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

LEILA MCKINNON:         

Let's bring in Chief Medical Officer Professor, Paul Kelly, in Canberra. A busy person, but back on the show. Look, good thing we were so slow with that vaccine rollout?

PAUL KELLY:       

Well, you know, we're looking to roll out the vaccine as quickly as we can. But, as we've always said, safety is our first priority here and this is just another example of that. We've been looking at this issue that's been emerging in Europe and the UK over the last couple of weeks. We had our first local case late last week in Melbourne, and as more information came to light, and as our medical experts met and gave advice just after 7:00 last night. At 7:15, we had a press conference with the Prime Minister to talk to the Australian public about that matter and to take the appropriate safety first steps.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

Ominous signs, I guess, this time yesterday on our program. It's a big chunk of the Australian population, isn't it?

PAUL KELLY:       

Yes, but at the moment when you think about it, we're in that priority group. We're looking to really look at those people that are most vulnerable of getting the severe types of COVID, as well as those that are most likely to be exposed to COVID. So, that part of the equation is going really well. So, we had the quarantine and border workers as our top priority because of their exposure risk. They're pretty much all vaccinated now. We're going very well in our aged care rollout. That's coming close to conclusion too, at least for the first doses and then we look at the aged group over 70 and over 80. AstraZeneca perfectly fine to continue in those and we've rolled out now to many, many GPs all around the country. We will continue to use AstraZeneca for those age groups. That leaves us with the younger people that are working in aged care workforce, healthcare workforce and disability care as well as younger disabled people. So, that's a challenge for us. We need to work out where we go with that in terms of which vaccine to offer. But, we do have the Pfizer vaccine as an alternative. Novavax is also pre-ordered and when it is available and approved by the TGA, we will be rolling that one out later in the year as well.

LEILA MCKINNON:         

So, when will we get to the point with the vaccine rollout that we can open up to the world, get on with our normal lives? Are we talking about late next year now?

PAUL KELLY:       

Well, certainly, that's going to be a major topic for National Cabinet today. So, I don't want to pre-empt those discussions. But, we've done a lot of work with our state and territory counterparts; both through the Prime Minister's department of his Premier and First Minister colleagues, as well as the AHPPC that I chair. Looking at that balance between the health risks and the vaccine rollout and what can and should be done in terms of reopening Australia. So, that's a topic for later today when the Prime Minister stands up after National Cabinet. But, clearly, with these changes overnight, we will need to look at our rollout schedule and, indeed, the way we're rolling out the vaccine, so that people have availability of that right vaccine for them at the right time.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

You're conceding this morning that it is going to be some time after what was previously flagged.

PAUL KELLY:       

Well, it's likely that this will affect that rollout. But, we're looking to increase the number of alternative vaccines that we have. As I said, the Novavax vaccine, we have 51 million doses of those on order. We hope they will come in the second half of the year and that's certainly the advice we've had in talking to them in recent days. And the Pfizer vaccine, you know, we have those 20 million doses coming in. They have guaranteed they will increase the rate at which that's coming and we're in negotiations with them in terms of potentially increasing that number of doses. But, that's a matter for discussion at a later date.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

Paul, you know there are significant supply issues even with AstraZeneca and we're manufacturing our own here. There are supply issues right around the world with vaccinations in general for the Pfizer vaccine, for those under 50. I mean, can you even give us a date on when they'll be here?

PAUL KELLY:       

Well, the 20 million we've been promised and have pre-purchased really with Pfizer. They've guaranteed that that will flow through regularly through the course of this year and that 20 million will be in Australia by the end of the year. But, unlikely, the locally-produced AstraZeneca vaccine, that just means a steady supply rather than a scaling up supply which is where we were getting to this week and last week in terms of our AstraZeneca rollout. So, that's going to continue from our local supplier. That's guaranteed. It's a perfectly effective- very effective and safe vaccine to be used in people over the age of 50. So, that's still a large proportion of the population and we will continue to roll out the vaccine. The second thing I say is that anyone who has had their first vaccine as AstraZeneca, it is perfectly fine according to the medical evidence and the medical advice we've received overnight to have that second dose. So, those second doses will also continue.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

Okay. Just so I've got this clear in my head; so, by the end of the year we will have Pfizer arriving on our shores for the under 50s. But, it will be in a smaller amount and that will scale up over the course of next year. So, we're looking at least next year before a significant proportion of under 50s are getting a vaccination?

PAUL KELLY:       

Well, we'll have 20 million doses. So that's, remember, two doses per person. So, that's 10 million Australians will be able to be vaccinated with Pfizer by the end of the year. We'll now be making sure that those doses are prioritised for the under 50 populations; starting with our priority groups of the ones that are most likely to get severe COVID. Those that are most likely to be exposed in their workplace, those are the ones that we are on track still, despite this announcement overnight, to have all those people vaccinated as well as our aged care and disability care workforce and residents by the middle of the year. We're going- we're continuing with that. It's the wider population that we need to consider what to do with that in the second half of the year. And that's where the Novavax vaccine will be crucial and as that amount of Pfizer that's available scales up, then that will also be part of that equation.

LEILA MCKINNON:         

Do you anticipate the fact that there has been so much questioning about this vaccine, a lot of nervousness, and people sort of who are on that cut-off line of 50 might feel a little bit jittery about it? That, in fact, even if we do get more vaccine supplies, people might just say: I'm out of this, and our population won't have the take-up it needs?

PAUL KELLY:       

Yes. So, you're referring there to vaccine confidence. That's been absolutely crucial all the way through this process, as it is with any vaccine rollout. But, my message today really is that we've been very open and honest and quick in terms of this safety concern that's been passed on. We've given that information to the Australian public. We're putting that to GPs and other vaccine providers to make sure they've got that information to discuss that with anyone who is concerned. I would really encourage all people to talk to their usual medical practitioner about their concerns. From my perspective, absolutely- and not only mine, but the medical expert panel that met on this basis is that the balance of the benefit of vaccine far outweighs the risk as it is for the entire population. So, I really encourage people to continue to consider what vaccine is right for them.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

You have an awful lot on your plate. Professor, thank you for being with us and sharing all that information with our audience. They appreciate it, we do too, thank you.

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