Date published: 
6 April 2021
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

KARL STEFANOVIC:             

It's a case of one step forward two steps back for Australia's vaccine roll-out at the moment.

LEILA MCKINNON:               

A boost in capacity, overshadowed by news this morning pharmacists won't start administering the jab until June; and fresh safety concerns surrounding the AstraZeneca vaccine. For more, let's bring in Acting Chief Medical Officer, Professor Michael Kidd, in Canberra. Professor, there doesn't seem to be a day goes by where this isn't a problem with this roll-out.

MICHAEL KIDD:                    

Well, I think actually, as you mentioned, we got very good news this week. Last week we had 1500 general practices, Aboriginal health services. and Commonwealth-funded GP-led respiratory clinics rolling out the vaccine, delivering record numbers each day. This week- over this week we'll be increasing that number, so by the end of the week we'll have over 3,000 sites where people will be able to receive the vaccine, and that will increase to over 4000 sites over the next few weeks.

The mention about the pharmacists - pharmacies are part of phase 2a, and as you mentioned that's not expected to commence until the middle of the year. At the moment, we're still rolling out phase 1b and this is to the priority populations, the people who are most at risk of developing severe disease if they were to contract COVID-19.

KARL STEFANOVIC:             

Okay. So pharmacists won't administer the jab now until June. What does that mean for the vaccine targets?

MICHAEL KIDD:                    

Well, the vaccine targets continue, and I understand that the National Cabinet will be looking at this this week so I'm not going to pre-empt any discussion there. But we are looking, obviously, at significant increasing the number of vaccines being delivered. We now have over 2.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the CSL facility, which have been produced. Much of that has already gone through its batch testing and is being distributed out to the general practices and other sites. And much of that of course is now in people's arms, thanks to more than 10,000 people who are involved in rolling out this vaccine program to their fellow Australians.

LEILA MCKINNON:               

Okay Professor, you've done a good job of outlining the positives but we are behind our own schedule, and we are lagging behind the rest of the world. What can we do to improve our situation with the vaccine to meet some targets? And, are mass vaccination sites completely off the agenda?

MICHAEL KIDD:                   

Okay. So a couple of, couple of issues there. The mass vaccination sites are not off the agenda, particularly as we move into phase 2a. There are discussions with each of the states and territories as to how we best meet the needs of their specific populations to make sure that nobody who wishes to receive this vaccine is going to miss out on receiving the vaccine.

As you know, we've discussed this before, we have had problems with vaccine supply from overseas - over 3 million doses of the overseas AstraZeneca vaccine which was contracted to arrive in Australia by now, has not arrived in Australia. But fortunately, as I've mentioned, we have the CSL facility of course now rolling out millions of doses.

KARL STEFANOVIC:             

Okay. Yesterday, you weren't able to answer how many doses CSL was currently producing a week. Are you able to now? Are you able to give us some clarity on all of that?

MICHAEL KIDD:                    

So, my understanding is that they're rolling out many hundreds of thousands of doses each week. And as I've said, we've now had 2.5 million doses which have been delivered. Also, we are continuing to receive a secure supply of the Pfizer vaccine from overseas - that of course is being used in the roll-out into Phase 1a, into the residential aged-care facilities and disability facilities.

KARL STEFANOVIC:             

Okay. Just to- So again, just to clarify - I'm sorry, to- this must be a nuisance for to you answer - but 2.5 have been rolled out. How many have been administered?

MICHAEL KIDD:                    

So I can't give you the exact figures of how many doses have been administered, because we had more doses administered yesterday. The Minister advised on Sunday that 840,000 doses had been administered, but of course, we had clinics operating through the day on Easter Monday yesterday. And thanks to all those people who are working on the public holiday to keep the vaccine roll-out happening. We'll have access to those figures later today, about how many additional doses have been delivered.

LEILA MCKINNON:               

Okay. Let's play for you a comment made by Melbourne GP, Dr Todd Cameron, who we had on the show a little earlier.

[Excerpt]

TODD CAMERON:                

The TGA has said that doctors across the board are not to discuss this, the same regulations that sit around all other medicines in Australia - again, in itself, fair enough. But the problem is that we need the, we need the Federal Government to step into the void and actually be fairly transparent with exactly what's going on, and asking people's questions. Because otherwise that, that work rests on a million different conversations in general practice offices.

[End of excerpt]

LEILA MCKINNON:               

Right. So people are asking doctors on the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and they're sort of not- being told not to answer. Is it safe? And, and can doctors talk to patients about it?

MICHAEL KIDD:                    

So, I'm not aware of any doctor being told not to talk about it with their patients. It's absolutely essential that people, when they're receiving their vaccine - as when they receive any other vaccine or any other medicine - do so with the information that they need to make an informed decision. We have information on the health.gov.au website about the concerns about the blood-clotting disorder which has been linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine. Obviously we're still waiting for more advice as to how strong that linkage actually is, but that information is up there on health.gov.au.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation has issued updated information over the weekend. The Australian Government consent form, which people are encouraged to use before they receive the vaccine, contains that information as well.

LEILA MCKINNON:               

Okay.

MICHAEL KIDD:                    

So, we are- obviously, over the weekend we've been working with the regulators overseas to get further information. But it is really important to put this in perspective. At the moment, it looks like the risk of these very serious side effects is one to two per million people receiving the vaccine. The risk of dying from COVID-19 is one to two per hundred, if we get another serious outbreak.

KARL STEFANOVIC:             

Okay. I note too, with interest, Britain's health regulator this morning is considering a proposal to restrict the use of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in younger people over concerns about rare blood clots. Will we be doing the same here?

MICHAEL KIDD:                    

Well, certainly, we will be meeting with the regulators in the UK over the next 24 hours to discuss what definitive decision they actually make. And, as I said, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation is going to be meeting again tomorrow to review the advice for Australia.

KARL STEFANOVIC:             

Really good to talk to you, Professor.

LEILA MCKINNON:               

Yeah.

KARL STEFANOVIC:             

There's a lot of balls in the air at the moment, and we appreciate it. Yeah.

LEILA MCKINNON:               

It's not easy, yeah. Thank you for coming on the show.

KARL STEFANOVIC:             

Thanks for your time and we'll talk to you, hopefully, tomorrow again.

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