Dr Nick Coatsworth rolls up his sleeve for AstraZeneca jab

By Melissa Coade

Friday July 2, 2021

Nick Coatsworth
Australia’s deputy chief medical officer has revealed via Twitter that he has received his second AstraZeneca shot. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Australia’s former deputy chief medical officer has revealed via Twitter that he has received his second AstraZeneca shot.

In March, Dr Coatsworth used a weekly explainer video published on the federal department of health website, called ‘Top 3 COVID-19 vaccine questions’ to share that he received his first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Video footage of his first jab being administered in the ACT was broadcast on the morning show Today. 

Coatsworth said he was ‘feeling great’ after getting his first shot, and that he experienced a headache and fatigue in the immediate days after getting the jab.

“Some people do get side effects like that. I took some Panadol, recovered perfectly well, and I’m feeling great today,” the infectious diseases and respiratory medicine expert said.

Coatsworth has emerged as the face of the government’s initial vaccination campaign, featuring in television ads as the nation’s trusted, authoritative medical expert.

But the splintering this week among Coatsworth’s former state counterparts on whether the Australian public should listen to the prime minister’s suggestion that people go to their GP to discuss getting the AstraZeneca vaccine, even if they are not in an eligible age category for the shot, has also had him hitting out at the confused expert advice.

“I think the reality of this is, whilst emotion plays into it, we need to perhaps return to the raw facts,” Coatsworth told the ABC this week. 

“Which are, even if you vaccinated every 18-year-old in Queensland with the AstraZeneca vaccine, the chances of any of them dying from [the rare blood clots] is vanishingly low.”

Coatworth’s comments were made in response to the Queensland chief health officer Dr Jeanette Young, who has taken one of the most stringent positions on the AstraZeneca vaccine

Dr Young told a press conference this week that she did not want under 40s seeking out the AstraZeneca vaccine because the current risk of catching COVID-19 in Australia and getting an adverse reaction from the virus for that age group did not outweigh the health risk (a rare blood clotting syndrome) of the AstraZeneca shot.

“No, I do not want under-40s to get AstraZeneca,” Young said.

“Because they are at increased risk of getting — it is rare, but they are at increased risk of getting the rare clotting syndrome,” she said.

“We’ve seen up to 49 deaths in the UK from that syndrome.”

The official advice on AstraZeneca from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) was updated last month, and states that it is the preferred vaccine for people aged 60 and over.

ATAGI’s position is that the Pfizer vaccine, which Australia has a smaller supply of, is the preferred vaccine for people under 60. The Australian government expects its Pfizer stocks to be replenished in October.

ATAGI co-chair Christopher Blyth has also gone on record to clarify that in ‘pressing’ circumstances when Pfizer is not available, the technical groups advice was:

“AstraZeneca can be used in adults aged under 60 years for whom [Pfizer] is not available, the benefits outweigh the risks for that individual and the person has made an informed decision based on an understanding of the risks and benefits.”

In his explainer video, Dr Coatsworth underscored the protective qualities of AstraZeneca and importance of getting a second booster within 12 weeks. 

The important thing to remember about the AstraZeneca vaccine is that it induces protective antibodies in 94% of people within one week of vaccination. So once you get that first jab of the AstraZeneca vaccine, you are protected.

“Then the second vaccine in the AstraZeneca regime is to give you the durability of protection over a long period of time,” Coatsworth said.

The former deputy chief medical officer has previously shared his thoughts about how government messaging during a public health crisis is at risk of being misconstrued by the media.

“The gains that we made in public communication during the pandemic are at risk, partly driven by election cycles, partly driven simply by our reversion to politics as usual, where interpretation of medical advice is becoming once again canalised to political ends,” Coatsworth told a conference of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in May. 

Coatsworth reflected in his speech how a ‘hardcore rump of activist doctors’ that had been against the AstraZeneca vaccine since the beginning of 2021 were on a campaign to misrepresent phase 3 trial data and undermine the national vaccination program.

“The return to politics as usual during a pandemic is inevitable, but a significant risk to our success as a nation. And it is in this environment that we as a profession need to take a leadership position,” Coatsworth said.

“And when I say the profession, I don’t mean our peak bodies like the Australian Medical Association or our Colleges. What I mean is that our entire profession needs to help our community get used to the idea that we will need to open our international borders, and that quarantine must inevitably be modified for vaccinated Australians returning home.”

In the government explainer video (the last multimedia resource uploaded to its website), Coatsworth also gave a shout-out to everybody involved in Australia’s COVID-19 rollout.

“You know, this is one of the largest logistical exercises that Australia has ever undertaken, we need to ensure a level of cooperation that’s not been seen before, between federal, state, health departments, between general practices, between our nursing staff at hospitals, and you, the community.

“It’s going to go as smoothly as we can possibly make it, but there will be hiccups along the way,” he said.

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