000 to one in 200,000 people … meaning that 99,999 people who get the AstraZeneca vaccine do not have a problem,” Professor Baxter told the Today show.
“When we give any medication, there’s always some risks of side effects. That’s accepted because of the benefit of the medication.”
While the risk of clotting is rare, there is no known community transmission of COVID in Australia right now, forcing the government to weigh up its options.
“Older people are at more risk of COVID-19, so the risk-benefit equation balances out better for them,” Professor Baxter said.
“Also there is some data that indicates age is a risk factor, so younger people are more likely to get it (blood clots) than older people.”
The Department of Health said in a statement the ATAGI recommended the AstraZeneca vaccine continue to be administered to Australians younger than 50 when the “benefits clearly outweigh the risk”.
Concerns have sparked fears among GPs about whether insurance will cover their practice if a patient experiences an adverse reaction.
Many have stopped giving the jab out of fear they could be hit with a pricey lawsuit.
The president of the AMA’s NSW branch, Danielle McMullen, said the state’s GPs should not administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to anyone younger than 50 unless under exceptional circumstances, The Sun-Herald reported.
The Australian Medical Association has been contacted for comment.
The federal health department said it was discussing insurance options with medial professionals.
“The Department of Health has been discussing with insurers and the medical profession whether additional indemnity protection may be required for the COVID vaccination process,” the statement read.
“Given insurance products differ in both their scope and application, we would encourage GPs to contact their insurers if they have concerns about the scope of their medical indemnity insurance arrangements.
“The government has already entered into indemnity arrangements with vaccine suppliers for problems which flow from the vaccine itself.”
Speaking to ABC’s Insiders, federal opposition health spokesman Mark Butler said GPs needed more advice from public health experts.
“This is something that requires further advice from our public health experts, by the chief medical officer and the departments to ensure GPs are able to have these discussions with their patients with confidence,” he said.
Mr Butler was asked whether or not the advice should be more clear cut.
“What we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks is GPs really left in the lurch by the government making decisions on the run,” he said.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has been contacted for comment.