Under 50s not officially eligible for COVID-19 vaccines have used low numbers at Melbourne’s mass vaccination hubs to get an AstraZeneca jab.
- A number of people told the ABC they received the dose at Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Centre
- Matthew Desailly, 30, said he decided to try after hearing about people in older cohorts not getting the shot
- Epidemiologist Hassan Vally said there were benefits from younger people getting vaccinated sooner rather than later
At this stage of the vaccine rollout, anyone over the age of 50 can get the AstraZeneca vaccine through their GP or at one of Victoria’s hubs.
But because of a very rare blood clot associated with the inoculation, particularly in younger demographics, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) recommends eligible under 50s get another vaccine.
The only younger people officially able to get the Pfizer shot — currently Australia’s only alternative — are in at-risk health categories or frontline workers.
Both vaccines have extremely high efficacy in preventing serious illness and death.
Matthew Desailly got his AstraZeneca injection at the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton on Friday afternoon.
“As a 30-year-old and not unwell or in a risky sort of role, my position in the queue was pretty far back,” he said.
Mr Desailly said he in no way wanted to take the dose of a more vulnerable Australian, but “a week of headlines decrying the lack of volunteers and the abundance of doses motivated my decision”.
After arriving at the centre and declaring he was not technically eligible but still wanted the vaccine, Mr Desailly said the process took about 30 minutes.
“I definitely was considering the risks, that’s certainly an important thing to think about,” he said.
“But the reality is … every vaccine that’s been approved has a nearly 100 per cent effectiveness at preventing severe disease, hospitalisation and death.
“That was absolutely enough to convince me.”
Mr Desailly said wanting to protect others in the community if the virus resurfaced played a huge part in his decision.
Associate professor of epidemiology at La Trobe University, Hassan Vally, said the TGA had taken “a very responsible approach” to giving younger people the choice of vaccines.
“But … the risk is extraordinarily low for everyone in terms of these rare blood clots,” he said.
“And it’s one of the things that is really hard to get traction at the moment on this. And, having said that, it’s understandable because risk perception is a very difficult thing for us as human beings.”
Pfizer supply secured, but younger people wary of ‘unpredictable’ rollout
Amid reports some over 50s are waiting to receive a different vaccine, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt today urged all people eligible for a vaccine to get a jab as soon as possible.
“If you are in a qualifying group, if you are in the over 50s, please come forward now,” he said.
“Vaccination will save lives and protect lives, and if you aren’t vaccinated and you do catch COVID you could die. It’s as simple as that.”
He reiterated that supply of other vaccines would arrive in Australia by the end of the year for those in the under-50 cohort.
But Victorian woman Sarah, who got a shot at the same Exhibition Building hub on Saturday, said given delays seen this year, she did not want to wait.
“I felt like I needed to get it done as soon as I could, because it’s [the rollout] so unpredictable,” she said.
Sarah, who does not want her surname used because she said many of her family members were against vaccination, said she had found reports of vaccine hesitancy “super disappointing”.
“It worries me because these people who are most at risk are not getting a vaccine, which is pretty terrifying,” she said.
Sarah said her vaccination nurse made it clear the Pfizer vaccine was coming soon and there was a discussion of the risks associated with the AstraZeneca dose.
“I just felt really comfortable with the really small percentage chance [of the blood-clotting disorder] with this one,” she said.
La Trobe University’s Dr Vally said he was “pleasantly surprised” to hear of under 50s asking for the vaccine and receiving it.
“These people are obviously making a decision because they can see what the benefits are in having immunity now, rather than having to wait indeterminate amount of time in the future for that to happen,” he said.
Younger people have potential to be ‘influencers’ on attitudes
The Australian Medical Association and other peak bodies have in recent weeks been pushing for a national communications campaign about vaccination amid concerns about take-up.
There are warnings that without greater vaccination coverage, Australians are “sitting ducks” for the virus.
Associate professor Holly Seale, an infectious disease social scientist at UNSW, has been studying public perception of coronavirus vaccines and the rollout.
She said people in their 20s, 30s and 40s “play a key role in being an influencer” about vaccination among their family members.
“Let’s encourage them to go and have a conversation with their health provider,” Dr Seale said.
“Open that door, let’s get it started.
“It may be that that conversation ends up with them deciding that right now, no, they won’t get a vaccine, but at least that’s noted down that that conversation is happening.”
Another person from the under-50 age group, Girl Geek Academy founder Sarah Moran, got her AstraZeneca shot at the Exhibition Building on Thursday after she “literally begged” to be inoculated.
She had to have longer and more detailed conversations about the risk than others the ABC has spoken to, and said she burst into tears when she was told she could receive the dose.
Ms Moran told ABC Radio Melbourne and her nearly 10,000 Twitter followers about the experience, hoping to inspire others her age to attempt the same approach.
One of them was 23-year-old game developer Grace Bruxner, who went with her partner on Saturday after seeing Ms Moran’s tweets.
“[They] were very transparent about the risks, but the chances are so low that it’s worth it,” she said.
“I would rather protect my community and do my part than wait for another vaccine to come along in six months.”
Ms Bruxner and Mr Desailly both reported experiencing some of the common immediate side effects, including headaches, fatigue and muscle tiredness, which lessened the following day.
“It’s the best sore arm I’ve ever had,” Ms Bruxner said.
Victoria’s mass vaccination hubs are run by the state, while the Commonwealth is in charge of the GP rollout which has delivered about half of the country’s vaccines.
A spokesperson for Victoria’s health department said the state’s focus was on “priority groups who are eligible under the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 vaccination program”.
“If you’re not sure, call the coronavirus hotline to check your eligibility and book an appointment. Appointments are required in all cases to receive the Pfizer vaccine if you are eligible and aged under 50.”