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

ISKHANDAR RAZAK:     

Now, let's bring in the Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, in Canberra this morning. Professor Paul Kelly, thank you for your time. When we look at what's happening, what do you have to say to someone who now has vaccine doubts? Somebody who's in that under 50 age group and looks around the community and says there's very little COVID-19 here, there's hardly any community transmission, there's a problem with the AstraZeneca vaccine, potentially I'm better not getting vaccinated at all. What do you have to say to somebody like that right now?

PAUL KELLY:       

Well, of course, something like the announcements overnight can affect vaccine confidence. But as I said last night at the press conference, the important thing is for the Australian public to know that as soon as we've known something, as soon as our expert advice from that ATAGI group that gives us the guidance on immunisation have given Australia a decision, we went out. It was within 15 minutes we told the nation about these matters, and to- and then to follow through as we did until about midnight last night to actually make sure that GPs and other vaccine providers today have all that information to have those discussions with people who have concerns.

For young people and indeed for all Australians, the benefits of the vaccine program far outweigh any risks - and that continues to be the case. We've made this preference for not using AstraZeneca in the under 50s on the basis of that safety concern, but vaccination in general is absolutely important and I would really urge people to make sure that they are lining up when their turn comes to get the appropriate vaccine.

ISKHANDAR RAZAK:     

So, the recommendation for those under the age of 50 is now the Pfizer vaccine. I know that we've got an order for 20 million to come in, but is there an order for more of the Pfizer vaccine to come in as well?

PAUL KELLY:       

Well, we're in a very close contact with Pfizer and other companies around the world - remembering we also have a prepurchase agreement with Novavax, another vaccine which is- will hopefully be coming in the second half of the year, that's the plan. So, we have alternatives. We have, as you say, 20 million of the Pfizer guaranteed coming from international sources; and we're in contact with Pfizer to see what we can do in terms of increasing that.

ISKHANDAR RAZAK:     

[Interrupts] But Professor, do we need to order more from - do we need to order more than 20 million from Pfizer? Or perhaps extra from Novavax? Or maybe strike a new deal with Moderna in order to deal with any shortfall of vaccines because we have a changed AstraZeneca?

PAUL KELLY:       

So, all of those things are on the table, Isk. So, we're looking at all of those options right now. We know that Novavax, we have 51 million doses on order, but that's not yet approved by the TGA, we don't have the final components of their clinical trials. But when we do, the TGA, as it did with the other two vaccines we've been using in the last couple of months, will absolutely expedite that matter. And as soon as Novavax is ready to supply to Australia, we'll be going through those processes.

In terms of Pfizer, as I say, we're talking to that company and we have been talking to that company. We continue to talk to that company and we'll see what transpires from those talks.

ISKHANDAR RAZAK:     

What does this do to our timeline?

PAUL KELLY:       

So, as the Prime Minister said last night, we need to rethink through that. Clearly, we had our program of rolling out Pfizer to certain parts of the community and AstraZeneca to certain other parts through different providers. We'll have to look at that now, and particularly pivot in the way that we use the vaccines.

But I do really want to stress that for people in those priority groups right now - people in aged care residences, people over the age of 70, people over the age of 80 - AstraZeneca is perfectly safe, and that will be the vaccine we'll continue to move out. That's the locally provided and produced vaccine. It is available here in large quantities through our CSL plant.

ISKHANDAR RAZAK:     

Does this essentially mean though, Professor, because there's a problem in the roll out, there's going to be delays, that life as we know it is just not going to get back on track any time soon? That lock downs, border closures are something we all have to just accept for the next 12, 24 months?

PAUL KELLY:       

Well, there will be specific discussions about the reopening of Australia at the National Cabinet today. I'm not going to pre-empt those discussions. Only to say that the Australian Health Protection Committee, with the Chief Health Officer group that I chair, has had really strong, and meaningful, and very good discussions about our reactions to outbreaks and so forth, including the issue of border closures. And that information will go to National Cabinet today and will be discussed by the premiers and the Prime Minister, and I 'll be there to assist them.

ISKHANDAR RAZAK:     

Just quickly, the advice is for under 50s. Looking internationally, the advice in other parts of the world is slightly different. For some places it's under 30s shouldn't be getting the AstraZeneca. Why is that difference occurring here in Australia?

PAUL KELLY:       

Yeah, it is. And I can understand that people are interested in how those decisions have been made. It's important that local context is taken into account, and that's what's happened and has presumably influenced other advice.

We've been in very close contact with our European colleagues at the European Medicines Association - the ATAGI equivalent - as well in Europe, as well as in the UK, their regulator and their, their immunisation advisory group. They've used exactly the same data as we've been using because most of these extremely rare events have happened in Europe and in the UK, and that's where many millions of doses have been used of the AstraZeneca vaccine. So, it's the same data but taking into account local circumstances.

So, we've chosen- the choice by the medical advisory group is 50. That's based on that risk-benefit equation for the Australian circumstances. So that's what we're going with.

ISKHANDAR RAZAK:     

Professor Paul Kelly, thank you very much for your time.

PAUL KELLY:       

You're welcome.

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