Date published: 
29 June 2021
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

LISA MILLAR:       

Another major development we're following this morning, that significant change to Australia's COVID vaccination program with the Prime Minister last night saying anyone under the age of 40 can now approach their GP and request the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Chief medical officer Paul Kelly joins us from Canberra. Good morning to you. Welcome to News Breakfast.

PAUL KELLY:       

Morning, Lisa.

LISA MILLAR:       

It is the case, isn't that, just sort of clarify that introduction that people have always been able to approach their GP about that vaccine but there was no indemnity for the GPs. Do you know how many doctors had been not wanting to do it?

PAUL KELLY:       

So, yeah. You're quite right. The change really last night was the decreasing of the age down below 40. That was really the only change that was announced last night. AstraZeneca was always available for anyone, in terms of the regulation, from TGA, for anyone over the age of 18. And there's a preference for Pfizer up to the age of 60. But that preference is a preference. It's a discussion for doctors to have with their own patients and the work through their own risk and benefit in relation to that.

So, in terms of the indemnity issue, that's something that GPs in particular but others that have been vaccinating as well have had many discussions with us about their concerns in relation to that. And that's just another surety to them that they'll- there's no fault compensation concept as well as for the patients as part of that conversation.

LISA MILLAR:       

As part of ATAGI, though, your advice to the Prime Minister still stands that Pfizer is the preferred vaccine for everyone under 60 because of health concerns. You can imagine why people feel a little confused about this. They mightn't have had jabs in the arms, but they're suffering a bit of whiplash from all these decisions and changes.

PAUL KELLY:       

I don't know about whiplash, but the- and secondly, I'm not actually part of ATAGI, that's an independent group, it's appointed by the Minister, independent experts in immunisation. I do talk to them a lot and I do know about vaccines.

The issue I think is that we- as always, we've had to roll with the changes in this virus right through this pandemic and look at what the current information is, and use that and ask our medical experts, in this case, ATAGI, for their advice. And their advice is on the balance of risk and benefits in the situation in Australia over the past few weeks and months, is that over 60, AstraZeneca, the benefits outweigh the risk. Under 60, there is that risk of that rare but sometimes very serious clotting disorder.

But as the epidemiology changes in Australia, then that is something that- for people to have that discussion with their GP, how- if they're not feeling- if they're feeling they really want to have that immunisation, they recognise the risk and go through that informed consent process, they can do that now. And GPs should be- will be more confident to do it because the no fault compensation component.

LISA MILLAR:       

Can I ask you now that the decision has been made about making it mandatory for aged care workers, a decision that so many people have wondered why it's so long coming, why is it then September or mid-September the date for everyone to have their first vaccine? Why wouldn't it be just immediately? Is that how far behind we are, that it's actually going to take until mid-September, even once we make it mandatory?

PAUL KELLY:       

So, the Prime Minister explained that last night at the press conference that- and I think this is the crucial point, mandating something like vaccination is- should be- is not a decision to be taken lightly. You need to weigh up all the issues that are involved to make sure we have used other ways of getting the vaccine out, making sure that access is clear, make sure there's no barriers to that.

We've got to remember this is a very large workforce that's spread right across the country, including in rural and remote areas. It has a very high proportion of people from culturally and linguistically diverse groups, a large casualisation of the workforce. And so, we need to work through a range of issues to make sure the vaccine is absolutely available, that they can get both doses because of the time lag between the first and second dose. And so, all of those have been taken into account.

The AHPPC was very clear in its advice to National Cabinet and National Cabinet was very clear in their decision. The point is if people are working in that sector, they should get vaccinated as quickly as possible. Not to wait until mid-September; that's just when it'll become mandatory.

LISA MILLAR:       

Oh, I know. But Paul Kelly, we've been having so many people messaging in already this morning and listening to you, saying there's a lot to be taken into account. We've been going down this path for so long. Are you personally comfortable with where we're at in the vaccination program?

PAUL KELLY:       

So, in terms of aged care, which is our absolutely most vulnerable group in Australia, I'm absolutely comfortable about the rollout with- through the aged care sector for patients. They're the ones that are vulnerable. This week, we will have completed, absolutely completed, the second dose visits to every single aged care facility in the country. So, we have 100 per cent …

LISA MILLAR:       

[Interrupts] That's for residents?

PAUL KELLY:       

We will have 100 per cent coverage for residents. Now, within the residents …

LISA MILLAR:       

[Interrupts] Which was supposed to happen months ago. [Laughs]

PAUL KELLY:        \

Yeah, well, let's- let's move forward and start with celebrating this week is that we'll have completed that task. The aged care workforce is another layer of protection around that vulnerable group. And we've seen in Melbourne with the recent outbreak, we- there were a number of aged care facilities that were either affected our potentially affected through primary close contacts. We had three residents were sick, none of them died, two of them are back at home - I believe the other one still may be in hospital but recovering. That's a very different situation to what we found last year and that is with a variant of interest as it was there, the Kappa variant.

So far, in Sydney, and you know, we've put in all of the things we learnt last year in terms of protecting our aged care residents plus the vaccination, we haven't had a single case in an aged care facility, despite that growing outbreak in Sydney. So, we have done that work. And now we move forward with the extra layer of protection through the workers.

LISA MILLAR:       

Yeah. Paul Kelly, thank you very much for your time this morning.

PAUL KELLY:       

You're welcome.

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