Reports of a 44-year-old Australian man developing serious blood clots after receiving a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine sent shockwaves through the community on Friday.
According to Australia's acting chief medical officer Paul Kidd, the Therapeutic Goods Administration was very concerned about the matter and was investigating whether there was a link between the man's symptoms and the vaccine.
The case comes off the back of a number of reports of rare blood clots in Europe from vaccinated patients. The European Medicines Agency began investigating a possible link between those cases and the vaccine in March. Australia is now following suit.
This is not the first time there has been concern around the safety and efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Several countries including France, Germany and Canada have paused their rollouts in response to those concerns.
Scepticism around the AstraZeneca vaccine has not been helped by questions around the efficacy numbers initially produced during the clinical trial and later revised.
Given the extraordinary speed with which the vaccines have been developed, and the mass inoculation currently under way across the globe, any adverse side effects, no matter how minor, have the potential to cause significant harm. An abundance of caution guided by the experts in the field is absolutely the correct response when unexpected events occur.
But there is also potential for overreaction and for panic to spread through an already jittery global population.
While health authorities have an obligation to speak plainly and honestly with the public receiving those vaccines, these concerning reports need to be kept in context. Of the more than 20 million people who have already received at least one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, fewer than 30 cases of clots have been reported.
Doctors have pointed out clotting can be a risk with any form of vaccination, and that some cases should be expected when so many people are involved.
Governments, too, have an obligation to maintain confidence in the vaccines and resist calls for knee-jerk pauses to their rollout. Doctors and scientists who have moved heaven and earth to make these vaccines available and in sufficient quantities are well aware of the risks of pushing out medications that have not been thoroughly vetted, especially here in Australia where the TGA is considered among the best medical regulators globally with an excellent safety track record.
Rolling out vaccines to the entire adult population of Australia is an enormous logistical exercise, especially when so many unknown factors like overseas producers preventing exports come into play.
Halting the vaccine rollout based on fear and politics rather than good science has the potential to be enormously detrimental to public confidence.
Australia has been in an extremely fortunate position to date, thanks mostly to effective management of our borders, which has bought us valuable time. But the lessons of Melbourne and, more recently Queensland, are important reminders we are not immune to virus cases escaping quarantine.
Any decision Australia might make to pause the rollout must be based on the best medical advice. It has served us well to-date, now is not the time to let fear take over.
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