Strict vaccine advertising rules don't stop doctors from having patient conversations: TGA

The first shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines arrives in Australia. Picture: Getty Images
The first shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines arrives in Australia. Picture: Getty Images

Doctors across Australia will still be able to tell patients exactly which coronavirus vaccine they are getting, despite a ban on advertising the jabs by brand.

While the government announced it would start the next phase of the public advertising plan for the vaccine rollout this week, the medical regulator has quietly told doctors there are strict rules about their own advertising.

General practices and pharmacists involved in the coronavirus vaccine rollout are banned from using "self-developed" advertising about the vaccines, and face fines if they advertise the brand of vaccine available, compare different vaccines, offer incentives for being vaccinated or make statements implying one vaccine is superior to the other.

Despite early reports the Pfizer vaccine was more effective against the virus than the AstraZeneca vaccine, the government has assured Australians the advertising rules are simply business as usual.

"The purpose of these guidelines is provide additional clarity to healthcare professionals on the existing protocols for proactive communications and advertising for prescription medicines and vaccines," a spokeswoman for the Therapeutic Goods Administration said.

"Vaccines are prescription medicines and therefore ordinarily cannot be advertised to consumers."

The guidelines were issued to assist those involved in the rollout "understand how they can lawfully advertise COVID-19 vaccines to the public along with additional information without contravening the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989".

The medicines regulator stressed the guidelines didn't limit conversations between doctors and patients about the vaccines, and which option was more appropriate depending on existing medical conditions.

Australian Medical Association vice-president Chris Moy said the advertising decision was consistent with existing rules around advertising for prescription medications.

Patients would not be left in the dark about which vaccine they would be administered, and doctors were not banned from talking about it, he said.

"This is core to maintaining trust in vaccines. What is important is the information provided to the public is consistent," Dr Moy said.

"It prevents the possibility that advertising practices may inadvertently add incentives to come to a particular practice, or to indicate some superiority and denigrate another practice at the same time."

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Almost 30,000 Australians received their first vaccination last week, including 8110 aged care and disability care residents. The program is set to ramp up from March 8, after the biggest shipment of coronavirus vaccine doses to arrive in Australia so far touched down in Sydney on Sunday morning.

Some 300,000 AstraZeneca doses were delivered, the first of almost 54 million doses of the product to be part of the rollout.

The vaccine rollout started last week with the Pfizer vaccine, of which Australia has ordered 20 million doses.

Fifty-million doses of the AstraZeneca jab would be manufactured in Australia through a licensing agreement with pharmaceutical giant CSL, but the first doses have been imported from Europe.

Australia's medicines regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, will batch test the vaccines before they are made available to states and territories starting March 8.

Of the 300,000 doses arriving on Sunday, 200,000 would be released to the states and territories next week. An extra 50,000 Pfizer vaccines have been made available to the states and territories for this week's vaccine rollout.

"The University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will undergo the same rigorous TGA process to batch check the vaccine that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine underwent," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

"We will now be able to scale up the vaccination rollout to our priority groups, including our most vulnerable Australians and to our frontline border and health workers."

The shipment will allow the vaccine rollout to increase in speed, as most Australians are set to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, which requires ultra cold storage, the AstraZeneca vaccine can be stored in standard fridges, making it easier to be used in rural and remote parts of the country.

"The cold chain requirements of this vaccine - it can be stored and handled in the same way as any other vaccine - make it a very good candidate for a country like Australia," Health Minister Greg Hunt said.

"As well, vaccine providers can use some of the vaccine vial, put the rest back in the fridge for 48 hours and use the rest the next day."

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This story Strict vaccine advertising rules don't stop doctors from having patient conversations: TGA first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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