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Interview with Kieran Gilbert on Sky News about coronavirus (COVID-19)

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's interview with Kieran Gilbert on Sky News about coronavirus (COVID-19).

The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Former Minister for Health and Aged Care

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Let’s go live on the phone to Health Minister Greg Hunt. Minister, we found out this news overnight, it’s encouraging, isn’t it?


It is. We’ve been informed by AstraZeneca that the Oxford-AstraZeneca trial has been cleared by the independent medical expert panel and also cleared by the British medical regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency, their equivalent of our Therapeutic Goods Administration or the US FDA. And so they’ve recommenced the trial. It then goes through a similar process in other countries, but nobody’s expecting any barriers.

So this is an ordinary part of a safeguards process wherever there’s an adverse event and people don’t know at the time of the event whether it’s related to the vaccine or not. And it’s obviously been cleared by the independent expert panel, cleared by the regulatory agency in the UK, and the vaccine trial continues.


So, if anything, this episode should give us more faith in the process because of the caution taken.


I think that’s absolutely right. We have one of the strongest universities in  the world in Oxford, one of the strongest medicines companies in the world in AstraZeneca, and one of the strongest regulatory agencies in terms of the British MHRA, all of which provide safeguards, process, confidence.

For us, number one is safety that trumps everything. And so we’re following in intense detail the processes, the progress. The critical thing is that the vaccine in its trials, a paper published in the Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals two months ago indicated that there were very strong antibody and T-cell immune responses to the Oxford vaccine.

We’ve seen a similar degree of progress with the University of Queensland vaccine, albeit at an earlier stage in its development. So these are very heartening steps for Australia, for Australians and for the road out.


And when you look at this situation, you touched on it earlier, but when you’ve got so many people involved in the stage three vaccine trial, this sort of pause is almost inevitable.


Absolutely. What we see is that the trials are set up so if there is any adverse event, it’s paused, determined whether it’s vaccine related or not. When you have, ultimately there will be about 50,000 people on the advice we have from Oxford University who are enrolled in the trial, and the ordinary course of life means that they have health events.

And what we have here is the absolute highest medical standard. One of the other things is sometimes people talk about the lead time on vaccines, understandably and importantly. Every year we have a new flu vaccine, and so that’s been developed, that’s been tested, that’s been secured and made safe.

So we are able to do two critical things: develop and test safely vaccines in a rapid manner because the flu mutates every year. Secondly, we’re able to roll out those vaccinations on a major scale across Australia using our general practice network and our pharmacy network as well as other means of distributing. So we’re well-prepared on both of those fronts.


But there is cause for optimism this Sunday morning? I know you’re being cautious about it. A bit more optimistic in recent weeks, and that there is a cause for optimism today that we could have a vaccine rolling out early next year?


Yes, absolutely. There is genuine cause for hope and optimism for Australians on the path to a vaccine. We have been very cautious, the Prime Minister, myself, Josh Frydenberg, Brendan Murphy is the head of the medical expert panel, Paul Kelly is the Chief Medical Officer. And that’s why we were able to look very carefully before choosing our vaccine candidate.

Australia has the extraordinary asset of the CSL manufacturing capability in Victoria. That capability gives us the opportunity to look very carefully at the world’s leading vaccines, to choose them once the evidence is there.

That’s the process we’ve been through. But we’ll continue to review the evidence, but each day I’m quietly becoming more hopeful and more optimistic about the prospect for vaccines for Australians in the first half of 2021 with the earliest available in the first quarter of 2021.


That is great news. Just finally, before you go this Sunday I want to ask you about the Victorian situation. The numbers are improving but is the testing and tracing up to it for a relaxation of the restrictions?


The numbers are improving. The testing in Victoria has been uniformly excellent throughout, as it has been in all eight states and territories. There’s a little bit more in terms of testing numbers that we’d like to see in WA and Tasmania, although they’re doing extraordinarily well. But, all up, eight states and territories have done brilliantly on that.

The contact tracing, we know that there were challenges, significant challenges in Victoria. It’s improved significantly.

There’s more to be done, but this week they announced the very things that we were proposing at federal level and have been for some time in terms of digitisation, local public health units and working with New South Wales. All those three things are on the way.

What that does is it increases the capacity to deal with outbreaks and it therefore increases the ability to give people back hope, to give people back freedoms of movement and therefore to support their mental health.

In short, the modellers from the University of Melbourne said yesterday that their model shouldn’t be used to justify zero cases as the basis for the road map, and they’ve encouraged Victoria to redo the road map.

And I think that the improvements in contact tracing and the statements from the University of Melbourne mean we really have the opportunity now to work with Victoria, for them to work with the business community, the academic and medical communities and the Commonwealth, to redo the road map, to have achievable targets which will help people with their mental health and their social wellbeing and their economic wellbeing.


I think that would be applauded by many across Victoria and Melbourne, particularly. Thanks for that, Minister, I appreciate it.


All the best, Kieran.

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