Australia’s acting chief medical officer says there will be no changes to the national vaccination program for Covid-19 while health authorities continue to investigate whether blood clots developed by a 44-year-old Victorian man are linked to the AstraZeneca jab.
Prof Michael Kidd said the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (Atagi) and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) had not recommended any change to the rollout of the vaccine following an urgent meeting of health authorities on Saturday.
Kidd said there was currently no definitive evidence of a connection between the 44-year-old man’s condition and the vaccination he received in March.
However, given the clinical features of the case were similar to other cases overseas, he said a connection was likely.
“While at this time, we don’t have evidence of causality, the clinical features of this case, are consistent with what we have seen in international reports of similar cases. And it is likely that the case reported yesterday is related to the vaccine,” Kidd said.
“This would be consistent with international experience.”
He said authorities investigating the case were working with regulators in the European Union and the UK, where millions of doses of the vaccine have been administered, and would provide further advice in coming days.
He said serious side-effects were rare and Australians, most of whom have not yet been vaccinated, were at greater risk from further outbreaks of Covid-19.
“If we experienced a severe outbreak – especially among older Australians and those with severe health issues – the risk is far greater than the very small potential risk of a very rare clotting disorder associated with the vaccine,” Kidd said.
Kidd was unable to provide an update on the Victorian man’s condition on Saturday.
State healthcare workers were being instructed to be on the lookout for what were considered to be very rare signs of blood clotting among those who had received the vaccine.
The man received the vaccine on 22 March and days later he presented at Melbourne’s Box Hill hospital suffering from a fever and abdominal pain. He was found to have abdominal clots with a low platelet count.
He showed symptoms similar to those which led some European countries to pause their rollout of the vaccine after 31 people who had received the jab were reported to have developed clotting in Europe and the UK.
Those cases were from millions of people who have received the vaccine in Europe, and the European Medicines Agency said preliminary data from its review of the cases suggested the risk of blood clots following the vaccine was potentially one in 100,000.
In an earlier statement, Australia’s independent regulator of vaccines, the TGA, stressed “no cause-and-effect relationship between Covid-19 vaccination and this case has been established at this stage”. However, the head of the TGA, John Skerritt, confirmed it was investigating the case.
“A small number of people, predominantly overseas, have presented with clotting disorders following vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine,” he said.
“One case has been reported in Australia [and] is being investigated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
“Medical experts within the European Medicines Agency and the UK Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency have not confirmed a causal link with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine but continue to look in great detail at the available data and clinical circumstances around these reports.”
“Similarly, our expert committees, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (Atagi) and the National Vaccine Safety Investigation Group (VSIG), in conjunction with our independent regulator, the TGA are monitoring the situation closely, both in Australia and internationally.”
On Wednesday, German health authorities in Berlin and Munich suspended the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine for those under the age of 60 following new concerns around rare blood clotting. It came after the country’s medical regulator announced receiving 31 reports of blood clots in recipients of the vaccine. Nine of those people died.
A day earlier, Canada made a similar move due to the same concerns, halting the rollout for people under age 55.
Atagi on Friday released a statement aimed at helping state healthcare workers to identify and respond to any potential instances of clotting cases.