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Morrison calls for 'perspective' on the AstraZeneca vaccine's potential link to rare blood clots, comparing the risk of the jab to oral contraceptives

Business Insider Australia logo Business Insider Australia 8/04/2021 David Adams
Scott Morrison wearing a suit and tie: Sam Mooy/Getty Images Sam Mooy/Getty Images
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for "perspective" on the potential links between the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and rare blood clotting behaviours.
  • Australian health authorities are rushing to assess reports from their European counterparts, which suggest a link between the jab and blood clots.
  • Morrison did not announce an immediate shift to Australia's vaccine strategy, and compared those incidences favourably to the clotting links associated with some oral contraceptive pills.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has urged Australians to keep "perspective" regarding a potential link between the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and rare blood clotting behaviours, as the nation's vaccine authorities race to assess new findings from their European counterparts.

On Thursday morning, the Federal Government announced the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) were asked to "immediately consider" a new report from the European Medicines Agency.

The report, which collated data from 86 individual cases and 25 million injections, found there was a possibility of "very rare cases of blood clots combined with low levels of blood platelets occurring within two weeks of [AstraZeneca] vaccination".

Crucially, the EMA report argues receiving the AstraZeneca formulation is still preferable to going without it.

The BBC reports EMA executive director Emer Cooke said the organisation's safety committee "confirmed that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing Covid-19 overall outweigh the risks of side effects."

In a separate move, UK authorities said alternatives to the AstraZeneca vaccine would be offered to those under 30 years old, while acknowledging its own review did not prove the jab caused those blood clots.

Speaking in Canberra Thursday morning, Morrison said, "I think we need to maintain a perspective on these issues, and that's what I'm sure ATAGI will do over the course of the day."

The Prime Minister said the AstraZeneca vaccine has already been shown to have saved 6,000 lives in the UK alone, a significant "positive benefit" of the shot.

The EMA report described an "incidence of these clotting behaviours of some one to five for every million," Morrison said, before highlighting the comparatively higher incidence of blood clotting among those who use the combined contraceptive pill.

Morrison said there are currently no calls to reflect the UK's decision to offer alternative shots to younger recipients, citing the older demographics currently targeted by phase 1B of Australia's vaccine rollout.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports Morrison expects to receive that TGA and ATAGI advice by Thursday evening, with relevant advice to be provided to National Cabinet and the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.

"So my advice at this point — and that's obviously subject to what ATAGI might say later in the day - there is nothing to suggest at this point there will be any change," Morrison said, "but we'll update further if there's any change to that."

Earlier, Chief Health Officer Professor Paul Kelly told ABC "News Breakfast" the AstraZeneca vaccine is "extremely effective", with purported significant side effects "extremely rare".

But the Australian Government has "always been led by the medical advice," Professor Kelly added.

"And so, that will happen with this issue as well."

Australia's vaccine rollout plan hinges on the AstraZeneca vaccine, with the majority of the population slated to receive it.

The Federal Government says it has filed contracts for the importation of 3.8 million AstraZeneca doses, with Melbourne's CSL facility ramping up to produce 50 million.

But the supply of those doses imported doses has also been mired in controversy, with the Sydney Morning Herald reporting the 700,000 imported doses Australia has received so far came from the UK — and not the European Union, as had been first assumed.

The revelation compounds a stoush between the Federal Government and the EU over the release of the remaining 3.1 million doses Australia expected to receive in the early days of the nation's vaccine rollout.

On Wednesday, Morrison said he would re-apply for the release of those doses, after European officials denied formally 'blocking' their export to Australia.

In a statement, the Federal Government accused European authorities of "playing semantics", arguing that since the EU has veto power over export requests — and AstraZeneca "has not been able to secure an export licence from Europe to send the remaining doses" — the bloc had applied a de facto ban on those exports.

Nearly 842,000 Australians were vaccinated against COVID-19 as of April 4.

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