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Mixed messages over the COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Prime Minister Scott Morrison passed the blame of the inadequate COVID-19 vaccine rollout on to the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisations (ATAGI) on Wednesday, causing a new blame game around the failure of the rollout.

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Research from the ABS has found that some older Australians over 70 that are unvaccinated are waiting until they can choose a different type of COVID-19 vaccine. [Source: Shutterstock]

PM Morrison said on Wednesday to 2GB Radio, "We have a very good regulatory system for vaccines. And, yes, I know ATAGI has been very cautious and that had a massive impact on the rollout of the vaccine program. It really did. 

"It slowed it considerably and it put us behind, and we wish that wasn't the result but it was. Those decisions are made independent of Government, and should be."

The PM's comments coincide with the release of new data showing that some older Australians are holding off getting vaccinated until an alternative vaccine option becomes available rather than the AstraZeneca vaccine they're currently eligible for.

Medical experts have been frustrated with the Federal Government for their performance in delivering information about the vaccines, which has left opportunity for scrutiny and doubt.

ATAGI noted that the comments made by the Prime Minister wasn't necessary and added that the purpose of ATAGI is to provide advice only and the decisions are not in their hands but the Governments.

Over the last two weeks, issues have arisen from the recent release of the AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged 60 and over, due to a very rare risk of blood clots in younger people.

However, there has been a lot of squabbling between State and Territory Government's about the safety and efficacy of the AstraZeneca Vaccine for people under 60, which, for many older Australians, this information and back-and-forth has scared many from getting the vaccine.

Some unvaccinated older Australians are waiting for a different COVID-19 vaccine

Research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has found that older Australians over 70 that are unvaccinated are waiting until they can choose a different type of COVID-19 vaccine rather than the one they are currently eligible for.

The survey shows that just over 26 percent, one in four, of unvaccinated older Australians, are waiting for a different type of vaccine, which would suggest that some unvaccinated older people have concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine they are currently eligible for.

The number of people waiting for a different vaccine type is higher for people aged between 50 to 69, sitting at 34.8 percent.

A positive result from the survey, however, is that 90 percent of people aged 70 and over strongly agree with getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Data is showing that around 78.1 percent of older Australians have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Nearly 65 percent of older Australians, that have received at least one dose, have received a vaccine dose from their normal General Practitioner (GP).

Older Australians that have been vaccinated had multiple factors for deciding to get the vaccine. The main reasons were because they wanted to prevent getting COVID-19 (76.6 percent) or because their GP recommended it (39.7 percent).

Visit the ABS website to view the results of the COVID-19 survey about household impacts of the virus in Australia.

What the experts say

While older people aged 60 years and over are eligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine, and is the preferred vaccine for that age group, scientific experts state that this vaccine is safe for everyone.

Professor Jill Carr, Virologist with the College of Medicine and Public Health at Flinders University, says that the move to only provide AstraZeneca vaccines to people over 60 would undoubtedly have resulted in vaccine hesitancy.

"I think the 50–60-year-olds will feel uncomfortable and annoyed that they ‘feel’ they have been put at increased risk. It will undoubtedly increase scepticism that the Government and scientists know what they are doing," says Professor Carr.

"But in reality, this is real science, and recommendations change as more information becomes available, situations change and the risk/benefit for vaccination changes."

Professor Bruce Thompson, Dean of the School of Health Sciences at Swinburne University of Technology says that AstraZeneca is safe and has been approved for use, so people shouldn't be worried about getting this vaccine.

"The overarching message is that the AstraZeneca vaccine is a safe vaccine, that has been approved by the TGA [Therapeutic Goods Administration] for the purposes of vaccinating against the SARS-COV2 virus," says Mr Thompson.

"The concept of recommendation for certain populations is quite a different concept, and these recommendations can change as we have seen. It doesn’t mean that the vaccine is not safe, or is what we call a contraindication."

Dr Roger Lord, Senior Lecturer of Medical Sciences with the Faculty of Health Sciences at The Australian Catholic University, says, "The risk of contracting the Delta strain of COVID-19 and suffering serious illness in an outbreak situation is far greater than the risk associated with a possible adverse effect from the AZ vaccine."

If you are still concerned about the COVID-19 vaccines, read our article that mythbusts the COVID-19 vaccine.

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