Some doctors are telling young Australians to cancel their Covid-19 vaccine bookings and warning AstraZeneca will not be given to those aged under 40 because Scott Morrison’s comments on Monday do not accord with expert medical advice.
The prime minister blindsided doctors with yet another change to the government’s approach to AstraZeneca on Monday night, allowing those under the age of 40 to volunteer for the vaccine at GP clinics.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners said it was given “no warning” of the announcement and was “scrambling” to work out what it meant for patients, while the Australian Medical Association said it would continue to endorse the advice of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (Atagi) – that Pfizer was the preferred vaccine for under-60s.
The Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, also encouraged governments to follow the Atagi advice, while both the Western Australian premier, Mark McGowan, and the Victorian health minister, Martin Foley, said that opening eligibility for AstraZeneca jabs to people under 40 was not a decision of national cabinet.
The confusing messaging, though, did not stop younger Australians like Jay Moran, of Canberra, from acting on long-held enthusiasm for the jab.
“I was very confused about what [Morrison] said, I couldn’t work out whether or not he was telling me I was eligible or not,” Moran said on Tuesday. “But it became clear overnight and first thing this morning that that was a possibility, so the second the GP clinic I attend regularly opened, I called them.”
After some initial confusion from the GP clinic, Moran was able to book to receive an AstraZeneca vaccine on Wednesday. She said she was excited to act on her “vaccine impatience”.
But late on Tuesday afternoon, she received an email from the clinic, which said it would not be providing anyone under the age of 60 the vaccine. It asked her to cancel the appointment and rebook if the advice changed.
“You have booked in to discuss the AstraZeneca vaccination based on the comments the prime minister made this morning [sic],” the email said.
“The current advice from the Australian Technical Group on Immunisation is that AZ vaccine should be given to patients over the age of 60. Pfizer vaccine is recommended for those under the age of 60.
“We will be adhering to that advice and will not be giving AZ vaccine to those under the age of 60, so if you wish to cancel your appointment please do so. You may rebook with us if this advice changes.”
Moran, who wanted the vaccine before travelling to a remote Indigenous community for research, said she was left “an absolute mess”.
“I was so excited,” she said. “With no timeline for Pfizer for my age group, I feel particularly let down by the false hope.”
Her husband was booked in for an AstraZeneca dose with the same clinic. He received the same email.
The pushback from doctors was not isolated. Others on Twitter said they had received similar advice.
The AMA told Guardian Australia it had not issued any directive to its members to cancel existing bookings for those under 40.
“We’ve not put out any direction to members,” the AMA president, Dr Omar Khorshid, said. “We do support the Atagi position, but we also recognise that people can make their own health decisions.
“It may just be that [the doctors] are trying to wait and get guidance because this announcement was a little bit out of the blue.”
Other young Australians, though, had no issue booking in for the AstraZeneca on Tuesday.
Patrick Bignante, of Sydney, searched Google for nearby GP clinics, found one offering AstraZeneca, and booked immediately, managing to secure an appointment for Friday.
“It’s been my intention to get vaccinated since the pandemic commenced, basically, because really the only way to get past this is to immunise oneself,” Bignante said.
“As soon as what I call ‘the marketing guy’ came out last night and said ‘we’re opening it up to under-40s’, my first thought was ‘yeah, brilliant, I’ll book myself in’.”
Bignante has not been asked to rebook.
GP clinics in Melbourne were also reporting a significant surge in demand.
Dr Shea Wilcox said his team in Brunswick East had vaccinated about 30 people aged under 40 on Tuesday and had another 50 booked for Wednesday.
“There’s been strong interest from young people who are keen to be vaccinated,” he said. “We didn’t expect [the announcement], however I certainly welcome it and I feel like people in the younger age brackets will also feel quite relieved that they can now access these vaccinations.”
He said the Morrison announcement on Monday was “not as clear as we would have liked”.
“There was still some uncertainty from people who were seeking further information from us today, which does put more of a load on us to explain,” he said.
Dr Matthew Cardone, a GP in Tweed Heads, said he had seen a slight uptick in appointments, but said that may have been driven by fears of the Delta variant.
He said his clinic had learned of the change “in real-time” as it appeared on the news.
“It’s frustrating, we just need clear, early messaging so we can be prepared to pivot with the program as it evolves,” he said. “That’s not happening.”