Australia reports second AstraZeneca blood clot case, Covid-19 vaccine roll-out steady

Australia now recommends that people under 50 receive the Pfizer vaccine rather than AstraZeneca's shot. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Australia said on Tuesday (April 13) a second person had been diagnosed with a blood clot after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine but there had been no rise in inoculation cancellations as the authorities try to steady a bungled immunisation campaign.

This week, Australia abandoned a goal of vaccinating all of its nearly 26 million population by the year end, after Europe's drug regulator reported rare cases of blood clots among some adult recipients of AstraZeneca doses, suggesting a link. This prompted Australian officials to recommend that those younger than 50 receive the Pfizer vaccine in preference to AstraZeneca's shot, throwing the vaccination programme into disarray.

"We had anticipated potentially a significant drop (in vaccination numbers, but that is) not what we have seen at this stage," Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters in Canberra.

The authorities meanwhile said they have no plans to add Johnson & Johnson's one-dose vaccine to its immunisation drive, as Australia wanted to move away from procuring vaccines that were under review for potential links to blood clots.

The Covid-19 vaccines of Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca use an adenovirus, a harmless class of common-cold viruses, to introduce coronavirus proteins into cells in the body and trigger an immune response.

Both products are under review by Europe's drug regulator after it found possible links with blood clots, although it has said the advantages still outweighed the risks.

"The government does not intend to purchase any further adenovirus vaccines at this time," a Health Ministry spokesman told Reuters.

Australia's immunisation drive was heavily reliant on the AstraZeneca vaccine, with plans to manufacture 50 million doses in the country. The policy change prompted the authorities last week to double an earlier Pfizer order to 40 million shots.

Australia has reported zero or low single-digit cases for most days this year, helping the authorities to ease restrictions and putting the economy into a faster recovery trajectory. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the setbacks in the vaccine roll-out should not "derail momentum in our economic recovery".

"With the successful suppression of the virus and substantial reopening of the economy, both household and business confidence are now higher than before the pandemic," Mr Frydenberg said in an e-mailed statement.

Australia began vaccinations much later than some other countries due to low Covid-19 case numbers, with just over 29,400 infections recorded since the pandemic began. It reported its first Covid-19-related death of the year on Tuesday after an 80-year old man died after contracting the virus overseas, taking the total tally to 910 deaths.

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