‘It got the UK out of its mess’: Under-40s seek out AstraZeneca shots
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Sydneysiders under 40 have rushed to GPs with inquiries about the AstraZeneca vaccine after the Prime Minister announced adults of any age could come forward for a shot.
But the federal Health Minister and Australian Medical Association have stressed Pfizer remains the preferred vaccine for under-60s, asking younger people to stick with The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI)’s advice. The Royal Australian College of GPs is also calling for clarity.
Freya Jarrett, 21, says she is happy to get an AstraZeneca vaccination.Credit:Louise Kennerley
Freya Jarrett, a 21-year-old bartender from Pyrmont, said she was eager to be vaccinated because she comes into contact with dozens of people during her shifts at Marble Bar, on George Street in Sydney’s CBD.
“I work in a really busy venue and I’ve been terrified that somehow I’ll get COVID-19 and I’ll spread it,” she said.
“I don’t like how the government seems to have flip-flopped with their recommendations on AstraZeneca. I just want a vaccine so I don’t have to be worried about putting other people in danger.”
City of Ryde mayor Jerome Laxale, 37, booked in for an AstraZeneca shot on Wednesday.
“It got the UK out of its mess and the only way to stop Sydney going into lockdown is to have more of the adult population vaccinated,” he said.
Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid said while eligible persons of any age have always been able to choose to get the AstraZeneca vaccine, he believed younger people should follow ATAGI’s advice.
“They’ve done the work to do the risk analysis for us, you don’t have to do it yourself, and they’ve recommended that people under the age of 60 get the Pfizer vaccine,” he said.
“I don’t have any objection to a younger person deciding to get the vaccine they can get now, instead of waiting for Pfizer, but I believe we should follow ATAGI’s recommendation.”
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the medical advice had not changed and Pfizer remains the preferred vaccine for under 60s.
“Some GPs have reported that they have excess supply and excess spaces, and so if there are people who wish to access it, by informed consent, via the existing ATAGI rules, then that is simply being enabled,” he said.
GPs will be able to claim for vaccine consultations for under-50s by the end of the week, to complement the existing Medicare item for people aged 50 and over. The Commonwealth also announced doctors would be covered by an indemnity scheme for administering AstraZeneca jabs for under-40s.
Dr Khorshid said it was “reasonable” the Prime Minister had given Australians worried about outbreaks “a way to do something concrete to protect themselves” but the management of these outbreaks did not necessitate a change in approach.
“However, we know there is a demand for [AstraZeneca], because people have been calling up GPs and asking for it,” he said.
Dr Charlotte Hespe from Glebe Family Medical Practice said the “phones are running hot with people wanting to get vaccinated”.
“I think there would be few practices that didn’t feel they had the space to accommodate more people who would like to get the AstraZeneca vaccine,” said Dr Hespe, who is the NSW/ACT chair of Royal Australian College of GPs.
“Our practice is pretty fully booked with second AstraZeneca shot appointments and we weren’t expecting this onslaught.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the College called for clarity over AstraZeneca eligibility.
“The nation’s general practices had no warning of the announcements made last night and are now scrambling to figure out what this means for our patients,” President Karen Price said.
After “strongly counselling” younger people to wait for Pfizer, Dr Hespe said recent local cases meant the situation was different.
“My philosophy has been all along that if somebody is fully informed and aware of their risks then they should go ahead and get an AstraZeneca shot,” she said.
Her clinic is one of the first in Sydney expecting Pfizer deliveries from Monday, however it is not taking bookings until then.
GP Brendon Wong, at Maxim Family Medical Practice in West Ryde, said the practice has “no issues with AstraZeneca supply and plenty of appointments available”.
“I’ve had three patients in their 30s call this morning about an AstraZeneca appointment. They aren’t worried about clotting risk and people are becoming more aware of the risk of COVID-19 in the community,” he said. “I can’t tell patients exactly how long they will be waiting for Pfizer.”
For Alice Boyd, a 33-year-old returning expat quarantined in Sydney, the Prime Minister’s announcement was welcome: watching Australia’s rollout from Cambodia she was struck by the difference in availability of vaccine, despite Australia having a better healthcare system.
“I can see why people are complacent here, as mass outbreaks have been contained, but I find it really frustrating,” she said.
“People were lining up for five hours in 35 degree heat to get vaccinated where I was.”
Ms Boyd received a dose of Sinovac, the Chinese-manufactured COVID-19 vaccine, but will visit a doctor once out of quarantine for advice on receiving AstraZeneca instead.
Chippendale opera singing student Jeremy Boulton, 22, called his doctor on Tuesday morning and booked a shot for Thursday night. With the Delta variant circulating, he wanted to do anything he could to reduce his risk of contracting COVID-19.
“I just don’t want the risk of anything happening to my lungs, and we need the economy to reopen so artists can go back to work,” he said.
Mr Hunt wouldn’t estimate how many people under the age of 40 were interested in getting an AstraZeneca vaccine.
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