Annastacia Palaszczuk has posted an upbeat video on social media thanking Queenslanders for getting vaccinated – a day after the Premier was accused of irresponsibly putting the rollout in jeopardy to score political points against the federal government.
Ms Palaszczuk posted the 23-second video, which prominently shows a Pfizer vaccine being administered, to Twitter early on Thursday morning.
“Thanks for getting vaccinated, Queensland,” she wrote.
In one, Ms Palaszczuk falsely claimed that the UK was refusing to offer AstraZeneca to under-40s.
The advice on AstraZeneca in the UK is that anyone aged under 40 should be offered an alternative vaccine, but if no alternatives are available it is better to have it than to delay getting vaccinated.
She also falsely claimed that the federal government was planning to establish mass vaccination centres to give AstraZeneca to under-40s.
“I think the Commonwealth was looking at setting up mass vaccination hubs to administer AstraZeneca to the under-40s,” she said. “I mean this is extraordinary.”
A spokesman for the federal government told The Sydney Morning Herald the claim was categorically false, as mass vaccination clinics are run by state governments.
“That is absolutely incorrect and it is unclear what the Queensland Premier is basing that claim upon,” the spokesman said.
The 7.30 interview came after an extraordinary press conference earlier in the day where Ms Palaszczuk and Queensland chief health officer Jeannette Young slammed Prime Minister Scott Morrison for suggesting that under-40s could get the AstraZeneca shot.
The PM made the announcement on Monday night after an emergency national cabinet meeting, where state and territory leaders agreed to provide GPs indemnity for any adverse vaccine reactions in a bid to accelerate Australia’s glacially slow rollout that experts say has left the country vulnerable to the latest outbreak of the Delta variant.
Only 7.5 per cent of the adult population has been fully vaccinated, with concerns over a rare blood clotting disorder linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine – which has killed two people in Australia – and limited supply of Pfizer contributing to the delays.
Australia has some 2.6 million unused doses of AstraZeneca.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Ms Palaszczuk attacked Mr Morrison and said national cabinet had never agreed to providing under-40s the AstraZeneca shot.
She said the advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and Dr Young had not changed – that under-40s should be offered alternatives to AstraZeneca “due to a link with rare blood clots”.
“At the moment, the advice is for people aged 40 to 59 to get Pfizer, and people 60 and over to get AstraZeneca,” she said.
“There has been no national cabinet decision about AstraZeneca being given to under-40s.”
Dr Young said she did not want any young Queenslanders dying from the “rare clotting syndrome” when they were at little risk from Covid-19.
“We’ve seen up to 49 deaths in the UK from that syndrome,” she said.
“I don’t want an 18-year-old in Queensland dying from a clotting illness who, if they got Covid, probably wouldn’t die. We’ve had very few deaths due to Covid-19 in Australia in people under the age of 50, and wouldn’t it be terrible that our first 18-year-old in Queensland who dies related to this pandemic died because of the vaccine?”
Speaking on Seven’s Sunrise on Thursday morning, former deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth took aim at Dr Young.
“Nearly every medical leader – Omar Khorshid of the AMA, the President of the College of GPs, myself – distanced themselves from Dr Young’s comments yesterday,” Dr Coatsworth said.
“She’s unfortunately out on a very lonely limb there.”
Dr Coatsworth said young Australians who contract Covid-19 could end up in intensive care units and “do have a risk of dying”.
“And that risk is higher than the risk of the clotting complications from the AstraZeneca vaccine,” he said.
“Those stats have been replicated around the world. It’s very hard to combat the emotional argument of the risk of death from a vaccine. That is very hard to (combat) with cold, hard facts. But sometimes you need to. And the facts are that the risk of dying from an AstraZeneca vaccine is less than one in a million.”
Dr Coatsworth said people “need to have a choice”.
“If they’ve assessed that risk, then they’re perfectly entitled to choose as an adult, as a consenting adult, to have the AstraZeneca vaccine,” he said.
He stressed that both Pfizer and AstraZeneca were licensed for people over 18, but that Pfizer was preferred for under-60s.
“That doesn’t mean, and has never meant, that the AstraZeneca is in some way banned for use in the under-60s,” he said.
“So the advice actually hasn’t changed. I think what did change was that the federal government offered indemnity, so stopping GPs from getting sued in the very, very unlikely event that there was an adverse outcome or a bad side effect from the AstraZeneca vaccine. That’s what’s changed.”
He conceded that “maybe the messaging wasn’t as clear as it could have been”.
“But fundamentally, the change wasn’t a big one,” he said. “It was about protecting doctors and allowing patients choice.”
While other state leaders including NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and WA Premier Mark McGowan later supported their Queensland counterpart, the forcefulness of the comments from Ms Palaszczuk and Dr Young drew criticism.
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“Whatever the merits of the specific advice, it is utterly outrageous for a leader to suggest that promoting vaccination in a global pandemic is ‘risking the safety of our young Australians’,” said Professor Mark Stears from the University of Sydney Policy Lab.
“This is the politics of Trump not of responsible government.”
Labor strategist Kosmos Samaras from Redbridge Group said he was “shocked that a Labor Premier is doing this”.
“The stats do not support this horrendous campaign against a vaccine that has saved entire nations from this pandemic,” he said. “This narrative about under-40s is made up.”
Podcast host and journalist Osman Faruqi wrote, “Australia seriously at a point where health officials would prefer lockdowns and young people getting Covid rather than vaccinated. It’s easy to say everyone has lost the plot but this is actually where things have been heading for a while. And it’s absolutely bipartisan.”
Former Australian Human Rights Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane wrote, “The Queensland chief medical officer right now has indicated she’d much rather have people under 40 unvaccinated and contract Covid than to have them get AstraZeneca. Because of rare blood clots. This is not a polemical question – has the public health establishment lost the plot?”
Speaking on Nine’s Today on Wednesday morning, Health Minister Greg Hunt agreed that Pfizer was still the “preferred vaccine” for under-40s.
“That’s what has been received from the expert body and that remains the case,” he said.
“It’s always been the position that people under that could, nevertheless, access the AstraZeneca through what’s called informed consent.”