Experts have reacted to the latest change in COVID-19 vaccine advice. 

ATAGI has updated its advice on COVID-19 vaccination in response to an ongoing outbreak in NSW. 

The government authority says Pfizer remains the preferred vaccine for those under 60, but in the context of an outbreak young people “should re-assess the benefits to them and their contacts from being vaccinated with COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca, versus the rare risk of a serious side effect”. 

Importantly, ATAGI says that in an outbreak situation, its advice for those having AstraZeneca is to have their second shot 4-8 weeks after their first.

Studies have found that this vaccine is about 55 per cent effective in those who received their second dose less than six weeks after their first vaccination, compared to 81 per cent if the second dose is given more than 12 weeks after the initial vaccination.

The experts say that reducing the time for the second vaccination will reduce overall effectiveness, but will still be important in the reduction of serious illness caused by the Delta strain of the virus.

“There is a window in which the second shot can be given and still be effective. The time frame they are suggesting is within that window,” says Professor Bruce Thompson - Dean of the School of Health Sciences at Swinburne University of Technology.

“The overarching message is that the AstraZeneca vaccine is a safe vaccine, that has been approved by the TGA [Therapeutic Goods Administration] for the purposes of vaccinating against the SARS-COV2 virus. 

“The concept of recommendation for certain populations is quite a different concept, and these recommendations can change as we have seen. It doesn’t mean that the vaccine is not safe, or is what we call a contraindication.”

He suggested young people should lean towards getting vaccinated. 

“We know in the current outbreak that 10 per cent of active cases are now in hospital with an escalating pneumonia-like illness. Approximately three per cent are in the ICU, of which one is a teenager. This is a serious medical condition, and as the risk of contracting the virus has increased, it is time to rethink early vaccination.”

Also this week, the Australian Academy of Science launched a new COVID-19 vaccine campaign that provides credible information on COVID-19 vaccines to equip the community to make informed healthcare decisions and reject harmful misinformation.