SYDNEY — Australia has asked the country’s vaccine and medical regulators to urgently consider findings out of Europe about a “plausible” link between the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine and rare blood-clotting issues.
Australia is particularly exposed because it is counting on increasing production of the vaccine locally, through Melbourne-based manufacturer CSL, to get its vaccine program on track. Fewer than 5 percent of Australian adults have had their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
Regulators so far have said the benefits of the vaccine, produced by British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca with Oxford University, outweigh the risks. But some health experts say they should be factoring in the low risk of contracting the virus in Australia.
“When some overseas regulators say the benefits may still outweigh the risk, they are referring to a situation where potentially the vaccine could still save more lives from covid-19-related deaths than are lost due to this syndrome,” said Nikolai Petrovsky, a medical professor at Flinders University in South Australia. “In the context of Australia, where we currently have no covid-19 deaths, the risk-benefit relationship of the AstraZeneca vaccine is very different, particularly when other vaccines are potentially available that do not appear to share this risk.”
Australian Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said Wednesday that regulators would consider the move by British officials to offer people under 30 a different vaccine.
However, supply limitations and logistical challenges with Australia’s current alternative, the vaccine jointly produced by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German biotech firm BioNTech, “may make the strategy of offering an alternative vaccine in this country challenging,” said Paul Griffin, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Queensland.