Australia changed its Covid-19 coronavirus vaccination schedules after a “possible link” was found between the Oxford AstraZeneca sting and rare blood clots.
The country has now signed a deal to purchase an additional 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine as it is quickly turning away from its previous plan of relying primarily on the AstraZeneca push.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the deal just hours after saying that Australia would stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine for those under the age of 50.
He said the deal means Australia will receive a total of 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of the year, enough to vaccinate 20 million people in the nation’s 26 million.
Australia’s linchpin came after the European Medicines Agency announced this week that it had found a “possible link” between the AstraZeneca vaccine and rare blood clots, despite UK and European Union regulators emphasizing that the benefits of receiving the vaccine continue to outweigh risks for most people.
According to the European Agency’s statement, Australian drug regulators held a series of urgent meetings on Thursday recommending making the Pfizer vaccine the preferred vaccine for people under the age of 50.
Mr Morrison said there was no ban on the AstraZeneca vaccine and the risk of side effects was low. He said the change was being made out of caution.
The fulcrum represents a significant change in the overall Australian approach and will likely delay plans to vaccinate every person in the country by October.
A key part of Australia’s strategy has been the ability to manufacture its own vaccines domestically rather than relying on overseas supplies.
It was planned to make around 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, enough for 25 million people. Australia had made no plans to make other vaccines at home.
Even before the change, the government was criticized for a rollout program that lags behind those in most other industrialized nations. To date, Australia has given just over 1 million doses of vaccine.
Australia has managed to eradicate the spread of the virus in the community so life can go on as it did before the pandemic.
AstraZeneca noted that Australia’s decision to restrict use of the vaccine was based on the fact that there was no community transmission.
“Overall, regulators have reaffirmed that the vaccine offers a high level of protection against all severity levels of COVID-19 and that these benefits continue to far outweigh the risks,” the company said in a statement.