Mixed messages on AstraZeneca could mean ‘lives lost’: Developer

Professor Sarah Gilbert, who developed the AstraZeneca shot, says Australia's mixed messages may cost lives.

Professor Sarah Gilbert, who developed the AstraZeneca shot, says Australia's mixed messages may cost lives. Photo: Getty

Drugs giant AstraZeneca has revealed sales of its COVID-19 vaccine soared to $US1.2 billion ($A1.63 billion) in the first half of 2021 as the global jab program rolled out at pace.

The group, which developed the jab with Oxford University, said vaccine sales more than tripled between the first and second quarters, rocketing from $US275 million to $US894 million in the three months to June 30.

It delivered about 319 million doses worldwide in the first six months of 2021 as the fight against the virus picked up pace. But Astra has pledged not to make a profit from the jab during the pandemic.

News of the surging sales across the globe came as one of the vaccine’s key developers, Professor Sarah Gilbert, said the messaging around the vaccine rollout in Australia could result in “lives lost”.

There have been months of changing guidance and restrictions in Australia around who should receive the British-developed vaccine.

Issues with supply and side-effects such as rare blood-clotting events have led to the vaccine being temporarily suspended in some European countries, and then restricted to certain age groups.

Australia has followed suit, first limiting the AZ to those over 60 years before expanding it to those over 50. With COVID cases surged across Sydney in recent weeks, the advice has changed again – for anyone over 18 to consider getting the shot, and they no longer need to consult a GP before doing so.

Oxford Vaccine Group director Professor Andrew Pollard said the mixed messaging had been “an absolute nightmare”.

“With changing of age, recommendations, over the course of the last six months, that’s really, I think, left some people without vaccine when they could have been vaccinated … and that’s a huge risk to our populations around the world if we get that wrong,” he told the ABC.

Professor Gilbert echoed the concerns.

“I think the problem with that is the messaging that people receive around the vaccination,” she said.

“Because if you’re telling people at some stage, ‘oh, you shouldn’t have this vaccine, it’s probably not the best thing for you’, and then you want to change that message and say, ‘no, we changed our mind, it is good’, I think it makes it difficult for people who are considering whether to get vaccinated and when to get vaccinated.

“It complicates the situation.”

If Australia could accelerate its vaccination program, and save lives, then “it won’t be the greatest public health disaster the country has ever seen”, Professor Gilbert said.

“But the concern is that if people have received the wrong message and are just too worried about going to get vaccine now, that really could have very long-term effects and we could see a lot of lives lost because of it.”

Just a month ago, Professor Gilbert sat in the royal box at Wimbledon, while the crowd offered a standing ovation to her and other health officials for their working during the pandemic.

AstraZeneca supplied more than 80 million doses of its vaccination in the six months to more than 125 countries through the Covax global access initiative, making up more than 90 per cent of Covax supply.

-with AAP

Topics: AstraZeneca
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