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

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

Well as you've just heard, critical frontline workers will be the first to receive a COVID-19 jab when the phase of inoculations begin next month. The Government has brought forward the schedule on the advice of its medical experts. Professor Paul Kelly is the Chief Medical Officer and he joins us. Welcome back to Breakfast, Professor Kelly.

PAUL KELLY:

Thank you Cathy.

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

Now, the TGA timetable for approval was always late January, based on what the Government was telling us. So, what else has changed to allow the roll-out to be brought forward?

PAUL KELLY:

Well firstly, we have actually brought- really worked with our regulators to make sure that they're doing things as quickly as possible, and they've done extraordinary work to get all of the information that they've got so far from the private companies that we rely on for the vaccination. So, they have a lot of information in front of them now, there will be more in coming days. They will expedite absolutely what they need to do but not cut any corners - number one priority is safety and so that will be done.

The next thing that we rely on, of course, is for the delivery of this vaccine. So, the Pfizer vaccine will be the first one, people have heard about that now and has to be keep at minus 70 - so, there's an issue there in terms of logistics. We want it to arrive and, as soon as possible, be used for vaccination. And so, Pfizer has [indistinct]-

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

[Interrupts] So, has that been brought forward then?

PAUL KELLY:

Yeah. So we- They always- The contract we have with Pfizer was that they would deliver it in the first quarter of this year. And as things have gone with their Phase 3 trials being so positive, in terms of both effectiveness and safety, they're ready to go. And as we've seen, we've seen Pfizer being used in other countries now. So, that just two weeks after it circulated-

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

[Interrupts] Why was it dangerous though, a few days ago, to bring forward the testing- the vaccine, I should say? And now it's not?

PAUL KELLY:

No. It's not dangerous, we've never- we've said that we'll probably won't-

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

[Interrupts] Well, the Prime Minister certainly said that it would be dangerous?

PAUL KELLY:

So, our regulators are absolutely there to make sure that that is not the case and that it is safe, it's effective and the quality of the vaccination is guaranteed - and that's what they've always been going to do.

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

Has it been brought forward because there is concern about these highly contagious variants, particularly, in the UK and the risk that they pose here?

PAUL KELLY:

It's been brought forward because we can bring it forward. We've always said that as soon as we have that safety tick from the TGA and the logistics has worked out to get the vaccine here, it will be rolled out as soon as feasibly after that. So, we now have a more definite date for that - we've said mid to late February, and that's where we're heading now.

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

The UK variant has made its way into the Australian community; a Brisbane hotel quarantine cleaner has tested positive. Is the genie out of the bottle with this one?

PAUL KELLY:

So, yes, so, I had that- I had a discussion with the Chief Health Officer, Janette Young, up in Queensland yesterday evening, just before she went out with that information around nursing homes and so forth and that is concerning. We do know that we've had cases of the UK variant in our hotel quarantine system, and we do know that sometimes with a very complex system which relies on humans, mistakes can happen. And so, that apparently is the case here. We don't know the full details about the cleaner, but she has been mobile in the community. And so, the Queensland government will be talking about that later today, and the Queensland Chief Health Officer, about what they want to do with that. But, obviously, at this point the absolute key messages are the ones that we've had all along; if you're sick, get tested; if you're asked by a public health official to get tested, do that. And we've been playing- we've been working through that in Sydney and in Melbourne in recent weeks, and it's the same message for southern Queensland today.

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

This UK variant will, of course, be the topic at today's National Cabinet meeting, and the responses to it. There's going to be a range of measures around testing, but also mask use. But, flights from the UK, it would seem, won't be stopped. What's your view? Should they be until it's under control in Britain?

PAUL KELLY:

So look, obviously the National Cabinet is brought together for a reason, that's the Prime Minister and all the Premiers of the states and the Chief Ministers of the territories. They're the decision making body. Our role at AHPPC, the medical expert panel that I chair, is to give advice to them. Ultimately, they're the decision makers and those decisions will be talked about at the usual press conference after the National Cabinet, but not before, not beforehand.

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

Yesterday's press conference, the Health Department Secretary was asked about the UK's move to three month intervals between doses for the Pfizer vaccine. He said then that we will have a one-month interval. On the basis of the published evidence, that would mean that you'd only get 60 per cent effectiveness from the Astra vaccine. Does that concern you?

PAUL KELLY:

So, what we know about the AstraZeneca vaccine, what I know is what's in the in the public domain. And so, those- the paper that was published in The Lancet, one of the key journals, medical journals in the world, in early December went through the information that they had then - the interim information from their Phase 3 trials. What our regulators will have, of course, is much more up to date and much more comprehensive information, and they'll be the ones that decide that - not me. And that that's how it works here in Australia. We have our regulators which also have an independent expert panel to assist them. They will be giving their recommendations on what dose, how often, how many, et cetera - all of the things to do with safety, quality and efficacy, as is their job.

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

And just finally and briefly, the vaccine will be free. But, how will you guarantee that GPS won't charge for a consultation when they give the vaccine?

PAUL KELLY:

So we've, we haven't been sitting on our hands here, Cathy, we've been working through all of those logistics as well as practical elements of this whilst we've been waiting for the regulatory tick, and while we're waiting for the supplies to arrive in Australia. So, all of those matters have been dealt with very comprehensively now in terms of who will give the vaccine, where it will be given, how it will be rolled out to those places. But, I can absolutely give the commitment that, that this will be free - the vaccine will be free, the giving of the vaccine will be free, it will be available to all people who choose to have that vaccine before the end of 2021.

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

Very important indeed. Paul Kelly, thank you for your time this morning.

PAUL KELLY:

Thank you.

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

Paul Kelly is the Chief Medical Officer.

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