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

MICHAEL KIDD: Good afternoon. My name is Professor Michael Kidd. I'm Acting Chief Medical Officer for the Australian Government Department of Health. There've been no new cases of community transmission reported in Australia in the past 24 hours. One historic case has been identified in Queensland and this provides the link which was missing in the first of the two outbreaks that we've seen in Queensland over the past weeks. This is very heartening progress from a potentially major outbreak. By comparison, sadly, over 685,000 new cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the past 24 hours around the world, and over 11,700 lives have been lost in the past 24 hours to COVID-19. It brings the global death toll to over 2.8 million people.

I note yesterday we had almost 75,000 COVID-19 tests carried out in Australia, and a huge thanks to everybody who has come forward for testing over the recent days and especially to people in Queensland and in the north of New South Wales. Australians know how to respond when we have a crisis like this. As a consequence, as Acting Chief Medical Officer, I have removed the Commonwealth hotspot definition for the Greater Brisbane area as of 11.59 PM last night. However, Commonwealth support for asymptomatic testing in the community and support for residential aged care facilities continues.

As of midday yesterday, we had reported that Australians had received over 750,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccines. This includes 74,000 vaccines delivered on Wednesday alone, which is a record for the national COVID-19 vaccination program. This includes over 425,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, with over 133,000 doses of this vaccine having been delivered to people aged under the age of 55 years. We will update these figures further over the weekend once more data is received and collated from around the country. However, we know that well over three quarters of a million doses have now been administered. The rollout continues in residential aged care, with the residents of 881 aged care facilities having received at least one dose and the residents of 312 facilities having received both doses. What we've seen is a tripling of vaccinations in the last two weeks and I thank the tens of thousands of Australians who are involved in the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines. And a special thanks to the many general practitioners and practice nurses who have joined the national program over the past two weeks. As you know, Australia's voluntary vaccination program is currently utilising two vaccines - the Pfizer vaccine and the AstraZeneca vaccine. Over the coming months, we expect to also add the Novavax vaccine and we have the capacity to order doses of other vaccines through our membership of the international COVAX Facility.

You may also be aware of reports that a small number of people, predominantly in the United Kingdom and in some countries of Europe, have presented with a rare clotting disorder following vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine. At this stage, it is still not clear whether this condition is related to the vaccination but further urgent investigation is under way in the United Kingdom and in Europe. Members of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, ATAGI, the Therapeutic Administration, sorry, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, the TGA and the Australian Government Department of Health met early this morning with technical advisory experts and regulators in the United Kingdom to discuss the AstraZeneca vaccine and reports they've had there of clotting disorders and additional discussions are planned for the coming days. One probable case of this clotting disorder has now been recorded in Australia overnight and we are taking this very seriously. This case is currently being investigated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and a meeting will be held tomorrow of the TGA Vaccine Safety Investigation Group, which will examine this report and determine whether it could be linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine.

As throughout the whole of the COVID-19 pandemic, in Australia, we've relied upon our medical experts for advice and guidance to ensure our response to COVID-19 and to support a safe and effective vaccine delivery program. The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, ATAGI, in conjunction with our independent regulator, the TGA, they've been monitoring reports from overseas of these possible clotting disorders occurring four to 20 days after vaccination, including the condition known as central venous spine thrombosis, and they are closely engaged with international colleagues in these discussions. The European Medicines Agency and the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency are investigating these reports. Investigators have not, at this time, confirmed a causal link with the COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccine, however, the investigation is ongoing. Central venous sinus thrombosis is a very rare disorder that is not previously been known to be associated with vaccination, however, it has been noted as a complication of people who have contracted COVID-19. No cases of central venous sinus thrombosis have been reported in Australia to date, in the time period of concern following vaccination - that is within four to 20 days.

In response to these discussions and to the case which we've seen reported today, ATAGI has released a statement to support health professionals in responding to any instances of clotting disorders following vaccine administration. In addition, a statement has been released for anyone receiving or considering receiving vaccination, and the Therapeutic Goods Administration has also released a statement. These statements are available through health.gov.au. The advice from ATAGI is being discussed at a meeting of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, the AHPPC, which I chaired earlier this afternoon with the chief health officers of each of our states and territories and our expert advisers. It's this advice that I wish to share with you now.

People who have received either of the COVID-19 vaccines should be aware of the common side effects, which include fever, sore muscles, tiredness and headache. These symptoms usually start within 24 hours of receiving the vaccine, and they usually last for only one to two days. These side effects are expected and are not of concern, unless the symptoms are severe or persistent. The side effect that concerns us most is the risk of a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, which usually occurs a very short time after vaccination and which is common with several other vaccinations. And this is why everyone receiving a vaccine is required to stay and be monitored for 15 minutes after the vaccination or for longer if they have a past history of serious allergic reactions to vaccines. The reports from overseas of rare clotting disorders have occurred later than this, between day four and day 20, after vaccination and have generally caused severe symptoms requiring hospitalisation. People should be particularly alert to severe persistent headaches occurring 4- 20 days after vaccination and which are different to the usual pattern of headaches that people may experience at other times and which do not settle with paracetamol or other over the counter painkillers. If you receive the AstraZeneca vaccine and you experience symptoms of severe, persistent headache or other worrying symptoms four to 20 days after the vaccine, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible. Anyone attending their general practitioner or a hospital should let the treating doctor or other clinician know the details of which vaccination they have received and when. The AHPPC has today asked for further urgent advice from ATAGI and from the TGA on the case which has been reported this morning. And the AHPPC will be meeting again tomorrow to consider this further advice on the AstraZeneca vaccine. I remind anyone receiving a vaccination over the coming few days that these instances of serious clotting disorders are extremely rare and have occurred in only a very small number of cases.

