AstraZeneca cut for under-50s due to blood clot fears
Scott Morrison is holding his second press conference of the day, announcing changes to the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Australia.
The Prime Minister, along with chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly, are currently fronting the media in Canberra over blood clot links to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Prof. Kelly announced that AstraZeneca will now be "avoided for under 50s". Pfizer vaccine will be the preferred vaccination for those under the age of 50-years-old.
Earlier, Mr Morrison had said the Australian Government would wait for the nation's panel of experts to review new links between AstraZeneca and blood clots before making any further changes to the rollout.
"We're dealing with something that impacts people to the tune of 1-to-5 per million," Mr Morrison said.
"I'm intent on not pre-empting any decisions of medical experts and speculating. That's what I'm intent on doing. And so I'm going to wait for the advice to come forward and then we'll allow that advice to lead the response the Government will make."
Experts with ATAGI and the TGA are meeting today after it was decided Australia's coronavirus vaccine workhorse will not be given to people in Britain under 30 after a "plausible link" was found in extremely rare cases of blood clots.
Mr Morrison said the findings would be discussed at Friday's National Cabinet meeting with state premiers.
He also sad there were some "very positive benefits of the vaccine program" and they will be providing further advice.
"So my message to premiers and chief ministers this morning, is the same message to Australians - we've got the best people in the world looking at these issues to give us the medical expert advice," he said.
"Our Government has always approached this pandemic and all health issues to be led by medical expert evidence and advice and we'll be taking that today and the decisions will follow from that."
In the UK, the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine will only be given to people aged 30 and over, following new advice from the UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.
That age group will now be given the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna jabs.
The "vanishingly small" risk was enough to make a "course correction" in the UK, following 79 reports of blood clots among people who had received the AstraZeneca jab.
Of those, 19 people had died, including three who were under 30.
Germany has already restricted the AstraZeneca jab to those over 60, while Canada has suspended its use in those under 55. In France, doses are sitting in fridges as locals cancel appointments.
However, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) found that the "benefits of the vaccine continue to outweigh the risks." Britain, which has vaccinated more than 31 million people with a first dose of a jab, including 20 million AstraZeneca doses, insisted that the new advice would not delay its roll out.
The MHRA's boss Dr June Raine said there was a "reasonably plausible" link between the cases of blood clots, which occurred about four times per million doses, and the AstraZeneca jab.
"The evidence has accrued not only in numbers and kinds of cases but the pattern of those cases," she said.
England's deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said that the number of blood clot cases was "vanishingly small".
TGA MAKES CHANGE ON PFIZER
The Therapeutic Goods Administration has agreed to make it easier to store and transport the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Australia - as health experts around the countries decide the future of the embattled AstraZeneca jab.
The TGA has today approved the storage and transportation of unopened vials of the vaccine at domestic freezer temperature levels of -25 degrees to -15 degrees Celsius for up to two weeks.
This marks a major improvement in the logistics of managing the vaccine which was previously required to be stored at "ultra-cold" temperatures.
A temperature between -90 degrees and -60 degrees Celsius will still be required for longer term storage.
"Vials stored or transported in this manner can also be returned to ultra-cold longer-term storage within the original shelf life of the product," a statement read.
The TGA added that unopened vials can also be stored for up to five days at domestic refrigerator levels between 2 degrees and 8 degrees Celsius.
"Within this five-day period, up to 12 hours may be used for transportation," the TGA advised.
"But the time used for transport of unopened vials at refrigerator temperatures counts against the five day limit for storage at 2°C to 8°C."
The vaccine cannot be re-frozen once it has been thawed.
The TGA added that the vaccine is diluted with saline prior to administration and the diluted vaccine can be stored or transported at room temperatures of up to 30 degrees for up to six hours.
AUCKLAND BORDER WORKER GETS COVID
A young border worker in Auckland has tested positive to COVID, sparking concerns the case could derail the recently announced travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand.
The 24-year-old man works at the Grand Millennium in Auckland and comes after 23 new Covid cases were found in MIQ facilities today.
Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the man had a sore throat four days ago. He has not been vaccinated.
The person lives alone but Auckland Regional Public Health is investigating contacts with the man's neighbours.
He travels to work with a colleague, who is being tested. The colleague has been fully vaccinated.
The man worked at Easter, but was not at work or in contact with anyone yesterday.
