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

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

Well international concerns surrounding the AstraZeneca vaccine have increased this morning, with UK regulators saying those under 30 should get an alternative jab.

LEILA MCKINNON:         

That follows the European Medicines Agency confirming for the first time blood clots are a rare side effect of the AstraZeneca jab. For more, let's bring in Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly in Canberra. This just seems to be building to some sort of major investigation. How are you feeling about the safety of the AstraZeneca jab today?

PAUL KELLY:       

Look, the AstraZeneca jab is extremely effective, and in most cases very safe. You're quite right as you've said that the European agency has met overnight and has been meeting through the night over the last week or so. And in fact our regulator, the TGA, has had a very close association with them, as well as our ATAGI group, the immunisation expert group. And so they have all of the up-to-date information. The issue is that this is an extremely rare event. We're talking about four in a million, around that, but it is a serious event. And so, this is the system of post-market evaluation and following up of vaccines once they are in the real world. We start to see these rare events, we take action. That is what we'll be doing today. The ATAGI group is meeting today and will be advising the Australian Government with safety as our first priority as always.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

Okay, so to me reading between those lines and with what you've said verbatim, that we could see some movement in line with what is happening with Europe?

PAUL KELLY:       

Well, we'll certainly be looking at what's happened in Europe. And there's been quite a range, as you've said. So European authorities have said for women under age of 60 they should beware but they haven't taken any specific action across Europe, they've left that to the member states. And different countries in Europe have made different decisions already about AstraZeneca and limiting that by age group. In the UK they've gone a bit further and they've said people under 30 should seek an alternative, but they've also left it open for if there is no alternative to continue to use AstraZeneca, recognising that the event in question is extremely rare. The benefit, of course, of the COVID vaccine, including the AstraZeneca vaccine here in Australia is that's the one we've got, that's the one that is rolling out and being very rapidly increasing in that rolling out over the last week or two through general practice. So any change to those things will need to be taken into account with that context. But look, I'm going to leave that to the ATAGI group, that is their job to take into account the safety concerns as well as the benefits and the effect on the vaccination program.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

But Paul, it's a very big deal to go from this is absolutely safe to anyone under 30 needs to get an alternate vaccine. At the very least, it's a huge dent for confidence, potentially.

PAUL KELLY:       

Yeah, we are very aware of that. Obviously any news that comes out of a safety concern does dent confidence and that's absolutely true and that's why we take these things very seriously. I'll stress again two things. One is this is the system working as it should. It's really closely monitoring events following vaccination, doing a detailed analysis of those things and try to work out the mechanism and whether those events and the vaccine are related. So we're moving along on that path. The second thing is extremely rare. Four in a million is an extremely rare event. When you consider the death rate, and we should consider this, around the world, the death rate from COVID, particularly in older people, is extremely high. Last year in Australia, a 90-year-old man had a 50 per cent chance of dying. That's 500,000 per million. So I think we need to put that in context. But that age range is something that has been taken into account. Younger people are at less risk of COVID is an important component and that's what's played out in Europe and the UK. But we'll wait for our own experts to make that assessment today and advise us accordingly.

LEILA MCKINNON:         

Yeah, I understand that completely. I mean, lives are on the line in terms of needing to get this vaccine out. The problem here is though we've put our eggs all in one basket, haven't we? With 50 million AstraZeneca jabs on order, what if we do need to use an alternative vaccine? Do we have one? And how much does that play into the decisions that are being made?

PAUL KELLY:       

We have several baskets. So our main basket at the moment is the locally-made CSL manufactured in Melbourne AstraZeneca vaccine. So we know we've got that, we don't have to rely on overseas supplies. The Pfizer vaccine is another basket that we have of vaccines. We're getting that regularly throughout for the last several weeks and we are hoping that will scale up soon. We have that on order, 20 million doses by the end of the year. We also have a third basket, which is the Novavax vaccine. It still has to have its final tick off from the TGA but we fully expect that that will be available in the second half of this year and that will be played into our program. The other baskets are also still in play. There are other vaccine companies that we are continuing to discuss with, and including with Pfizer about any potential to increase the numbers of vaccine if that is required. But look, we need to wait for the ATAGI advice, that will really guide what we need to do in relation to that.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

With the greatest respect, Paul, because from what we are seeing, there are suppliers with all of those vaccinations. How can we possibly give any level of confidence to the public on the amount of supply and also the effectiveness, given the supply issues have significant issues at the moment?

PAUL KELLY:       

We are in a global pandemic. And you can imagine what that does for the demand for vaccines. We've already seen that many countries in the world are unable to get vaccination at all. So we have the advantage of having our locally made supply. That was something- it was a decision we made last year and we went with the AstraZeneca because at that time and even now it shows that it is highly effective, and for the vast majority of people, extremely safe. And so that's what we've got and we'll continue with that according to the medical advice from the ATAGI group. And the others we will continue in those discussions to see what we can get in terms of extra doses.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

We know you have to go. We appreciate your time as always, Professor.

PAUL KELLY:       

You're welcome.

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