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On for Young and old: 'Emotional' comments undermine vaccine

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Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young has allowed her “internal anxieties” to undermine the AstraZeneca vaccine as the state grapples with COVID-19 outbreaks, a top doctor says.

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Young told reporters on Wednesday that she didn’t want anyone under the age of 40s taking AstraZeneca because of the risk of an extraordinarily rare blood clotting syndrome.

Her comments, backed by several interstate counterparts, came amid a debate over Prime Minister Scott Morrison seemingly opening up AstraZeneca vaccinations to the under-40s. On Monday night, Morrison was asked if people under 40 could resort to AstraZeneca and said “if they wish to go and speak to their doctor and have access to the AstraZeneca vaccine, they can do so”.

But Young encouraged people in that age group to hold out for Pfizer if possible, even though supplies are still being rationed by the Commonwealth.

Australian Medical Association vice president Dr Chris Moy said Young’s position was not the advice of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, which he is a member of. ATAGI guidelines allow AstraZeneca for younger age groups if discussed with a doctor, the benefits outweigh the risks and alternatives are not available.

Moy suggested Young’s comments might be interpreted as “an imposition of particular internal anxieties about the situation, rather than an opinion”. He told ABC Radio her “emotional” comments had undermined AstraZeneca, which was an effective and safe vaccine.

“Unfortunately, the level of emotion that was shown in that interview (press conference) was really out of keeping with what we’ve seen before, and really has actually undermined a vaccine to some degree,” Moy said.

“It’s like undermining one particular brand and you know, what if we find there is a problem later with the other vaccine, then we’re nowhere.”

Yet ATAGI co-chair Professor Christopher Blyth said people under 60 should only be considering AstraZeneca in “pressing” circumstances.

“There are some situations where that would be warranted, but they are quite small,” he told ABC Radio.

“The ATAGI advice is that Pfizer is our preference for those under the age of 60 years.”

Young today defended her comments, as journalists asked whether she was undermining the vaccination rollout and potentially putting lives at risk. She said the media furore was getting “pretty silly” and her advice had not changed.

“I am giving my advice, I’m a doctor, I have been involved in Australia’s vaccination program now for 16 years,” Young said, referring also to her success in lifting Queensland vaccination rates.

“I am on the record as supporting vaccination but I want the right vaccine going to the right person.”

Morrison Government ministers accused the Palaszczuk government of deflecting blame from its failures, and Young’s position of being politicised. At the same time, it refused a Queensland request for more Pfizer vaccines.

The head of the National COVID Vaccine Taskforce, Lieutenant General John Frewen, said in two days since Morrison’s comments 2,616 Australians under 40 had received AstraZeneca vaccines.

Frewen, who offered Queensland more AstraZeneca but said the only way it could get more Pfizer was taking allocations from other states, said some young people would “rather have the available vaccine than wait”.

Young said on Wednesday she didn’t want “an 18-year-old in Queensland dying from a clotting illness who, if they got COVID, probably wouldn’t die”.

Commonwealth infectious diseases expert Nick Coatsworth insisted the risk of younger people dying from COVID-19 was higher than the risk of dying from a clotting illness.

“Nearly every medical leader distanced themselves from Dr Young’s comments,” Coatsworth told the Seven Network.

“She’s unfortunately out on a very lonely limb there.”

Young will become the Governor of Queensland in November. The government has yet to find a replacement.

-With AAP

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