Bloomfield said officials are still working to determine the exposure of the security guard's colleagues and community contacts.
New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern has announced a temporary suspension of travel from India into New Zealand, coming into effect from April 11-28, and it will apply to New Zealand citizens.
Ms Ardern said more than 80 per cent of border workers had now been vaccinated.
Those who are not vaccinated were set to be moved into other roles and would not in a Covid high-risk job.
Her expectation was that all the country's frontline border workers had to be vaccinated.
The Government allowed time for those who didn't wish to be vaccinated to consider their options and seek more information.
However, from Monday those who still did not wish to be vaccinated would now need to move to other roles.
Health Minister Greg Hunt played down fears on Thursday, describing New Zealand as a "global exemplar" in containing outbreaks and confirming the advice remained unchanged.
"New Zealand has an outstanding record … We have confidence as a government in the New Zealand government's approach," he said.
"But we have full independence and authority, which we provided to the chief medical officer, to provide frank and fearless recommendations. So where we've had to take steps, we have."
Mr Hunt said Australia and New Zealand boasted two of the strongest hotel quarantine systems in the world, but no measures could completely eradicate the threat of COVID-19.
"The first ring of containment … is the quarantine program," he said.
"(But) even the best in the world is not an immunity bubble. There will be additional leakage from that, whether it's a breath, a touch, whether it's a surface."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said earlier he did not have any advice on the case and did not comment on whether the travel bubble plan would be derailed.
CMO BACKS ASTRA JAB AS ELDERLY WOMAN DIES
Australia's Chief Medical Officer has said there is no apparent causal link between the death of an elderly Queensland woman, and the COVID-19 vaccination she received hours earlier.
The 82-year-old, who had been living at the Blue Care Yurana aged care facility in Springwood, south of Brisbane, received her jab about 10am on Wednesday. Police were called to the home about 1.30pm.
Her death has been classed as non-suspicious and police will prepare a report for the coroner. CMO Professor Paul Kelly said while the death would be investigated, there did not appear to be a link between her death and the vaccine.
"Sadly more than 1000 people pass in aged care every week. It is inevitable, as the head of the TGA has noted, that this will include people who have been recently vaccinated," Professor Kelly said.
"Any event that happens following vaccination is fully investigated.
"The medical experts and the TGA will review the specifics of such cases and reach a conclusion based on the facts."
The woman is said to have suffered from a number of underlying health conditions, including lung disease, as has been reported by the Courier Mail.
Professor Kelly said the TGA was monitoring COVID-19 vaccination in elderly patients "across the world."
"It can be expected that older and more frail people in an aged care setting may pass away due to progression of underlying disease or natural causes, this does not mean the vaccine has contributed to this," he said.
"The TGA will continue to monitor the safety of COVID-19 vaccines as they are rolled out in Australia and internationally."
He also said the AstraZeneca jab was "very safe" despite reports from the UK today that there is a link to rare blood clotting events and under-30s would not be given the vaccine anymore.
In January, the TGA investigated 30 deaths among the elderly population in Norway who had received the Pfizer vaccine.
At the time, the European Medicines Agency found no causal link between the vaccination and the deaths, and the TGA found no risk of vaccinating elderly patients with the Pfizer jab.
Both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines being rolled out across Australia can cause minor side effects, including fever, muscle pain and fatigue, but have been declared safe.
It comes as the EMA has found a possible link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and rare cases of blood clots in some patients.
The Federal Government was expected to deliver 10,500 vaccines to 150 aged care facilities across Queensland this week.
HUNT SAYS MORE VACCINE DOSES ON WAY
Health Minister Greg Hunt says Australia should receive an additional 1.6 million vaccines within the next three weeks, bringing the total to 2.9 million doses.
"We've received the 1.3 million that have been cleared and we're expecting later this week over 470,000, early next week 480,000, and then late next week or early the following week 670,000," Mr Hunt told reporters in Melbourne.
Mr Hunt said the arrival date for the batches may change as they are still subject to safety protocols and assessments.
It comes after the nation's top health official revealed Australia does not have answers on whether the AstraZeneca vaccine causes blood clots but the advice remains to push ahead with its vaccine rollout,
The Australian Technical Advisory Group (ATAGI) has recommended Australians continue to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine despite concerns it may be linked to rare clotting events reported globally.
