Top 3 COVID-19 vaccine questions – New ATAGI advice, second doses, and Pfizer access
Dr Lucas de Toca, COVID-19 Primary Care Response First Assistant Secretary, answers the Top Three questions you’ve been asking on our social accounts.
Hello. I am Lucas de Toca from the Department of Health in Canberra. Welcome to top three. Today I want to provide an update and answer the questions you might have about the changes to the ATAGI advice on the use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. As usual, I’m joined by Linda who will be doing Auslan interpreting.
First question, what is the new ATAGI advice?
So the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, or ATAGI, which is the group of experts that provides advice to governments about immunisation programs including the COVID-19 vaccine program, have updated their advice and they now recommend that Pfizer is the preferred vaccine for everyone aged under 60 years. People 60 years and over can continue to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine but they have now made clear that the preferred vaccine for people under 60 is Pfizer, raising that from the original advice of Pfizer being used in people under 50. Why has this advice changed? Well the ATAGI group as well as the TGA, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, continuously review the evidence, both internationally and domestically, about the vaccine, their effectiveness and their safety. ATAGI has been meeting weekly to review any new cases of adverse events associated with the use of the vaccines, including their newly identified thrombosis thrombocytopenia syndrome, or TTS, which is a very rare but serious blood clotting condition that has been associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine in infrequent cases. Their weekly reviews that ATAGI do allows all the experts to get the latest information on what's happening in Australia and overseas. And what they have observed is that the rate, so the incidence, the amount of people who get TTS in 50 to 59 year olds, is higher though than it was originally observed and it's higher than what was observed in international data. This might be partly to the fact that Australia is becoming really good at identifying this condition and identifying it early, but based on that and our epidemiological situation, the context of Covid in Australia, ATAGI has recommended that for people 50 to 59 years of age, the risk benefit analysis for the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine with this very rare side effect versus using a different one, just doesn't add up, and as part of that they've updated their advice to recommend that that group, so anyone under 60, get preferentially the Pfizer vaccine. This does not change the advice for people 60 years and over. This also does not change the advice about who's eligible for the vaccine. The same people who were eligible yesterday are eligible now but it's just different, that people 50 to 59 will now be recommended to get the Pfizer vaccine as opposed to the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Second question, what if I’ve already had a dose of AstraZeneca?
If you have already had one dose of AstraZeneca and you did not experience severe side effects or any contraindication, there is no reason that you cannot receive a second dose, regardless of your age. The ATAGI advice has not changed that full completion of an immunisation course requires two doses of the same vaccine, whether it's AstraZeneca or Pfizer, which are the two that are authorised in Australia. So if you had your first AZ dose, you don't have a contraindication and you didn't experience a severe side effect, regardless of your age, we strongly encourage you to get your second dose when it's due, because only then you can achieve the full protection that the vaccines grant, which is very good for both vaccines. This advice is for people who have not received a first dose and if they're under 60 then they are recommended to get the Pfizer vaccine instead. But if you had your first doze of AZ and you're due for your second please do not put it back if you didn't have a severe side effect associated with the vaccine, like the immense majority of people who got it, please get your second dose.
And finally, I’m in the 50 to 59 age group, how do I access a Pfizer vaccine?
Yeah so like with any changes in the program, things might take a little bit to adjust to the new advice. One thing that the Australian government is doing is ensuring that everyone in Australia has access to the most up-to-date information in the most transparent way possible, and that's why the advice from ATAGI was made public as soon as it landed. That means that sometimes the program might take a little bit, a few days, to catch up to the new and updated advice. From tomorrow, all 21 Commonwealth vaccination clinics that are already providing access to Pfizer, will be able to take or we will be accepting people in the 50 to 59 year old group and we will be making changes to the Eligibility Checker on health.gov.au in the coming days to reflect that updated eligibility. We will also continue to work with the states and territories to understand what the changes to the eligibility are in the coming days to ensure that people 50 to 59 years of age, newly eligible for Pfizer, have access to that vaccine. We're also working to transition the GPs that are currently providing access to the vaccine through offering the AstraZeneca vaccine, to also be able to offer Pfizer. That will be a gradual process by which all the over 4000 participating GPs get the option to also offer the Pfizer vaccine in the coming months, but we will start with 1300 of those in July. So from the 5th of July, we will see over three weeks, more and more GPs having access to deliver the Pfizer vaccine to anyone who is eligible, until we reach 1300 by the third week of July and then the rest of the GPs will be transitioning all the way through to October to expand that eligibility of Pfizer across the country. Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services are also starting to transition to be able to also offer the Pfizer vaccine on top of the AstraZeneca vaccine to the appropriate age cohort, and with a few already having that capacity and we're expecting that the rest will be able to make the transition over July and early August. So if you're 50 to 59 check the Eligibility Checker in the next few days, see where Pfizer is available for you to access and if you don't see a clinic or there's no appointments near you, just check in a few days, as more and more appointments will become available as more clinics are able to offer Pfizer to the newly eligible Pfizer cohort following the updated ATAGI advice. That's all for our questions today. We understand that there will be a lot more questions on this, every time there's a change we get a lot of questions and it's really important that we keep engaging in that manner. Thank you for continuing to tune in, thank you for staying CovidSafe, as we know really important in New South Wales, in Victoria, in Queensland, but everywhere in Australia as community transmission might be happening without us knowing, and if you're offered a vaccine and you're eligible and in the age group within the recommendations, they're voluntary but please consider having one because it's the best way to protect yourself, your loved ones and the broader community. Thank you very much. Thank you Linda and stay CovidSafe.
Top 3 questions
- What is the new ATAGI advice?
- What if I have already had a dose of AstraZeneca?
- I’m in the 50–59 age group, how do I access a Pfizer vaccine?