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

DANICA DE GIORGIO:

Well there are calls for the Federal Government to pause the planned rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine because it may not be effective enough to generate herd immunity. Phase 3 clinical trials of the vaccine, which is the centrepiece of Australia's COVID vaccination strategy, show it is only 62 per cent effective in preventing the virus when given in the recommended dose.

Joining me now live is Australia's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly. Professor, thank you for joining me this morning. And we should say, it needs to be noted, that there are no questions about the safety of this vaccine. But what is your response? Should Australia consider changing the rollout?

PAUL KELLY:

Good morning, Danica and good morning to your viewers. So look, we have two vaccines that are going through the full approval process now with the TGA. We're expecting Pfizer will be the first one, that's the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine and that's- that possibly could be as early as the end of the month. So, we're looking to roll that out in February as was announced by the Prime Minister last week. And then the AstraZeneca will follow quickly after that, but only if it gets the full TGA tick, not only for safety, but also for efficacy and the quality of the production. So that's what we'll be guided by. We've been guided by the medical expertise all the way through, in terms of which vaccines we chose to be in our portfolio. We've got three plus all of those that are available through the COVAX facility, and AstraZeneca is a large component of that. We're not alone in the world in choosing AstraZeneca. The UK, which is already using that vaccine under emergency use authorisation, they're well into that vaccination program now with AstraZeneca. They've ordered 100 million doses. The US has ordered 300 million doses. The EU has ordered 400 million doses and there are hundreds of millions of doses in other countries around the world as well. So it's a mainstay of the vaccination program for this global pandemic.

DANICA DE GIORGIO:

Given that the AstraZeneca vaccine has only 62 per cent effectiveness in achieving herd immunity; is it almost pointless to have that vaccine in Australia?

PAUL KELLY:

So people should be very wary about using interim results from a Phase 3 trial that was published, by the way, over a month ago. I'm not exactly sure why this has suddenly come to prominence in the news but here we are. Let's look at those results, I looked at that paper in The Lancet on the 8th of December very carefully on the 8th of December. And there was a range of efficacy end points there, looked at. In terms of preventing death, it works, 100 per cent of the time. In terms of preventing severe illness, it works, 100 per cent of the time. That's exactly the same as Pfizer on that interim information. There was a range of studies reported on within that paper and the range of efficacy was from 62 per cent to 90 per cent. The pooled results was 70 per cent. That well exceeds what the WHO sees as the minimum efficacy required for a vaccination. We have 53 doses on order. It's being made here in Australia. There's no queuing for this vaccine; it's in Australia for Australians and that will be the mainstay of our vaccination program through this year, on the assumption, and always on the assumption, that the TGA gives all the ticks that it needs to do.

DANICA DE GIORGIO:

Yeah. Of course. And as we said, there's certainly no questions about the safety of it, but Professor, are you worried that this might reduce the number of people who will get the jab as a result of the calls to pause the rollout.

PAUL KELLY:

Yes, confidence is the key here and so I am worried when some people come out strongly in this way with a small amount of information. And so I really call on the Australian public to trust the medical expertise as you've trusted it through the entire pandemic that we've had a for a year now. We haven't let you down. Please listen to the Australian Government and also to the state and territory governments. We're meeting every day as AHPPC, we discuss the vaccine and other things at AHPPC. We have a range of forums of medical expertise both of public health, infectious diseases, vaccinologists, all the way through this process. We chose AstraZeneca on the basis of that medical advice. We've picked our strategy about the priority groups first and who should get that vaccine first on the medical advice. We'll continue to be guided by that medical advice through this year as the vaccine rolls out.

And just to absolutely say that our TGA, our independent regulator, world-class regulator, will be central to this process and they will be the ones that will advise about those matters of safety, quality and efficacy of all of our vaccines.

DANICA DE GIORGIO:

Professor, just on another matter, there's been a lot of commentary in recent days on the suppression versus elimination strategies. We know that National Cabinet agreed to a suppression strategy. Some states like Western Australia have opted for elimination. What do you think is the right strategy?

PAUL KELLY:

So, we have the national strategy of suppression leading to no community transmission. I can tell you we'd all be sleeping better at night if there was no community transmission. And that's our aim; that's been our aim for a long time, regardless of what certain people say in certain states, we are very together on that at the national level and that's our strategy. That's what we'll be doing.

I'll say this about the vaccine. The vaccine is another tool in that strategy, as were the issues of the- the agreements that were made at National Cabinet with all the state premiers and chief ministers and the Prime Minister in the room making those decisions about strengthening our quarantine, strengthening our international arrivals, the pre-flight testing and so forth of people coming from overseas and the testing of air crew, use of masks on all planes and in all airports.

So these- that's another tool. The testing, tracing, isolation component is a tool; all of those personal behaviours is a tool; the vaccine is a tool. All of those things are what we need to really protect Australians and we're absolutely committed to continue to do that through 2021.

DANICA DE GIORGIO:

Professor, we've heard comments this week from Liberal MP Craig Kelly. He said that compulsory mask wearing in schools would be a crime and a form of child abuse. It's not the first time he's posted comments like this on his social media.

Do you think that the Government should come down and denounce these claims from backbenchers like Craig Kelly more strongly?

PAUL KELLY:

Well, that's a decision for the Government and I'm not going to comment on individual MPs opinions on national television.

DANICA DE GIORGIO:

Are you worried, though, about potential misinformation being spread online?

PAUL KELLY:

I'm always worried about misinformation online, and I'd say this to your viewers, Danica, that this is the social media pandemic as much as a viral pandemic. And we've seen that from the beginning. Lots of views out there. People should take whatever views that they want to look at. But I would really say this, that you should consider what the medical advice from those trusted sources is, and that's the one I would really urge you to follow.

So, we have- the Australian Government has a presence; the Department of Health has a presence on social media as well as other media channels. All states and territories are also putting out messages. These are the crucial ones to consider to keep us all safe.

DANICA DE GIORGIO:

Okay. And just finally, Professor, the Australian Open, competitors are about to fly here tomorrow. Do you feel that the tennis will be safe?

PAUL KELLY:

Well, I know that my colleague down in Victoria, Professor Brett Sutton, and his team have been very actively engaged with all of those discussions about making that as safe an event as possible and in the lead up, allowing the tennis players to train in a safe way, but to have very strict quarantine arrangements.

And so, Victorians have very good quarantine arrangements now. And I'm sure that that will be brought to bear for that particular group. I'm a tennis fan; I'm looking forward to seeing the Australian Open if it can go ahead safely. But safety, as always, is our first priority.

DANICA DE GIORGIO:

Of course. Australia's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, thank you for joining me this morning.

PAUL KELLY:

You're welcome, Danica.

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