It comes as the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) investigated one case possibly linked to the vaccine, which will make up the bulk of Australia's rollout.
Department of Health secretary Professor Brendan Murphy said local authorities were in touch with Europe and UK regulators about potential issues with AstraZeneca overseas.
His comments came as a trial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in British children was paused while regulators investigate possible links to rare blood clots in adults.
There was also confusion over whether the European Medicines Agency (EMA) had found a link between the vaccine and the clots, which have been associated with the deaths of seven vaccinated people in Britain.
"We are very closely (working) with our counterparts in the UK … and in Europe … to look at the data they're getting," Professor Murphy said in Canberra today.
He said it was unclear "whether it's a real problem and whether it has any significance".
"We are taking this matter very seriously at the moment," he said, adding that the AstraZeneca vaccine would continue to be given in Australia despite concerns overseas.
It came as the Morrison government as put the European Commission on notice over the supply of millions of internationally manufactured vaccine doses.
A war of words erupted overnight after the commission - the European Union's executive branch - rejected claims it blocked 3.1 million AstraZeneca doses from being sent to Australia.
The commission's chief spokesman, Eric Mamer, said he could not confirm any new decision to block vaccine exports.
But Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 3.1 million doses had not come to Australia in January and February as per its contract with AstraZeneca.
"That is just a simple fact," Mr Morrison said in Canberra.
The federal government argues that not responding to requests for vaccines or asking Australia to withdraw applications was the same as blocking them.
Australia pre-purchased 3.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from overseas supplies.
The government revealed only 700,000 had been delivered to date because the EU had not given AstraZeneca an export licence.
The vaccine manufacturer in February made an application for 500,000 doses being manufactured in Italy.
However, AstraZeneca was advised by the European Commission to withdraw their application and resubmit a revised application for 250,000 doses.
COVID VICTIM NAMED
The man who died in a Brisbane hospital from COVID-19 complications has been revealed as Mal Kela Smith, a respected former governor and businessman from Papua New Guinea.
PNG Health Minister Jelta Wong confirmed that Mr Smith, 77, a former governor of the Eastern Highlands, had passed away in the Redcliffe hospital on Monday after he was evacuated from PNG on an emergency flight on March 28.
Mr Wong told News Corp Australia that Mr Smith's death was "a sad day for Papua New Guinea" and proved that COVID-19 "does not discriminate".
"Mal Kela Smith was an institution of Papua New Guinea," Mr Wong told News Corp Australia.
"He was one of the first to push into the aviation industry, he did a lot of work around the country but he ended up living in the Eastern Highlands."
Mr Wong said Mr Smith's business, Pacific Helicopters, helped transport people living in rural areas to medical appointments.
"He helped a lot of people through his business, his chopper business, in very rural areas - he used to be very good at bringing people out of remote areas to get hospital checks."
Mr Wong said Mr Smith, who was born in the UK, had been elected governor of the eastern highlands twice and served as chairman of the provincial hospital board.
PNG officials are now in the process of repatriating the respected leader's body back to the Eastern Highlands.
MORRISON'S APPROVAL DOWN: NEWSPOLL
Prime Minister Scott Morrison's approval rating has plummeted amid a war of words with premiers over the vaccine rollout and the sexual assault allegations that have rocked parliament, an exclusive Newspoll has revealed.
The Coalition has lost significant electoral ground across Western Australia and Queensland and is facing collapse in South Australia, The Australian reports.
Demographic and state-based analysis of Newspoll data, The Australian reports, suggests the Coalition would need to restore support in the resource states to retain government.
On a two-party-preferred basis, the Coalition now trails Labor 49-51 per cent averaged over the past four Newspoll compared with a lead of 51-49 in the December analysis.
The analysis has also revealed that the Coalition has suffered a flight of male voters rather than female over the past three months, The Australian reports.
VACCINE ROLLOUT 'A DISTRACTION FROM SCANDAL'
Queensland's deputy premier has accused Scott Morrison of using the vaccine rollout delay as a distraction from the "Brittany Higgins, rape and sexual harassment" scandal in Canberra.
Steven Miles said the federal government's recent criticism of the slow rollout of the vaccine has been fuelled by the criticism of the treatment of women at Parliament House.
Mr Miles said he expected the Prime Minister would continue to highlight issues about the vaccine in the lead up to the national cabinet meeting on Friday.
"There's been a lot of issues around since the last national cabinet," Mr Miles said.
