Coronavirus: Australia updates AstraZeneca vaccine recommendations after confirmed link to blood clots

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Photo credit: Getty Images

Australia has updated its AstraZeneca vaccine recommendations after European authorities confirmed a link between it and blood clots.

Australian health authorities met earlier on Thursday to discuss the new concerns from regulators in Europe. Following this, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced he had accepted the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation's (ATAGI) advice that there are "rare and serious" side effects mostly associated with younger people from the AstraZeneca vaccine.

There will be an advisory "provided for administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine for persons under the age of 50", which may change the country's rollout, he says.

Chief medical officer Paul Kelly says ATAGI recommends the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine be preferred over AstraZeneca for people under under the age of 50.

"This is based both on the increased risk of complications from COVID-19 with increasing age, and thus increased benefit of the vaccination, and the potentially lower, but not zero risk, of this rare event with increasing age," he says.

The second recommendation is vaccinators should only use the AstraZeneca vaccine for adults under 50 where the "benefit clearly outweighs the risk for that individual's circumstances". The third recommendation is people who have already received their first dose of AstraZeneca without any adverse side effects and are awaiting their second "can safely be given" it.

The final recommendation is the Australian Department of Health continue to develop and refine resources for informed consent that "clearly convey the benefits and the risks of the AstraZeneca vaccine for both immunisation providers and consumers of all ages", Kelly says.

Morrison reiterated that the recommendation isn't to not use the AstraZeneca vaccine.

"There is not a prohibition on the use of theAstraZeneca vaccine for persons under 50. There is an expression of a preference," he says.

"Australians will look at that risk, they will ask their doctor about that risk, their doctor will know their own personal health circumstances and can answer any questions that they might have.

"So this is not a directive. This is not an instruction."

Australia's recommendations come after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) listed blood clots as a very rare side effect of the vaccine, and they found women taking contraceptive pills and people under 60 were at higher risk of developing the rare side effect.

"We can now say it is clear that there is an association (of the brain blood clots) with the vaccine," Marco Cavalri, chair of the vaccine evaluation team at the EMA told Italian newspaper Il Messaggero.

"However, we still do not know what causes this reaction."

The United Kingdom has restricted the AstraZeneca vaccine for people under the age of 30 due to these risks.