The AstraZeneca vaccine is all we’ve been hearing about in the last few days. It all started with a last-minute press conference on Thursday evening, which we know by now, usually doesn’t mean good news.
Let’s just say, it’s not as bad as it seems. We’re very lucky to be living in Australia, where our national death toll from COVID-19 stays at under 1,000, and our community transmission risk is low.
But with all the information we’ve been reading and hearing from every media voice in Australia, we want to break down what we know and give you all the relevant information in one place.
What is the AstraZeneca vaccine?
The AstraZeneca vaccine was at the centre of our vaccine rollout here in Australia, as we have the facilities and technologies to make it here.
AstraZeneca Australia is part of a global science-led pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.
What is the new information on the AstraZeneca vaccine?
As of last week, new, more specific research has shown there’s a possible link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and rare, and potentially fatal blood clots, mostly being found in people under 50 years old.
“Initial reports relating to AstraZeneca were about blood clotting disorders in general,” Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow at RMIT University and Immunologist Kylie Quinn said on ABC’s The Signal podcast.
“When comparing the rates of blood clotting disorders generally between groups that had been vaccinated and groups that hadn’t, there weren’t any major differences. having the vaccine and no vaccine, there weren’t big differences.”
Basically, the rates of blood clotting were generally not any higher than usual. When countries in Europe and followed by Ireland, Netherlands and Thailand suspended their rollouts of AstraZeneca, it was unclear whether the vaccination was responsible for the clots.
But, as more people became vaccinated with AstraZeneca, health experts were able to look at a more select, specific and small group of people that had been vaccinated, comparing them to those that hadn’t.
They discovered there was a distinct set of characteristics surrounding the blood clots found in vaccinated individuals that had accumulated, and they named that condition VITT (vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia); the rare, potentially fatal blood clots.
What is there to know about VITT?
Although a fatal blood clot with no known characteristics around who it might affect is scary, the chances of getting it are very low.
According to Quinn, 1 in around 200,000/250,000 get VITT, with a mortality rate of about 25%.
Although there is clearly a higher level of a specific antibody in those that have had VITT, it’s not clear why, meaning that they’re not 100% sure if particular people are more at risk. It’s true that the numbers have been higher among young people and females, however, it’s too early to say how it breaks down by age and gender.
What is the difference between VITT clots and the blood clots caused by the pill?
The main difference is its mortality rate. It’s a different type of clot, with a 1% risk of death and is also accumulated over a longer period of time. A blood clot caused by the contraceptive pills takes over a year, whereas the fatal clots caused by AstraZeneca can develop between 4 – 20 days after having the vaccine.
Is having the AstraZeneca vaccine a risk?
Official advice from the government is now that AstraZeneca is not to be given to individuals under 50 years old. They’re being cautious and they can afford to be, given that there’s no community transmission of COVID-19 in Australia right now.
There’s a thing called ‘risk benefit ratio’ that people have been throwing around on the news, which basically just means that the AstraZeneca vaccine isn’t worth the risk for people under 50, especially while our communities are so covid-safe.
What are our alternatives?
This is where things get a little more complicated. Our alternative vaccine that is approved and available in Australia is called the Pfizer vaccine, however, it’s not made here, and therefore we need to get it from other countries. Although another 20 million doses have been secured, this will significantly delay our vaccine roll-out, meaning we won’t all be vaccinated by October, like ScoMo ‘promised’. It also means that Australia needs to get behind mRNA vaccines (which is what Pfizer is) like the rest of the world, so that we can have the most efficient medical technology when it’s needed.
The conversations of making the Pfizer vaccine here are being had, but it calls for a huge investment, which is obviously a tricky decision right now given the state of our economy and tourism.
However, Australia also has another type of vaccine in the works called the Novavax, which is based in the US and has had 89.93% Efficacy in its clinical trials. It hasn’t been approved yet, but it’s well on its way.
So what do we do now?
When it’s your turn to be vaccinated, all you can do is be up to date on the research and follow the recommendations and advice of the government and health experts. We just need to maintain COVID-safety within our communities and try not to stress about not travelling overseas until 2024.
It’s going to be okay, Australia, we got this.