Doorstop Interview at the Sydney International Airport - Flu Pandemic
Doorstop Interview, by the Minister for Health and Ageing, Tony Abbott at the Sydney International Airport regarding Flu Pandemic.
View by date:Previous Ministers
PDF printable version of Doorstop Interview at the Sydney International Airport - Flu Pandemic (PDF 27 KB)
27 October 2005
Okay, fire away.
Are you pleased with the outcomes of the conference?
I am pleased. What's happened is that the countries of the world represented at the conference in Ottawa have recommitted themselves to the fight against bird flu, a potential bird flu pandemic.
There are really two big issues. First, is to try to ensure that bird flu doesn’t escape from birds into humans. And second, what can we do to try to ensure that productions of antivirals and vaccines are speeded up and that the resultant antiviral production and vaccine production is widely available.
So they're the two issues that we're wrestling with, and I think that everyone is much better informed about what each country is doing and what needs to be done in the weeks and months ahead.
Is the mutation for human to human transmission inevitable?
No, it's not. It’s certainly not inevitable. It's not even probable in the next couple of years, but it certainly is a possibility. And that's why we're taking such strenuous precautions against it.
Your decision to stock Tamiflu for use for its preventative qualities for emergency services staff have been criticised. Other countries are stockpiling (indistinct) immediate treatment for sufferers. So, how do you respond to that?
Well, the draft pandemic plan currently proposes that 10 per cent of the stockpile will be used for treatment. 90 per cent will be used for prophylaxis or protection of essential service workers.
Now, it's a draft and the plan is constantly evolving as better information comes to hand. Certainly all early cases of any pandemic outbreak of bird flu would receive antiviral treatment, and depending upon the effectiveness of the antiviral treatment, we will then reconsider whether we should keep using it for prophylaxis or instead swing to a treatment strategy.
In the event of a pandemic, the experts are saying anywhere from 44,000 to two million Australians could be affected and could potentially die. So by only keeping 10 per cent (inaudible) treatment are you (inaudible) sufferers (inaudible)?
No, absolutely not, absolutely not. We have a very large stockpile. On a per capita basis, our antiviral stockpile is larger than any other country's on earth.
We will certainly, most definitely, be treating all early cases, and depending upon the results, we will reconsider our future options. But the fact of the matter is, we will be treating people who get any pandemic outbreak with antivirals.
Those predictions of up to two million Australians (inaudible)?
I'm not aware of any predictions of those sorts of numbers. My department has produced some estimates based on the model provided by the Centre for Disease Control, which is probably the most sophisticated model that we currently have, and the high estimate on that model is 44,000 deaths. So anyone who suggests that larger number is not dealing with credible government estimates.
The private sector is looking at (inaudible) to cash in on fears about the bird flu. One company's doubled production of masks and the like. Would you caution against people being sucked into that?
I'm certainly pleased that people are now taking this issue seriously, even though it's by no means a certainty or even a probability, it is a distinct possibility and we need to take prudent precautions against all reasonably foreseeable contingencies. So I'm pleased that the whole health sector, if you like, is now taking reasonable precautions and certainly I'm pleased to see various companies that are producing things that might be useful in the event of a pandemic increasing their production.
One of the (inaudible) responses to a pandemic flagged at the conference was the closure of borders.
Could that happen here, would we close borders to interstate (inaudible).
In the 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic, state governments certainly did close their borders against each other. Whether we would do so in any future outbreak would depend upon our scientific assessment of the effectiveness of any such action at actually stopping people from catching the disease.
So in all of the decisions that we would make, we would be guided by the best available science.
You can't rule anything out, but you certainly can't assume that the most drastic scenario would come to pass. Certainly the best way of ensuring that you don’t get infected with something like this, in the absence of an effective vaccine, would be isolation. And obviously there would be a place in the isolation strategy for some kind of restrictions on movement and gathering.
The Opposition has said that you haven't been open and transparent with the people about what may occur in the event of a bird flu (inaudible).
Oh, I think it's just a bit of politicking by them. The government has been making announcements and statements on this topic since February of last year. I've just given a major paper on Australia's country preparedness to a conference in Ottawa. I can't remember how many interviews I've now given on this topic. I have been as open and as accessible and as informative as is humanly possible to be on this issue. And so have senior officials of my department and the Chief Medical Officer of the Commonwealth.
Some fingers have been pointed at the company that produced the Tamiflu. Is that unfair?
I think it is. As far as I'm aware they have increased their production as quickly as possible to meet demand and they are in the process of concluding licensing agreements with other companies which may be in a position to produce that particular antiviral.
Okay. Very good, thanks a lot.
When accessing large documents (over 500 KB in size), it is recommended that the following procedure be used:
- Click the link with the RIGHT mouse button
- Choose "Save Target As.../Save Link As..." depending on your browser
- Select an appropriate folder on a local drive to place the downloaded file
Attempting to open large documents within the browser window (by left-clicking)
may inhibit your ability to continue browsing while the document is
opening and/or lead to system problems.
To view PDF (Portable Document Format) documents, you will need to have a PDF reader installed on your computer. A number of PDF readers are available through the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) Web Guide website.