Australia to continue AstraZeneca vaccine rollout, review EU findings


Australia has no current plans to change the rollout of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday, after Europe’s drug regulator found possible links between rare blood clots and the vaccine.

“At this point, there is no advice to suggest there would be any change to the rollout of the vaccine,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

The European Medicines Agency on Wednesday said it found rare cases of blood clots among some adult vaccine recipients, although it said the vaccine’s advantages still outweighed the risks.

Australian authorities have ordered an urgent inquiry into findings from Europe’s drug regulator with Morrison expecting updates later on Thursday from the medicines regulator and the immunisation advisory group.

The latest findings from the European regulator prompted Britain to recommend that people under 30 should get an alternative coronavirus vaccine, while Italy suggested AstraZeneca shots should only be used on those over 60.

“Those two recommendations will be brought to the table today and looked at in the Australian context,” Australia Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly told the Australian Broadcasting Corp television.

But Kelly said the unusual blood clots among some vaccine recipients were “extremely rare”, and that the AstraZeneca doses were safe and effective for most people.

Australia Health Minister Greg Hunt said the country’s medicine regulator has the freedom to “fearlessly and frankly” take their decision, including if the vaccine should be paused for people under 30.

“If they provide age restrictions or other variations, we will do it, we will adopt it,” Hunt said during a televised media conference.

The EU decision could further complicate Australia’s immunisation programme, which is more than 80% behind its original schedule, as it relies heavily on the AstraZeneca shots to vaccinate its near 26 million population.

Australian authorities had pledged to administer at least 4 million first doses by the end of March, but could only deliver 670,000. The government blamed supply issues from Europe for the delay.

It is looking to ramp up the immunisation programme from locally produced AstraZeneca vaccines, with 50 million doses set to be produced in Australia by CSL Ltd.

Australia began vaccinations much later than some other countries due to low COVID-19 case numbers, recording just under 29,400 infections and 909 deaths since the pandemic began.

Neighbouring New Zealand meanwhile on Thursday suspended entry for all travellers from India, including its own citizens, for about two weeks following a high number of positive coronavirus cases arriving from the South Asian country.

Both Australia and New Zealand closed their borders to non-citizens very early in the pandemic to contain outbreaks but this is the first time that New Zealand has extended any bar on entry to its own citizens and residents.

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