(Australian Associated Press)
AstraZeneca has played down concerns over the use of its COVID-19 vaccine on elderly patients after it was approved for use in Australia.
Australia’s medical regulator has approved the vaccine for people aged 18 and over, paving the way for inoculations to begin from next month.
But the Therapeutic Goods Administration has recommended patients aged over 65 should be treated on a case-by-case basis.
TGA boss John Skerritt on Tuesday said elderly patients had showed a strong immune response in clinical trials, but there were not enough participants to conclusively determine efficacy for that group.
AstraZeneca said the evidence to date suggested elderly recipients produced a strong immune response and tolerated the vaccine well.
“If you listen to what Professor Skerritt said today, all people should be vaccinated and that includes over 65s,” AstraZeneca Australia president Liz Chatwin told reporters.
“It’s really important to remember that we’re in a global pandemic and there are thousands of people being admitted to hospital and dying every day, and people over 65 are more at risk.
“So the overwhelming public health advice is that as many people as possible should be vaccinated.”
The TGA said there were no safety concerns associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been found to have an efficacy rate of 82 per cent when two doses are administered 12 weeks apart.
Almost four million doses of the vaccine will be imported into Australia from overseas before 50 million doses are manufactured locally.
The first locally-produced doses are expected to be administered by the end of March.
Concerns have been raised overseas about whether the AstraZeneca vaccine is effective against new variants of the coronavirus.
South Africa suspended its rollout of the vaccine after a study showed it gave minimal protection against mild to moderate illness caused by the country’s new strain of the virus, which has found its way in small numbers into Australia’s hotel quarantine system.
Ms Chatwin said there had been more than two million deaths reported worldwide since the pandemic began and the overwhelming priority was to prevent severe cases.
“To date, there is no evidence to suggest that the AstraZeneca vaccine is not effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalisation and deaths, even with the new variants,” she said.