By Renju Jose
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia on Thursday ordered an urgent inquiry into findings from Europe's drug regulator of a possible link between AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine and blood clotting.
The European Medicines Agency on Wednesday said it found rare cases of blood clots among some adult vaccine recipients, although it said the vaccine's advantages still outweighed the risks.
"The government has asked (the immunisation advisory group) and (medicines regulator) to immediately consider and advise on the latest vaccination findings out of Europe and the UK," a health ministry spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
Australian regulators have already been working with their international counterparts to consider the latest findings, the spokeswoman said.
The latest findings from the European regulator prompted Britain to recommend that people under 30 should get an alternative coronavirus vaccine, while Italy suggested AstraZeneca shots should only be used on those over 60.
"Those two recommendations will be brought to the table today and looked at in the Australian context," Australia Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
But Kelly said the unusual blood clots among some vaccine recipients were "extremely rare", and that the AstraZeneca doses were safe and effective for most people.
The EU decision could further complicate Australia's immunisation programme, which is more than 80% behind its original schedule, as it relies heavily on the AstraZeneca shots to vaccinate its near 26 million population.
Australian authorities had pledged to administer at least 4 million first doses by the end of March, but could only deliver 670,000. The government blamed supply issues from Europe for the delay.
It is looking to ramp up the immunisation programme from locally produced AstraZeneca vaccines, with 50 million doses set to be produced in Australia by CSL Ltd.
Australia began vaccinations much later than some other countries due to low COVID-19 case numbers, recording just under 29,400 infections and 909 deaths since the pandemic began.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Stephen Coates)