I now need to use some technical medical language as I also have a request for our nation's healthcare workers, including our nation's general practitioners and doctors working in emergency departments. Please refer to the ATAGI statement published today. Please be aware of the warning signs of this rare but severe condition associated with thrombosis and with thrombocytopenia, a low platelet count. This condition has presented as either a clot appearing in the brain or as thrombosis in other sites, including in the intraabdominal venous systems. If cerebral venous sinus thrombosis or another severe thrombotic complication with thrombocytopenia is suspected in a patient who has received a COVID-19 vaccine, please refer them to an emergency department for further urgent assessment and haematology consultation. As mentioned, the TGA has received only one report of a case of thrombosis and thrombocytopenia following vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine in Australia, but the causal link has not yet been established. That's the message for our nation's healthcare providers.

Finally, I want to reinforce that vaccination against COVID-19 continues to be important in populations at high risk of COVID-19. We continue in Australia to be at risk of another serious outbreak of COVID-19 at a time when most of our population has no immunity from either past infection or from vaccination. We do have low risk of transmission of COVID-19 in Australia at this time, but we are being open about possible risks and acknowledge the uncertainty that this will cause. We are taking this potential risk very seriously, and this is why the AHPPC has asked ATAGI to meet later today to provide additional advice. As I've said, we expect further information to be available tomorrow and further advice from our colleagues in the European Union and United Kingdom over the coming few days. At this time, the risk of serious disease and death from COVID-19, if we experience another severe outbreak, especially among older Australians and those with severe health conditions, is far greater than the very small potential risk of a very rare clotting disorder associated with the vaccine. I acknowledge that people will be anxious, and we will get more information to you as soon as we have available.

I wish you all a safe and happy Easter. I'm happy to any questions. On the phone, do I have Natasha?

QUESTION:  Hi, yes. Thank you very much. You've outlined some quite detailed advice to doctors and also patients on what they should be looking for. Shouldn't this information have been provided weeks ago? These German cases arose some weeks ago. The European Medicines Agency did not rule out a potential link with the AstraZeneca vaccine and CVST. This really goes to the issue of informed consent, doesn't it? Haven't the public and haven't doctors been left in the dark about this?

MICHAEL KIDD: So the answer, Natasha, is no. Previous advice come out from ATAGI on the reports which have come through from Europe, particularly when we saw some countries in Europe responding to possibly linked cases. So the advice which has come out from ATAGI today is further advice. But there's been advice available on the websites, and this has been promoted to health professionals right across Australia over recent weeks. Can I move to Rachel?

QUESTION: Thanks, Professor. In terms of these sorts of clotting disorders, how common are they and have we seen any other instances of this in Australia? Is it in line with the general amount of these sorts of issues?

MICHAEL KIDD: Thanks, Rachel. These clotting disorders do occur separate from any link to any vaccination. These clotting disorders do occur in Australia each year. Each year, we have a number of cases of people who have the cerebral venous sinus thrombosis. We have people who have other cases of clotting with low platelets presenting with a range of other conditions, including a condition called heparin-induced thrombocytopenia. So these are conditions which we do see occurring naturally in Australia and which are managed by our healthcare services. What we are seeing though is this very small number of reports of these cases occurring with a possible link to vaccination, which is why we are following this up so closely and carefully. Do I have on the phone Dr Norman Swan?

QUESTION: Thanks, Michael. Firstly, have you reserved Pfizer for the under 55-year-olds, healthcare workers, doctors, nurses, 1A, 1B given that there is a potential risk here in that age group, and that's the main risk factor? And secondly, are you monitoring the utilisation of high dose into [indistinct]? And on the basis of that, do you suspect in fact that there is another case already in Australia?

MICHAEL KIDD: Thank you, Norman. So Pfizer is being used in the rollout in Phase 1A at the moment across Australia. It has been since the commencement of the rollout, and that of course has included the vaccination of quarantine and Border Force workers, and people working in health care who may be at risk of coming in contact with people with COVID-19, as well as to the residents of our residential aged care and disability care facilities across the country. Phase 1B, we're currently utilising the AstraZeneca vaccine. This has been rolled out, as you know, through general practices, the general practice-led respiratory clinics, Aboriginal health services, and other sites around Australia. At this time, we haven't made any decisions about reserving Pfizer for use in different groups within the population in 1B.

The second question, you asked about possible second cases. Every side effect from the vaccine should be being reported to the Therapeutic Goods Administration and also to the relevant state and territory authorities. We are following up each side effect that's reported each day as they come through, and where necessary the specialist investigation committee meets to discuss any further cases. I'm not aware of a second case at this time. Can I move to Chloe?

QUESTION: Thank you, Professor. Is there any information on how many aged care workers or disability workers have been vaccinated? Have the plans to have them vaccinated on site by providers been dumped (*)? And if so, why is that?

MICHAEL KIDD: Sorry, I'll just repeat that one. So it's the question about what's happening with the vaccination of people working in residential aged care or disability care. So, as you're aware, these people are also included in Phase 1A. And at the moment, now that we're rolling out Phase 1B, the number of opportunities for people in that group to get their vaccine has increased. So some people will be vaccinated in their workplace, and this has already happened with a number of workers. I'm sorry, I can't give you the exact number at this moment. Some of the providers of residential aged care services are currently negotiating with the Commonwealth to vaccinate their own workforce. And people of course are also eligible to receive the vaccine through general practices, the general practice-led respiratory clinics along with people who are included in Phase 1B. Thanks, Chloe. Thank you, everybody. Thanks for your attention. And thank you to our interpreters. Thank you.

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