"No doubt the Prime Minister will continue to try to use the vaccine rollout and COVID more generally to distract from the government's other problems.
"That's been a very orchestrated campaign to try to stop you all (the media) talking about Brittany Higgins and rape and sexual harassment and all of the things that have happened in Canberra."
Mr Miles criticised Defence Minister Peter Dutton's comments claiming last week's three-day lockdown of Brisbane was an over-reaction from Annastacia Palaszczuk.
"They were in fact so eager to distract everybody from those topics that they put at risk confidence in their own vaccine rollout program that continued yesterday with Peter Dutton's outrageous attack on our premier," he said.
"If Scott Morrison stays true to form, then I'd expect over the coming days they will continue to find lots of distractions so people are talking about that and not the treatment of women in Canberra."
Mr Miles said the proposed use of a quarantine facility to be built near the Wellcamp Airport in Toowoomba was a priority for the state government.
National's Deputy Leader David Littleproud defended the federal government's approach to the vaccine rollout amid rising tensions with the states, saying there was always clarity about vaccine supply and that Australia has been "badly let down" by the EU.
"It's about being transparent and honest," he told Nine's Today show on Monday. "This is the biggest vaccination program our country has ever seen and it's important we understand what's happening with it. The arithmetic is simple on this. We are three million short because of the EU, who cut us short".
VACCINE ARMY ON THE WAY
The number of medical clinics administering the COVID-19 vaccine will double this week, as the Morrison Government tries to speed up the program.
Vaccinations are on track to top one million "within days", The Australian reports.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said there had been a record take-up last week with 79,283 immunisations on Thursday alone.
The government has delivered 387,605 vaccinations, including 111,873 in aged care, across 1270 centres.
Mr Hunt backed the NSW government's announcement that it would establish 32 "super clinics" to boost vaccinations, after Canberra was criticised for missing the target of four million inoculations by the end of March.
"We welcome all of the states and territories setting up large vaccination centres; that has always … been part of the plan and was included in the national partnership agreements as an option and NSW is now activating it," Mr Hunt said.
MP'S SAVAGE SPRAY
Queensland's Deputy Premier Steven Miles has used Twitter to take a jab at Federal Defence Minister Peter Dutton over his comment the state's three-day lockdown last week was a "panic".
The gibe came as the Federal Government revealed 841,885 vaccinations had been delivered around the country - falling well short of the planned four million by the end of March.
"You'd think on Easter Sunday the Morrison government could take a day off attacking our Premier," Mr Miles tweeted.
"Go eat some chocolate and read a book @PeterDutton_MP."
But he didn't stop there. "We might not have needed the lockdown if you'd delivered the 4 million doses you promised by 31 March," he tweeted.
"Maybe the new defence Minister could help get our aged care workforce vaccinated?"
This is the latest in a barrage of criticism from Mr Miles aimed at the Federal Government's handling of the vaccine rollout.
Last Thursday he said barely any of Queensland's aged care residents or workers had received the vaccine and warned the state was running dangerously low on stocks of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.
Relations between federal and state governments have been struggling, spurred on by a media report critical of the NSW vaccine rollout. Senior federal Minister David Littleproud said states had done "bugger all" to help with the effort to vaccinate frontline healthcare workers.
The NSW Government was also scathing in its response to the comments. NSW health Minister Brad Hazzard told news.com.au that he was "extremely angry" over the report.
"I am as angry as I have ever been in these 15 months of war against this virus," Mr Hazzard said.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian branded the report "misleading" and the situation "extremely unfair".
The Morrison government has missed its initial target of vaccinating four million Australians by the end of March, and has also faced criticism from general practitioners and claims of late deliveries and undersupply.
NSW MAY HELP WITH VACCINE ROLLOUT
NSW hospitals could soon be called in to help boost the vaccine rollout following days of fiery exchanges between state leaders and the federal government.
Each this week blamed the other for failing to reach their individual vaccine targets.
About 750,000 jabs have been administered nationwide so far - well short of the four million target which was expected to be achieved by the end of March.
This means 200,000 people will need to roll up their sleeves every day to reach the goal of all Australian adults getting their first dose of the jab by the end of October.
State leaders argue they're being left in the dark about how many doses they're getting and have slammed the federal government for accusing them of stockpiling vaccines.
