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

ISKHANDAR RAZAK:

Now, for more on the announcement yesterday that Australia's vaccine rollout is likely to begin in the middle of next month, even though we have no COVID-19 vaccines approved in Australia as yet. The Government set an initial target to have four million Australians vaccinated by the end of March. The Commonwealth Chief Health Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, joins us now from Parliament House in Canberra. Good morning to you.

This is an accelerated timeline than what we were told initially, that's great news. But we're still hearing from epidemiologists that it should be even faster. Why not the Pfizer vaccine, if particular? Why not even sooner deploy that in Australia?

PAUL KELLY:

So, we're in a very enviable position here in Australia. There's very few countries in the world that can afford to wait until full approval is given. At the moment, there is no full approval in the UK, the US, and other parts of the world for this vaccine. What's been given is emergency utilisation authority. That might just sound like a bunch of words, but it's actually really important.  The full approval looks at everything - looks at the effectiveness of the vaccine; it looks at the safety profile of the vaccine' it looks at the quality of the manufacturing; and, that's what Australians should expect from any [audio skip] or vaccine that comes into Australia, and that's what we're doing in this case. Safety is our first priority and it then it has to have that tick before we go ahead.

ISKHANDAR RAZAK:

I think 1.4 million doses in the first phrase. Just brief us on the timeline? Who gets it first and why?

PAUL KELLY:

So, we have been very clear from the beginning, based on the ATAGI advice - that's our key immunisation advisory group - it's been operating for many, many years in Australia and it's stood us in good stead. They advise that the priorities should be based on two key principles - the first one those at most risk of exposure to the virus, and secondly, those at most risk of severe disease. So, let's think about those type of people. At the moment the people that are at highest risk to the exposure are those that are working on our borders. We have a raging pandemic in the rest of the world, anyone that's coming across our borders could have the virus. And so we'll be putting quarantine workers, border [audio skip], et cetera, people at the airports in our priority group at the start. Then there's healthcare workers –

ISKHANDAR RAZAK:

[Interrupts] Does that include cleaners and drivers as well? Cleaners and drivers in the hotel security?

PAUL KELLY:

Well, yeah. So, we've seen that they're the ones that, unfortunately, have had that leakage of- out from hotel quarantine in Sydney last month and then in Brisbane as of yesterday. So yes, absolutely. Those people that are closest, closest to people that may have the virus are in our priority group. But so are our front-line healthcare workers, aged care workers, disability workers.

Then, who's at most risk of getting severe disease? That's our aged care people, our elderly people in Australia, particularly those in residential aged care. Some disabled people, others with chronic disease, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders - these are the ones that we want to get in that first, first couple of phases. So, we will be rolling out as quickly as we can, as soon as we have the tick and as soon as the supplies arrive here in Australia a couple of weeks after that.

ISKHANDAR RAZAK:

You mention the fact these are our most important areas to clamp off. It is a vulnerable situation, hotel quarantine. Drivers and cleaners have been the areas where there've been a leak. What kinds of masks and PPE are required for cleaners and drivers in hotel quarantine to stop this leak from happening?

PAUL KELLY:

So, we have very clear protocols. We- you know, some time ago Jane Halton did a review right across Australia, except in Victoria at that time, of the hotel quarantine - there was no hotel quarantine at the time in Victoria when she was doing that review. But Victoria has had its own special commission looking at that, the Coates(*) review. So, all those things, and the experiences over the many months we've been doing hotel quarantine, shows us what needs to be done. But we do have to remember that all of these are complicated systems, being [audio skip] and operated by people and there is always that chance for human error, there's always -

ISKHANDAR RAZAK:

[Interrupts] Sorry, Professor. Just on the PPE, is there a requirement, a mandate, that say all cleaners have to have N95 masks, the most secure kind of mask there is? Is there a mandate or requirement for cleaners and drivers, those vulnerable people we're talking about, across the entire nation?

PAUL KELLY:

Look, masks are important - they're not the only part of what needs to be done to keep people safe in these circumstances. But there are a range of PPE requirements and guidelines about that. It is all published and so it's the states and territories who are responsible for that.

ISKHANDAR RAZAK:

[Talks over] But are they state by state? Or is it a national - is it a national situation where everyone has to abide by the same level of protocols?

PAUL KELLY:

We have national guidance for that and- but the states and territories are the ones that are running the, the hotel quarantine system, and it's up to them to make sure that that's been worked through. This will be one of the things we'll discuss at National Cabinet today.

ISKHANDAR RAZAK:

No. I'm sure it is. Thank you very much for clarifying that. Back to the vaccine, this is the Pfizer vaccine, it's the more difficult to store and distribute. How taxing, how difficult will this entire process be?

PAUL KELLY:

Yes. It does have its challenges and we've been working very hard over the last several months to look at those challenges and to make sure we have plans in place - very detailed plans about the logistics of that particular vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine, we have a contract with them to supply that vaccine right throughout 2021, starting as early as a couple of weeks after the regulatory tick is given. And they, as part of that contract, they have taken on the responsibility of safe transport from the place of manufacture to the place of vaccination - so that's them, they've their own deal for that.

We've got, now, two logistic suppliers to assist us with that rollout. And all of these logistic plans, some of them in incredible detail, and are dealing with all of those things. So, we haven't been sitting on our hands; all the way through we've been making those plans, very detailed; talking to the states and territories; looking at ways that we can make this work as quickly as possible and as efficiently as possible.

ISKHANDAR RAZAK:

And what is going to come out of National Cabinet today?

PAUL KELLY:

Well, there is a lot of advice going into National Cabinet today. What comes out of National Cabinet, of course, is for them to decide. But we'll be talking about how to keep Australians safe from this very large global pandemic that's happening in other parts of the world. So, there'll be issues discussed there about safe travel for people coming to Australia, and indeed, around Australia.

ISKHANDAR RAZAK:

Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, thank you so much for that and all the information. Great news!

PAUL KELLY:

Thank you and it certainly is.

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