Premier must watch what she says about vaccine
It has suddenly just become far more important that all our political leaders do all they can to ensure public confidence in the COVID vaccine rollout.
The decision last night by federal health authorities to recommend that the Pfizer vaccine be preferred over the AstraZeneca jab for under-50s due to a very small risk of blood-clotting has only made that more important.
The risk goes like this: between four and six people out of every million who get the AstraZeneca jab develop blood clots. It only happens after the first jab, and shows up between four and 10 days after.
That means the risk is less than with many other widely taken medicines, but the decision has been made due to an abundance of caution - and the fact Australia is free of COVID in the community, and so we have time to play it safe as we work through the alternatives for young people.
The recommendation is that people over 50 will continue to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine as planned, due to the risk to them if they contracted COVID outweighing the tiny risk of developing clots. It seems a very sensible decision made by health experts, and duly accepted by our political leaders.
Unfortunately this decision will inevitably be latched onto by the misguided anti-vaxxer brigade to undermine the entire vaccination program that is critical to ensuring our lives can return to normal.
To see evidence of that, we only need to cast our gaze across the Torres Strait to the COVID disaster unfolding in Papua New Guinea, where a massive outbreak is being fuelled by fake news spread about possible side effects (beyond the blood-clotting issues) of the highly effective AstraZeneca vaccine.
"What we are seeing in PNG is a tsunami of misinformation about the virus and the vaccine that will cost lives," warned aid agency Save the Children PNG country manager Gerry Dyer. "People may encounter a social media post containing misinformation, and then repeat it in the real world as established fact."
To help change attitudes, PNG Prime Minister James Marape was vaccinated with AstraZeneca alongside his two brothers. They said if there were side effects they would rather all suffer together. That symbolism of kinship in a Melanesian society was meaningful.
Meanwhile yesterday in Queensland, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk publicly mused about whether there was a link between an already-very sick 83-year-old who died on Wednesday and the Pfizer vaccine she had been administered in her nursing home just four hours earlier.
Despite all the health advice suggesting there would be no link, the Premier decided to say publicly: "I have to get more details … I think they need to look very closely as to were there any other conditions, or was it vaccine related."
Talk about a hand grenade. All the anti-vaxxer community needs is one skerrick of doubt on which they can attach their seeds of distrust.
Contrast the Premier's response to that of Australia's Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly. He said the case should be fully investigated - BUT: "Sadly, more than 1000 people pass in aged care every week. It is inevitable … that this will include people who have been recently vaccinated … this does not mean the vaccine has contributed to this."
The Premier should be careful to never accidentally undermine the vaccination program. Let's hope yesterday was just a simple mistake.
Originally published as Premier must watch what she says about vaccine