“There was no clear health advice presented to national cabinet, it was not discussed at all at national cabinet and I think we’re very disappointed that this happened at this stage.”
Dr Young’s remarks infuriated the federal government because some countries have seen significant deaths from COVID-19 among people aged under 40, the group that could benefit from getting AstraZeneca now rather than waiting for the Pfizer vaccine.
Ms Palaszczuk also made an error by claiming “even the UK government won’t allow their under 40s to get the AstraZeneca vaccine” when the UK rules allow people an individual choice, offering an alternative to AstraZeneca if one is available and “if it does not cause delays” in being immunised.
AMA president Omar Khorshid criticised Mr Morrison’s original announcement as well as the furious response from Queensland.
“Not for the first time during the pandemic, the federal government has mangled the message when it comes to communicating what can be quite good decisions,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Dr Khorshid said the comments from Ms Palaszczuk and Dr Young were “particularly unhelpful” and compounded the problems facing the rollout.
“They are demonstrations of why we really need to as much as possible keep the keep the politicians out of the communication of health, because it is complex and it has been made more complex by the PM,” he said.
“Unfortunately, it’s blown up into another crisis and it could well have the opposite impact and now, further drive hesitancy.”
Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley blamed Mr Morrison for starting a “rushed conversation” by announcing the change on Monday night without talking to others.
NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant stood by expert advice that people aged under 60 should take the Pfizer vaccine rather than AstraZeneca.
“We are providing AstraZeneca to over 60s where the risk-benefit ratio is much clearer in favour of AstraZeneca because of the impact of COVID, but for younger people we really encourage you to go to your GP,” she said.
While adults were never blocked from asking their GPs for the AstraZeneca vaccine, given it was approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, doctors had pushed for a no-fault injury scheme because of the rare risk of a blood clotting condition.
The federal government said the indemnity scheme had been backed at various times by the AMA, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the medical experts advising on the vaccine rollout, known as the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Dr Karen Price said she was thrilled to get a text on Monday night telling her the indemnity scheme was being created, and looked forward to seeing more detail as it comes.
But the news that under 40s could talk to their GPs about vaccination was a surprise.
“Now it’s all taken on a life of its own,” she said.
University of NSW professor and infectious diseases physician Greg Dore said younger Australians were not ignoring health advice if they took up AstraZeneca.
“It’s an acknowledgement that many are assessing their risk and benefit, making an informed decision, and protecting themselves and the broader community,” he said.
Mr Morrison announced the change on Monday night but did not recommend the vaccine for younger Australians, arguing instead they could talk to their GPs about the option.
“If they wish to go and speak to their doctor and have access to the AstraZeneca vaccine, they can do so,” he said.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said there was no change to the health advice about AstraZeneca and national cabinet had been told of the indemnity scheme before it was announced on Monday night.
“The Prime Minister took the medical indemnity question to the national cabinet and it was noted,” Mr Hunt said on Wednesday.
“It was actually expressly included in the national cabinet announcements on the night.”
ATAGI preferred AstraZeneca for those aged 60 and over, due to the lower risk of the rare clotting disorder and the higher risk of severe COVID-19 or death from the virus.
That advice has never meant people under 60 were banned from having the vaccine, and the expert group said it can be used if the Pfizer shot Comirnaty is unavailable.
“COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca can be used in adults aged under 60 years for whom Comirnaty is not available,” the statement said.
In that case, the benefits of vaccination were likely to outweigh the risks. People under 60 also have to make an informed decision based on an understanding of the risks and benefits.
Dr Price said she was sticking with the ATAGI advice, but highlighted that both COVID vaccines were safe.
“All medications, vaccines included, have side effects, all of them,” she said.
“That all has to be discussed individually with a patient if it’s outside of those recommendations, and even if it’s within those recommendations, everybody should have an informed consent process for the vaccination.
“The rest of the decision making is really between a patient and their doctor.”
Dr Price said she would personally have to be pretty convinced to give a younger person AstraZeneca over Pfizer, mainly because they may be able to complete their two-dose course sooner.
”I may well be able to give this person a Pfizer and complete the vaccination course in a month, whereas I’d still be waiting for AstraZeneca,” she said.
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