A new report from the Therapeutic Goods Administration has shed light on the death of a 48-year-old Australian woman, who died four days after receiving the AstraZeneca jab.
The review conducted by the Vaccine Safety Investigation Group said a woman from NSW's Central Coast suffered an extensive thromboembolic event resulting in blood clots in the arteries and veins and later died in hospital. The ABC has identified the woman as 48-year-old Genene Norris.
Norris is the third Australian case of clots following the rollout AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been administered over 885,000 times across Australia. The first two cases are currently recovering in hospital.
A statement released by the family said the 48-year-old was a "fun, loving and happy character".
"Everyone who knew Genene talks of her fun loving, happy character and her sense of service to those around her. Genene's devotion to our family was deep and gave her much joy," a Norris family statement read.
"Her passing leaves a gaping void in our family. We cannot believe that this time last week she was with us and now she is gone.
"We want to thank the medical staff who did everything they could to save Genene. Currently, we know as much as the public knows as further medical investigations need to take place.
"We thank you for your understanding and respect for our privacy as we grieve our profound loss."
Experts said the review "was complicated by the patient's underlying medical conditions, including diabetes, some other medical conditions as well as some atypical features".
"The overall number of reports received for blood clots following vaccination so far has been no higher than the expected background rate for the more common type of blood clots in Australia," the review, released on Friday night, stated.
"These can occur in around 50 Australians every day separate to vaccination and are not related to the very rare TTS clotting disorder."
Professor John Skerritt of the Therapeutic Good Association said conditions that put people at risk to the thromboembolic reaction are very rare, at a rate of one in 300,000 in Australia.
"Clearly, we can't describe too many issues relating to the lady's clinical conditions for reasons of personal privacy," he said in a Saturday press conference.
"As the minister indicated, she was isolated before the decision and the announcement by government that the Pfizer vaccine was preferred over 50.
"There were these antibodies that normally cause the platelets to drop down in number. These antibodies were missing in (Norris') case. It was an atypical case and this issue is being further examined."
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the news shouldn't deter Australians from getting the vaccine, reminding the nation of its "fortunate position" in comparison with other areas of the world.
"To see those global case numbers rise above 800,000 on some days and 700,000 on many days at the moment, reminds us that we are in a safe and fortunate position that cannot be presumed or guaranteed and that is why vaccination remains so important and we have put the medical advice and safety above all else," he said.
Experts in the field have been quick to respond to the growing fears over vaccine side effects.
Professor of Infectious Diseases at the Australian National University Sanjaya Senanayake called for calm, saying the relatively low risk of clotting should not be a deterrent against taking vaccine at this stage.
"At this stage we haven't found a pre-existing condition that can be linked to a risk of clotting," Senanayake told ABC News Saturday morning.
"The short answer is no. Things might change in a week's time. At this stage we haven't made a recommendation for people who have received clots before to avoid the vaccine."
Comparatively, Europe has recorded 86 cases of clotting from over 25 million vaccinations.
Senanayake also made clear the fact that Covid-19 "often causes clotting" at a rate far higher than those currently recorded from the vaccine.
"The government was pointing to a study from Oxford University pointing out that Covid-19 often causes clotting as well. In fact, a much higher chance of clotting from what we know than the AstraZeneca vaccine may for people under 50. Does that change the calculation at all?" he continued.
"If you are in ICU for Covid, you have a one in four chance of developing clots."
Dr. Daniel Gregson, associate professor at the University of Calgary's Cumming School of Medicine, said most people are "much better off with a vaccine" but suggested dropping the age for the AstraZeneca to as low as 35.
"Certainly based on risks, most people are much better off with a vaccine," Dr Gregson said via Yahoo News.
"You can certainly drop it easily to 45, if not 35."
Australia will not give the AstraZeneca vaccine to most people under 50 following confirmation of a "rare but serious risk" of fatal blood clots, the Prime Minister confirmed last week.
Wherever possible, under 50s will only get the Pfizer vaccine.
The change in advice follows a number of blood clots that have occurred in a small number of younger people after receiving the vaccine.
"The use of the Pfizer vaccine is preferred over the AstraZeneca vaccine in adults aged less than 50 years who have not already received the first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine," chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly during a snap.
The VSIG recommends people seek immediate medical attention if, a few days after vaccination, they develop symptoms such as:
- A severe or persistent headache or blurred vision
- Shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling or persistent abdominal pain,
- Unusual skin bruising and/or pinpoint round spots beyond the site of injection.