Date published: 
3 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 has been just one new case of community transmission reported in Australia in the past 24 hours.  This is linked to the existing cases in Queensland, and is a person who is already in quarantine and has not been out in the community. And, so is at no risk of spreading COVID-19 to other people. This is an example of the effective public health response measures and the contact tracing capability in Australia when we see cases of COVID-19. At this time, community transmission appears to be well contained, although our health authorities remain highly focused. And I commend our colleagues in Queensland and New South Wales. This is not a time for anyone to become complacent. Please [Audio skip] the restrictions in place in your locality. And if you do develop symptoms of cold, or fever, or flu. Please arrange to get tested for COVID-19.

One of the cases in the recent community outbreak had worked at the Tricare Mermaid Beach aged care facility on the Gold Coast in Queensland. I'm advised that all the residents, and other workers at that facility, have now been tested and that all have returned negative test results. Over this weekend, vaccination against COVID-19 continues in several of the residential aged care facilities, in the affected areas of Brisbane, to ensure protection of their residents. Around the world, over the past 24 hours, there have been over 650,000 new cases reported of COVID-19. And sadly, over 12,200 additional deaths. This brings the global death toll to more than 2.8 million people around the world. In Australia, to date, in 2021, there have been no deaths related to COVID-19.

Yesterday I spoke about the case of a person in hospital in Melbourne. With a clotting disorder possibly related to the AstraZeneca vaccine. This case had been reported on Thursday evening, and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, ATAGI, and the Therapeutic Goods Administrations external vaccine safety group have been meeting to review the case. At this time, ATAGI and the TGA have not recommended changes to our national vaccination programme. But they will be continuing to review the evidence, including consulting with international regulatory agencies over the coming few days. ATAGI met last night and noted that this one case had occurred in more than 400,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine given to date in Australia. ATAGI yesterday issued advice for consumers and clinicians on the significance of this condition, and a warning for clinicians to be alert for the symptoms and signs of thrombosis. ATAGI has noted that in the European Union and the United Kingdom, where more cases have been reported, and many millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been administered, the regulatory agencies have not made recommendations at this time to broadly restrict the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. However, some countries, including Canada, have recently made precautionary recommendations, to limit the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in some groups of people. The Therapeutic Goods Administration convened a meeting of independent experts this morning, to also review the reported case in detail. This review is being conducted by medical experts in vaccine safety, infectious diseases, haematology, gastroenterology, immunology, public health and vaccine confidence, and a consumer representative. The purpose of the review is to determine, if possible, whether in this case the vaccine has caused the condition of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia. Importantly, this review had determined that there is no evidence that improper storage, or administration of the vaccine, could be implicated in this or other similar events. The investigation continues, and we expect further advice to become available over the coming days. This advice has been provided this afternoon, to a meeting of the AHPPC, the Australian Health Protection Principle Committee.

So in summary, both ATAGI and the TGA are continuing to investigate this case, and working with international experts and regulators, to provide advice to the AHPPC, and the Australian public on the optimal and safe use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. While at this time, we don't have evidence of causality, the clinical features of this case are consistent with what we have seen in international reports of similar cases. And it is likely that the case reported yesterday is related to the vaccine. This would be consistent with international experience. However, the definitive determination is, of course, up to the processes of the TGA. ATAGI plans to meet again on Wednesday this coming week, when it is anticipated that more information from the international regulators in the European Union and the United Kingdom, will be available. In addition, the Thrombosis and Haemostasis Society of Australia and New Zealand has also put out a statement today, providing guidance to physicians who are managing [Audio skip] with possible symptoms. The society recommends that benefits outweigh the risks of COVID-19 vaccination. And the society's advice is that individuals should continue to take up the offer of COVID-19 vaccination. The risks of serious side effects remain very low. But safety is paramount, which is why ATAGI and the TGA are continuing to do due diligence on this case. We have not been advised at this time by ATAGI, or the TGA, to pause the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Australia. We continue to follow the medical advice of our national experts.

Our vaccination programme remains voluntary. Our advice remains that we continue to be at risk of another serious outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia, at a time when most of our population has no immunity, from either past infection or from vaccination. I need to reiterate, that at this time, the risk of serious disease and death from COVID-19, if we experience a severe outbreak, especially among older Australians and those with serious health conditions, is far greater than the very small potential risk of a very rare clotting disorder associated with the vaccine. I acknowledge that these reports lead to uncertainty and anxiety. And we will continue to provide more information to you as soon as we have it available. A reminder that people who have received either of the COVID-19 vaccines may experience mild, and common side-effects. And these include, fever, sore muscles, tiredness, and usually start within of vaccination. And usually only last for one to two days. These side effects are not of concern, unless the symptoms are severe or persistent. The reports from overseas of rare clotting disorders [Audio error] contrast have occurred later than this, between day four and day 20 after vaccination. And they have generally caused severe symptoms requiring people to attend hospital. Therefore, people should be particularly alert to severe, persistent headaches occurring four to 20 days after vaccination, and which are different to any usual headaches that people may experience at other times and which do not settle with paracetamol or other over the-counter medicines. If you have received the AstraZeneca vaccine and experienced symptoms of severe, persistent headache or other worrying symptoms, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible. And anyone attending their GP or hospital, should let the treating clinician know the details of the vaccine they received, and the date they've received the doses. 

