Australian Senator Matt Canavan has called for the country's roll-out of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to be paused alongside much of Europe.
Germany, France, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain have become the latest countries to suspend use of the vaccine over reports of dangerous blood clots in some recipients, though the company, European regulators and the World Health Organisation have said there is no evidence the vaccine is to blame.
Speaking with Sky News, Canavan said there are "serious concerns" that must be looked into. "I don't think all the capitals of Europe have been overtaken by anti-vaccine zealots. There is obviously legitimate concerns here," Canavan said. "I just don't think we can close our eyes to this evidence. The end goal has to be the health and safety of Australians."
There was widespread bipartisan condemnation of Canavan's comments, with many senior politicians saying the vaccine is safe and the rollout would continue as planned.
Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg repeated the World Health Organisation's stance that there was no evidence the AstraZeneca vaccine had caused the blood clots.
"In the case of the United Kingdom, they have already distributed more than 12 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and they haven't seen those trends or patterns across their community," Frydenberg said in an ABC interview today. "It is still the government's intention to roll it out, as we've said."
Australia's chief medical officer Paul Kelly also dismissed Canavan's concerns, telling reporters this afternoon that: "There is no signal … of a link between AstraZeneca and blood clots."
The European Medicines Agency last week said there was "no indication" the blod clots were linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine. That was echoed by the drug maker itself, which said there was no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots and other "thromboembolic" events among 17 million individuals who had already received the shot in the UK and the European Union.
The World Health Organisation has also weighed in, with WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris saying no causal link had been established between the "excellent" shot and the blood clot cases that have emerged.
"It's very important to understand that, yes, we should continue to be using the AstraZeneca vaccine," Harris said.
Paul Griffin, the director of Infectious Diseases at Mater Health Services and Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Queensland said he believed the situation in Europe was an "over-reaction".
"While this is perhaps how these countries prefer to respond, we should make sure we don't overreact in our country and that we continue to make evidence-based decisions based on the available data at hand," he said.
"This vaccine has proven very safe and effective in large clinical trials.
"In fact in clinical trials now exceeding 60,000 participants, some of these events were observed in low numbers but there were actually fewer in the vaccinated group than in those that had not received the vaccine."
There have been no reports of blood clots among those who have already received their first vaccine dose in Australia.