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

SABRA LANE:        

Australia reported its first probable case of these rare blood clots last week when a Victorian man was admitted to hospital 12 days after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. For more on these developments. I spoke a short time ago with Professor Paul Kelly, Australia's Chief Medical Officer.

[Excerpt]

Professor, do you expect Australian regulators to follow the European guidance, listing blood clots as being a possible rare side effect?

PAUL KELLY:       

So the government asked ATAGI - that's the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation - and the TGA, our regulator, to immediately consider and advise on the latest vaccination findings out of Europe and the UK. We certainly place safety above all else. And as we've done throughout the pandemic, the government will be guided by that advice and that'll be what we'll take into account. So, yes, they did meet yesterday and they will be meeting again today. After that, I'll be talking with my colleagues on the Australian Health Protection Committee and advising the government accordingly.

SABRA LANE:        

Do you think that will be done in time to advise the national cabinet meeting tomorrow?

PAUL KELLY:       

Yes, that's the expectation.

SABRA LANE:        

In the UK, under 30s now will be offered an alternative vaccine to the AstraZeneca shot. How likely also is it that Australia will follow that?

PAUL KELLY:       

Well, I think we have to look very carefully at the facts so far, Sabra. So there is a signal. We have seen these cases that are extremely rare but serious effects following vaccination, particularly in Europe and UK, where they've- millions of doses of AstraZeneca being used. So they're finding about one in 200,000 or five per million people getting this issue, and about one in four of those are dying. So, it's a serious effect but extremely rare. At the moment, there's so few cases that it's hard to make conclusions. But the Europeans and the UK looked at this overnight. There seems to be a trend in younger people, and at least in the European data, in women being more common. But I would really stress these are extremely rare events. And like with any treatment, vaccine, medicine, we have to look at the risk and benefit. And we do know that the benefit of the vaccination against this very serious disease as COVID is a really important component of our control. So those things would be weighed up by ATAGI today and by the TGA and we'll go from there.

SABRA LANE:        

How worried are you, though, that people will be spooked by this?

PAUL KELLY:       

Well, certainly any news about vaccine side effects, even if they're extremely rare, does affect confidence in the vaccine. And we're certainly very aware of that. Depending on what the response of our medical expert and a regulator is here in Australia, taking into account the Australian context, we'll certainly be looking to put out communications in relation to that and to reassure people that, as the Europeans and the UK have done overnight, that the AstraZeneca is a very effective and extremely safe vaccine for most people, but there is this rare event which appears to be linked with that particular vaccine and people need to be aware of that.

SABRA LANE:        

The overnight statement from the UK actually points out that 6000 deaths have been prevented this year alone from the vaccine program. The Australian authorities also need to be clear about that, the number of lives being saved?

PAUL KELLY:       

Yes, I think it's really important to consider that, Sabra, and in Australia we've been extremely fortunate and have had very good control of the virus since the beginning. So we have not experienced those extraordinary deaths, those extraordinary overwhelmed intensive care units in hospitals, hospitals themselves, people dying in the streets in many countries, that is not the Australian experience. And so people may go too far to this safety. It's very important, we need to take action on it. But the COVID vaccine is the way out of the pandemic for the world, including Australia. And we should not assume that we'll continue to have such great news here in relation to that. So that will be weighed up in- by ATAGI and we'll come into their advice. And then ultimately, it will be a decision by the Australian government about what that means for the vaccine rollout.

SABRA LANE:        

The AstraZeneca vaccine is the backbone of Australia's vaccine programme. Do you think there should be more effort put into sourcing other types of vaccine?

PAUL KELLY:       

Look, we have not stopped the effort in sourcing other types, I can absolutely guarantee you, Sabra. The advantage of AstraZeneca, of course, is that it's locally made, there's no issues of borders is going up to protect vaccine supplies. We have our own supply there and it remains the backbone of our response. We have the vaccine here in Australia. And for most people, it is a safe and very effective intervention. We have the Pfizer vaccine as well, we have 20 million doses on pre-order for that. And they're coming in every week regularly, from overseas, though. So that is an issue that could crop up at some point. But at the moment, we're getting those vaccines, but at lower rates.

SABRA LANE:        

Professor Kelly, thanks for joining AM this morning.

PAUL KELLY:       

You're welcome, Sabra.

SABRA LANE:        

Professor Paul Kelly is the Chief Medical Officer.   

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