I'm very happy to take any questions. James?

QUESTION:    [Indistinct] you're saying, effectively, that the earliest Australians to be vaccinated [Indistinct] definitive advice on this, safety or otherwise [Audio skip] it depends next Wednesday. But in the meantime, that they should simply continue to take the vaccine if it's available to them? Aren't you concerned about the- I mean, you acknowledged this briefly, but the hit to public confidence from this, essentially, information vacuum that we're in for the next four days?

MICHAEL KIDD:  Well, we're not in an information vacuum because we've had advice already today from both ATAGI and the TGA. The ATAGI advice is on the health.gov.au website, it provides the evidence that we have to the moment. And that continuing review with the regulators, particularly overseas where there's a lot more experience, of course, with more cases, will inform the advice that may come out on Wednesday. Absolutely.

On the phone, I have Chloe?

QUESTION: Thank you Professor. Can you just tell us, is there an update on the 44-year-old man? Is he okay? What's his condition? And did he have an underlying medical condition, or a frontline worker? What made him eligible for the vaccine?

MICHAEL KIDD: Thank you Chloe. You'll understand that being here in Canberra, I have not personally seen this person and I don't have his permission to discuss details of his condition. So I'm sorry, I can't elaborate on that at this time. Did you have another question Chloe?

No. And Nour's on the phone?

MICHAEL KIDD: Sorry, Chloe.

QUESTION: Is he stable at all?

MICHAEL KIDD: I can't provide any clinical details on the person in Melbourne.

QUESTION: Who- professor, yesterday you were able- we were able to be advised that this person was not in intensive care, for example. Why can't you provide the update today?
MICHAEL KIDD:    I'm sorry James, I don't have update details on the clinical condition of the person in Melbourne. Nour?

QUESTION: Thanks Professor. You mentioned that some countries have taken the precautionary measure to suspend their rollout for some aged groups. Why is it that Australia isn't taking that precautionary step? And also, could you just clarify, I believe you said that you, at this stage, think that there is, quote, a likely connection between the blood clotting and the vaccine? Can you please clarify that?

MICHAEL KIDD: Thank you, Nour. So, at the moment, we're working very closely with the regulators in the European Union and the United Kingdom, which are the places where millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been administered. And we are working in concert with them, looking at these cases. And we'll provide further advice over the next coming few days. ATAGI, as I say, will be meeting again on Wednesday of next week. I think the statement I said covered the issue about any possible link. As I said, we don't have definitive evidence of causality. But given how consistent the clinical [Audio skip] in this case, with some similar cases which have been seen overseas. It is likely that this case which has been reported is related to the vaccine.Thank you Nour. Did you have another question?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MICHAEL KIDD: Thank you. James?

QUESTION:    [Talks over] Professor, another question. New South Wales and the Federal Government. New South Wales has- will step up its involvement in the rollout of the vaccine in that state. Would you like to see other state Governments play a greater role in the rollout of the vaccine across the country?

MICHAEL KIDD: Thanks James. So the question, if people can't hear it, is, New South Wales is stepping up greater involvement in the rollout of the vaccine to the public under phase 1B. Would we like to see other states and territories get involved as well? As you know, state- phase 1B is involving general practices right across the country. We already have over 1500 general practices which are now rolling out the vaccine to the members of their local community. We also have the vaccine rolling out through the Commonwealth funded, GP lead respiratory clinics, with large numbers of people attending for vaccination each day. The states and territories have been focusing through their hubs on the rollout to people in Phase 1A. The quarantine workers, border force workers, and other health care workers. But if the states and territories have the capacity to be involved in our now moving towards the vaccination of people in 1B, we're very happy to have those discussions with them.

QUESTION: So you'd like to see them rollout more vaccines? Do you think the vaccine rollout speed should be picked up?

MICHAEL KIDD: The vaccine is being rolled out at the moment. And as I say, the increase that we're seeing is through the involvement of general practices. Over the next couple of weeks, we'll actually be moving to have over 4500 sites across the country through general practices and the GP lead respiratory clinics, where people will be able to receive their vaccines. But also, as we've said, the state [Audio skip] hubs can be involved as well.

QUESTION: How many vaccines are actually in Australia at the moment, and how many people have been vaccinated as of today?

MICHAEL KIDD:    Thank you. I actually don't have those figures in front of me here- right here and now, James. But we can get those figures to you after the press conference. 

Thank you everybody, and thank you to our interpreters. Thank you very much.
 

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