People aged between 50 and 59 will now get Pfizer over AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine; a virologist shares his thoughts

Ramp it up: Associate Professor Bartlett says now that the AstraZeneca age limits have changed - based on the accumulation of data -
Ramp it up: Associate Professor Bartlett says now that the AstraZeneca age limits have changed - based on the accumulation of data - "We need to get faster with Pfizer. Get it out to these hubs, and into people's arms."

CONFIDENCE in the AstraZeneca vaccine will "no doubt" drop following new advice it should be limited to people 60 and over, a Australian GP says.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the federal government had accepted new medical advice that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine be used only for those aged 60-plus.

Until now, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) had recommended the vaccine for people aged 50 and above. The change means people under 60 will now be offered the Pfizer vaccine, opening it up to about 1.2 million people in the 50-to-59 group who had not yet had vaccinations. ATAGI has advised it safe for those under 60, who have already had their first dose of AstraZeneca, to have their second.

NSW Hunter GP Dr Ben Seckold said he expected demand for the vaccine to drop in light of these changes.

"My first four patients for the vaccine [after the announcement] were aged between 50 and 60," Dr Seckold said. "The first patient was 59 and wanted to still have it. The other three cancelled and are going to wait for the Pfizer. It is difficult for us and the patients with the goal posts constantly changing.

"It undermines the advice we have been giving."

The now military-led rollout has been dubbed "Operation COVID Shield".

Associate Professor Nathan Bartlett, a University of Newcastle and HMRI virologist, said this was a fast-evolving situation driven by the accumulation of more understanding, more data, and more information. Transparency was important.

"The fact that rare clotting events, and some deaths, are occurring in people around the age of 50 suggests that maybe 50 is not quite long enough, and we need to bump it up to 60," he said.

"As you get older, the COVID risk increases, so that vaccine-risk versus COVID-risk ratio changes. We are in completely uncharted territory, and we are using the best available data to keep people safe. But this is an evolving situation.

"Things will change. Guidelines will change. The rules are going to change. And it is because we are reacting to the best available information day-to-day."

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The changes raised questions about whether there was enough Pfizer supply to vaccinate substantially larger numbers, and whether young people in line for a vaccine would be sent to the back of the queue.

"How long will it increase the length of time the majority of Australians remain unvaccinated? We are already seeing these little spot fires, little outbreaks, popping up quite regularly now," he said. "One has to be seriously concerned that one of these is going to get away from us and we are not protected."

This story 'An evolving situation': Why AstraZeneca advice has changed first appeared on Newcastle Herald.