The Announcement Artist Strikes Again

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Monday night that any Australian under the age of 40 can now elect to have the AstraZeneca vaccine. The vaccine was previously only available to those 60 years or over, due to concerns over potentially fatal blood clotting, particularly in young women.

Morrison’s announcement came as a surprise to more than just the general public. The President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), Dr Omar Khorsid, told media on Tuesday afternoon he was not consulted in advance of Morrison’s announcement. “It took us by surprise, and it’s hard to know how to take that announcement,” said Dr Khorsid.

Dr Khorsid, President of the AMA.

That’s all the more so when there has been no change in health recommendations from the Australian Medical Association, nor from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). In response to questions about clotting concerns, Morrison replied that people should “have that conversation with their GP.” But he never had the conversation with the GPs’ representative, the AMA.

“Our recommendation is still really for patients to follow the Atagi advice,” said Dr Korsid. “Be patient and have the Atagi-recommended vaccine when it’s available. I am certainly still backing the expert advice at this stage.”

Opening the AstraZeneca vaccine to young people is apparently motivated by the current nation-wide coronavirus outbreak changing the cost-benefit analysis. Yet at Monday morning’s press conference, NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant confirmed that the possibility of an outbreak was already contemplated when the vaccine was restricted to older people.

“Of course, if Delta really does ingrain itself in our community and the lockdowns aren’t successful or they’re too slow, then speeding up the vaccination program by using more options on the table is wise,” said Dr Khorsid. The problem, of course, unfortunately, is that for the Delta virus you need both doses to get reasonable protection against Delta and for AstraZeneca, that’s a minimum of eight weeks apart.”

As someone with libertarian tendencies, I personally welcome the chance to make my own decision about the AstraZeneca vaccine. Yet it’s hard to imagine the ongoing miscommunication between Morrison and health officials will fill the majority of Australians with confidence about any vaccine after the mixed messages and mismanagement of the roll-out thus far.

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