On Thursday NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian echoed her ongoing plea, urging the Morrison government to allow the state's hospitals to help with the rollout if they fall under the federal government's jurisdiction.
NCA NewsWire understands Ms Berejiklian's calls have been answered with the federal government looking to accept her offer.
The government plans to mass vaccination clinics for phase 2A, Professor Brendan Murphy told senate estimates last week.
Victoria has been given a head start with plans underway for four vaccination centres while more mass centres will be established in other states as the rollout program gathers pace.
Hospitals will be able to vaccinate people from group 1B but the decision to do so will lay with the NSW government.
Professor Murphy was repeatedly probed about vaccination targets but said it would depend on local supply from CSL.
"We want to wait and see what the output from CSL is before we give more accurate predictions," he said,
"I am not in a position to give an exact figure. It would be pointless before we've got absolute certainty about the CSL rollout."
Earlier this week, NSW health minister Brad Hazzard fired up during a media address declaring he had "never been more angry".
His outburst came following a media report critical of the NSW government's vaccine rollout. He appeared to blame the federal government for the story's source material
"I am as angry as I have ever been in these 15 months of war against this virus," Mr Hazzard said on Wednesday.
"I am extremely angry and I know there are other health ministers in the country who share similar views, state and territory health ministers.
"It is not appropriate that we wake up and find figures put into the media that haven't been shared with any state or territory governments. It is not appropriate that those figures be put in a light that is misleading."
Premier Berejiklian, too, was disappointed, calling the report "misleading" and the situation "extremely unfair".
The news report claimed NSW had been handed some 190,000 doses from the Commonwealth, but only administered about 96,000 of them.
Mr Hazzard took the opportunity to hit back at the federal government, saying their own vaccine rollout had been less than perfect.
"Let's get this really, really clear: The NSW government was asked to roll out 300,000 vaccinations to the groups in 1A and 1B. Of that we have done 100,000," he said.
"The Federal Government was asked and is responsible for 5.5 million people and they have rolled out 50,000. I think the figures speak for themselves."
Minister Hazzard's office has been contacted for comment.
QLD HAS 8 NEW CASES
Queensland has recorded eight new cases today with seven acquired overseas and detected in hotel quarantine.
There is one historical case which is believed to be the missing link to the first cluster.
Premier Anastasia Palaszczuk said it was great news for Queensland with 35,357 tests undertaken yesterday.
The state's Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said everyone involved in the two clusters which led to a lockdown in Greater Brisbane had done "everything wonderfully".
"It's been an enormously successful process in terms of people coming forward," she said.
Health authorities believe they have solved the mystery connection between the two Brisbane clusters which triggered the snap lockdown.
The Sunshine State reported one new locally acquired case on Friday -- a historical infection of a nurse who worked at the Princess Alexandra Hospital.
It is assumed this nurse was infected by the same returning traveller being treated at the Brisbane hospital as the original infection in a doctor on March 10.
This nurse did not fall ill, but passed the deadly virus on to her partner who then became the source of the cluster which spread across Brisbane's inner north.
"So this is yet another nurse who has unfortunately, through doing nothing wrong, has contracted the infection from a gentleman who is clearly a super-spreader," chief health officer Jeannette Young said on Friday.
"So then it spread within that network and then we had the gentleman come forward, just out of the blue, and get tested.
"Due to all of those people doing what they did, so effectively, we found that cluster. And we've got it under control."
VACCINE ROLLOUT STOUSH
The vaccine rollout stoush between the states and the federal government fired up again as federal cabinet minister David Littleproud saying he "won't be lectured" by the states.
"I won't be lectured to by a man who was sacked as health minister and a government that was derelict in their duty of protecting their frontline health workers by not having them fully vaccinated before they treated COVID patients," Mr Littleproud said in a statement, according to a report in The Australian.
And as Queensland lifted its lockdown in time for Easter, Deputy Premier Steven Miles warned the state would run out of Pzifer vaccines this weekend, causing concern for GPs about the insecurity of the vaccine supply which is a responsibility of the federal government.
Mr Littleproud's statement was in response to comments made by Mr Miles who claimed that he "hadn't heard of" the deputy leader of the national party until this week.
Federal health minister Greg Hunt attempted to play down the stoush, claiming there was no rift between governments and that the rollout was continuing to ramp up.
Originally published as Aussie man hospitalised after AstraZeneca jab