The AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine is no longer recommended for people aged under 60 after new expert immunisation panel advice.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation has updated its advice after an increased rate of extremely rare but serious blood clots.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said it was a conservative position but one based on the relative risks of coronavirus in Australia.
“Are we on track to offer every Australian a vaccine who is eligible during the course of 2021? The answer remains and the advice we have is yes,” he told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.
For people who have had a single dose of AstraZeneca, health authorities have given the green light for the second jab.
The decision puts further strain on the federal government’s vaccine rollout which will now have to rely more heavily on imported Pfizer doses.
Two people who received AstraZeneca have died in Australia after developing blood clots, with both in their 50s.
More than 3.8 doses of the vaccine have been administered.
There were 12 new cases of the rare syndrome in the past week, with seven of those people aged 50 to 59.
“That’s been key new information that has gone to ATAGI,” Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said.
“They’ve based that on the risk-benefit equation now being the risk outweighing the benefit in that particular age group.”
For every 100,000 doses in Australia administered to people under 50 there have been 3.1 cases of the blood clot condition.
The rate is now 2.7 per 100,000 doses for people aged 50 to 59, while it drops to 1.4 for people 60 to 69.
Professor Kelly said the rates of death and serious illness from coronavirus rapidly increased for over-60s, meaning AstraZeneca’s benefits outweighed risks.
He said Australia was diagnosed and treating the condition better than most other countries.
Access to Pfizer will be expanded to all Australians aged 40 to 59.
AstraZeneca was considered the backbone of the immunisation strategy until ATAGI recommended in April the vaccine be used for over-50s.
Millions of doses of AstraZeneca are being produced in Melbourne but Australia has no capacity to build mRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna.
Mr Hunt denied the new advice would be disastrous for the rollout.
“It’s a challenge. Every day during COVID the world has challenges. Australia’s challenges thankfully and mercifully have been different to the rest of the world,” he said.
In a statement, AstraZeneca said Australia’s updated advice was made in the context of low community transmission.
“Regulatory authorities around the world have stated that the benefit of using our vaccine significantly outweigh the risks across all adult age groups,” the company said.
#BREAKING: The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation has recommended to the Federal Government that the AstraZeneca vaccine now only be given to those aged 60 and above. #9Today pic.twitter.com/Uw40TPppu7
— The Today Show (@TheTodayShow) June 17, 2021