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

ISKHADAR RAZAK:

Now returning to our top story, doubts have been raised about Australia's vaccine rollout, with experts warning the AstraZeneca vaccine may not be effective enough to provide herd immunity. A number of doctors and immunologists are backing call to suspend the planned rollout.

GEORGIE TUNNEY:

Meantime, GPs though have already been given the green light to administer the vaccine. Training is going to be offered from next week ahead of that planned rollout in February. Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, joins us now from Parliament House in Canberra. Good morning to you.

PAUL KELLY:

Good morning, Georgie.

GEORGIE TUNNEY:

And when were you first made aware of these concerns surrounding the AstraZeneca vaccine, and are they justified?

PAUL KELLY:

So, the AstraZeneca is one of the vaccines that we're looking to get full TGA approval before we rollout any of the vaccines in Australia. That was a key part of the announcement last week that the Prime Minister, myself, Minister Hunt, and Professor Murphy made about the vaccine program. We've been planning this for months, and we've been in negotiations with AstraZeneca for throughout that period. The great advantage of the AstraZeneca vaccine is it's being made here in Australia; it will be available as soon as the TGA gives its tick, which we expect that it will in February.

I just want to make the point, though, that we're not the only country in the world that has AstraZeneca ordered. There are large orders, it's- in fact, you could see that AstraZeneca is one of the main-stays of the global response and remains so. The UK has a hundred million doses on order, and they're using it now as an emergency use authorisation, in the UK right now those vaccines are being used. The US has 300 million doses on order, the EU has 400 million doses on order. The AstraZeneca vaccine is effective, it is safe, and it's a high quality vaccine. But those are the things that the TGA will be looking at with their full approval coming very soon.

I would say that the one thing that we do have in the public domain is The Lancet paper, the published paper on the interim results of their Phase 3 trials, which was published a month ago, more than a month ago, on the 8 December - I read it on that same day. I'm not sure why some people - I would dispute that they are the medical experts - are now disputing that particular set of data. But that's a small component of what the TGA will be looking at, and we'll be guided by their assessment of the vaccine.

GEORGIE TUNNEY:

So, as it stands right now, what is the efficacy rate of the AstraZeneca vaccine, as you understand?

PAUL KELLY:

So, from those interim results, they had several trials. They pooled the trial results, and the efficacy from those pooled results was 70.4 per cent. But the range was from 62 up to 90. And so, that was interim results in relation to the data that was available in November. We've had three more months of data that will be available to the TGA, and more data from the real-world information that's coming from the UK, in particular, who are already rolling out that vaccine. So, we'll look at that, we'll wait for that.

All the way along, we've been guided by the real medical experts in relation to immunisation, our Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation. They've- they are hand-picked experts on these matters, and they've held us in very good stead for many, many years. Not only in COVID vaccination, but all of our vaccination programs that we've rolled out, and the coverage is very high. So, people should listen to those experts. We're listening to them, I'm listening to them. And that's what will be guiding our decisions in the coming months.

GEORGIE TUNNEY:

Well, yeah, as new data does come to light, and if that does determine that the AstraZeneca vaccine has the lower end of the efficacy, about that 62 percentile range, could we potentially have put all of our eggs in one basket here? 54 million doses on order - is it too late for us to change a strategy?

PAUL KELLY:

We have several eggs in the basket. We have the Pfizer vaccine, which will be hopefully gaining approval within the coming weeks through the TGA process. That's well advanced; we'll have 10 million doses of that - that's enough for five million Australians. Definitely our priority groups can start on that as soon as possible after that tick is given by the TGA. We have 53 million doses, a bit over that, of the Pfiz- of the AstraZeneca vaccine being made here in Australia. There is no queue for that vaccine; we have that vaccine. It will be available for Australians, and every Australian could get two doses of that AstraZeneca vaccine. We also have a firm agreement with Novavax, another type of vaccine, a different type of vaccine but targeting the same issue, and very effective on what we know so far. That particular company did lodge an application to start that process of being regulated through the TGA yesterday. We expect to have good results from Phase 3 trials of that vaccine by Easter. So, there are three.

The fourth egg in our basket, if you like, is the COVAX facility. We signed up to that very early, partly to- as part of our commitment to the rest of the world, a global vaccine program for a global pandemic. But that also allows us to purchase a range of vaccines that have been accepted by the COVAX facility, up to- to immunise up to 50 per cent of Australians. And we're putting in our bids for some of those, and many of the vaccines that people have heard of are in that portfolio in COVAX. So, we will have access to those vaccines as well in the coming months.

GEORGIE TUNNEY:

Well, if we leave our discussion about the vaccination rollout just for a moment and head to testing numbers - there's a lot of talk about those at the moment. Really quickly, where do they need to be, and where are they at right now right across all states?

PAUL KELLY:

Well, the good thing about testing numbers - and we've seen this now in several situations; in Victoria, in South Australia, in Queensland, in New South Wales on multiple occasions - when there's an issue, people come out. They come out in huge numbers to get tested. So, that's a really important piece.

Yes, we'd like it to have- to maintain a higher level of vaccination, but we do know that the Australian public responds really well when they hear those calls for vaccination in particular places because of particular concerns. And so, certainly at this time in Australia, I repeat what all the chief health officers are saying: please, if you have even the mildest of symptoms that might be related to COVID, get tested. If you are requested because of potential contact with someone who may have COVID to get a test, get tested. The more we have of those tests, the better.

The other thing I'll say about testing is that we're getting much better at using our genomic testing, as well as the PCR testing, and that genomic testing is really assisting with the links between people and monitoring the arrival of some of these strains we're concerned about that are more transmissible. So, testing is the absolute key. Please follow that advice.

GEORGIE TUNNEY:

We're hearing that message loud and clear. Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, thank you for your time this morning.

PAUL KELLY:

You're welcome. Thank you.

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