explainer

'I'm 34, and this is why this week I got the AstraZeneca vaccine.'

Hi everyone! I’m Kelly, I’m 34 years old, and I’ve just received my first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

The old ‘Ay-Zee’, as I like to call it, is pretty controversial, with good reason, and that’s why I’ve opened like I’m confessing a dirty secret to a support group. 

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) recommends the COVID-19 vaccine by Pfizer is the preferred in adults aged under 60 years, however accessing it is another story (at least in Queensland, where I live). 

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Even if you fall into one of the eligible categories, I’ve heard it’s pretty hit-and-miss when it comes to getting your hands on one, with limited Pfizer stocks available. 

I’ve been patiently waiting for my age bracket to be added to the VIP list, but it was looking unlikely it would happen anytime soon. 

So, when the Prime Minister announced the AstraZeneca vaccine would be available to anyone under 60 who asked for it, my interest was piqued—even more so when Brisbane went into a snap lockdown last Tuesday.

Now just to be clear, it isn’t recommended that people under 60 get the AZ—in fact many, including the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Dr Jeanette Young are opposed to it—Scott Morrison simply announced that GPs administering the vaccine to anyone under 60 who asks for it would be covered under a new no-fault indemnity scheme.  

No, that isn’t comforting and the mixed messages are very confusing, especially when you see that the United Kingdom again has different recommendations, with only those under 30 being offered alternative vaccines. 

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It comes down to benefit versus risk, and of course as it stands, the chances of contracting COVID-19 - let along dying from it - is very low in Australia, whereas in the UK, the risk of the very rare blood clotting side effect associated with the AZ is very small when compared with the risk of contracting COVID-19. 

This rare, yet serious side effect is called thrombosis in combination with thrombocytopenia (TTC), which may occur in around 4-6 people in every million after receiving the vaccination, with the risk slightly higher in the under 60 and under 50 age ranges. 

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Before I stubbornly went ahead and got jabbed, I did a lot of reading. 

I’m not brilliant with numbers, but I could accept that the risk was very low, and that I do far riskier things every day without a second thought.

To make my final decision, I had to really think about what I’m most anxious about, and the potential 3 in 100,000 risk of developing clots wasn’t high up on my list. 

Dying from COVID-19 isn’t either, but everything that comes with contracting the virus—extended time out of work, unknown long-term side effects, passing it on to other people who may be more vulnerable—is.

I think like most people, I just want our society to be able to get back on with life, and the quicker everyone is vaccinated, the quicker that will happen. 

So, I went back to the advice I’d heard given to the over 50s and over 60s previously: "The best vaccine is the one that’s available to you right now."

Once I had decided to get it, it didn’t take long to find a GP clinic near me offering the shot, and I was booked in that very afternoon.

I had to sign a consent form and confirm with a doctor that I understood this wasn’t the preferred vaccine for me, and I was good to go. 

With so much build up, it was a weirdly anticlimactic experience, but I felt quite relieved once it was over. 

That was on Friday, and despite a few of the commonly-reported side effects—chills, tiredness, sore arm—over the weekend, I feel fine. 

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Knowing that this time in 12 weeks I’ll be fully vaccinated against this beast that has taken so much of the past 18 months from us feel like a win. 

I understand it isn’t the choice everyone would or should make (in fact, I actually received an abusive DM on Instagram from a man who was very indignant about my choice, and my mum was pretty mad too), but I’ve seen a number of under-40s posting on social media about getting the AstraZeneca in the last week (hi, Andy Lee!), and I think that number will grow unless management find some more Pfizer out the back. 

My hope is that the Australian Government can somehow get this absolute disaster of a vaccine rollout back on track (or on a track at all) so others get a choice in the matter and we can start living as one country again, rather than divided states. 

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