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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Image: Rick Rycroft via PA Images

Australia buys extra 20 million doses of Pfizer Covid vaccine as it pivots from AstraZeneca

The move follows the EMA saying it had found a ‘possible link’ between the AZ vaccine and rare blood clots.
Apr 9th 2021, 7:09 AM 23,403 47

AUSTRALIA HAS FINALISED a deal to buy an extra 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine as it rapidly pivots away from its earlier plan to rely mainly on the AstraZeneca jab.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the deal just hours after saying Australia would stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine for people aged under 50.

He said the deal means Australia will get a total of 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of the year, enough to inoculate 20 million people in the nation of 26 million.

Australia’s pivot came after the European Medicines Agency said this week it had found a “possible link” between the AstraZeneca vaccine and rare blood clots, though regulators in the United Kingdom and the European Union emphasised that the benefits of receiving the vaccine continue to outweigh the risks for most people.

After the European agency’s declaration, Australian drug regulators held a series of urgent meetings yesterday and recommended the Pfizer vaccine become the preferred jab for people under 50.

Morrison said there was no prohibition on the AstraZeneca vaccine and the risk of side effects was remote. He said the change was being made out of an abundance of caution.

The pivot represents a significant shift in Australia’s overall approach and is likely to delay plans to have every person in the country inoculated by October.

A major part of Australia’s strategy had been the ability to make its own vaccines at home and not rely on shipments from abroad.

It had planned to manufacture some 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, enough for 25 million people. Australia had made no plans to make any other vaccines at home.

Even before the change, the government was facing criticism for a rollout program that’s lagging behind those in most other developed nations. So far, Australia has administered just over one million vaccine doses.

Australia has managed to stamp out community spread of the virus, allowing life to continue much as before the pandemic.

AstraZeneca noted Australia’s decision to restrict the vaccine’s use was based on it having no community transmission.

“Overall, regulatory agencies have reaffirmed the vaccine offers a high-level of protection against all severities of Covid-19 and that these benefits continue to far outweigh the risks,” the company said in a statement.

In Ireland, the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) confirmed it has received “a case of interest associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which describes cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), an unusual clot in the brain.”

The Irish Times reported this evening that the case involves a 40-year-old Dublin woman who is being treated for CVST at the Mater Hospital in Dublin. 

The newspaper said she has been successfully treated and will be discharged in the coming days.

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The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) met yesterday and is meeting again today to assess if new guidelines around the vaccine should be introduced here.

With reporting by Céimin Burke

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