Date published: 
24 June 2022
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

PETER STEFANOVIC:           

The Government has launched an $11 million campaign to encourage updates of COVID boosters ahead of an expected rise in cases over winter. And joining us live now is the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly. Professor, good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning. So why, in your opinion, is take up so low?

PAUL KELLY:                         

So, I think we should look at the positives first, Peter, and that is that we've had an enormous uptake of first and second doses over the last year and a half, and that's been a fantastic thing. We now know with Omicron circulating though, that a third dose is really important. And so I'd really encouraged today anyone who is eligible for a third dose to not hesitate to go and get that dose. There are many places all around Australia where those COVID vaccines are still available. And for some people a fourth dose is now recommended. And whilst we've seen a good uptake in older people, I think this is really the time for everyone who is eligible for those doses to roll up their sleeves as we've seen before, and get those doses. This is a really important message to the Australian people.

PETER STEFANOVIC:           

Sure. I guess that was my point too, because I know first and second dose we were well ahead. But when it comes to these extra doses, they're not where they should be, right? So why would that be? Is there a number of reasons that come to mind?

PAUL KELLY:                         

So I think, again, to look at the positive, we- people know when they're more vulnerable, you know. So someone of my age, I'm more vulnerable than a younger person to COVID. So I've had my third dose. And there are other people older than I or with chronic disease who can certainly get a fourth dose as well. And we're actually getting good uptake in those age groups. But as a population wide estimate, it's about 67 per cent of people who are eligible have had their third dose. We certainly want it to better than that. People in the older age groups though are very- have had a very high uptake, and the fourth dose is rolling out. But there is a couple of- there are a few key places that I really want to emphasise. People in aged care, we know they are at higher risk. They are almost always now eligible for a fourth dose. We really want to encourage people to do that. And we also have flu circulating and flu in that age group, as well as children under the age of five. So a very key message of the campaign is for flu vaccines as well, not just COVID. Children under the age of five, pregnant women, are not necessarily at higher risk of COVID but they are definitely at high risk of flu and there's a lot of flu circulating as well. So that's a key component of the message.

PETER STEFANOVIC:           

[Interrupts] When it comes to the younger people though, I guess more in particular, is there much fatigue out there that you've noticed? You know, go and get another COVID jab. Now go and get a flu jab. I mean, is there fatigue on that front maybe more so for younger people than older people?

PAUL KELLY:                         

Yeah, I think that's a fair assumption there, certainly from our- asking the community. We have been having surveys in the field all the way through this COVID pandemic which is still with us and we're still doing that work. People are less concerned about COVID than they were, say, this time last year and that's partly because of their own lived experience. As we know, most people who have COVID will have only a very mild or moderate illness. But there are people that can be more at risk of severe disease and they're the ones that absolutely should be getting that maximum protection with a third or even a fourth dose when eligible. I think the other thing that's happened is many people, of course, this year have had COVID and so there is that gap that is put in there in terms of once you've had COVID and when you're eligible for another dose, there is a gap there. So that's another reason why perhaps the uptake has been a little slower than we expected.

PETER STEFANOVIC:           

Where are the rates of reinfection at?

PAUL KELLY:                         

So, we are seeing reinfection. We know that Omicron itself, having had a previous dose of one of the other types of- one of the other variants of COVID-19, Omicron did escape that immune protection from both a previous dose and from only two doses of vaccine, we know that. We're now seeing sub-variants of Omicron - the latest one known as BA-4 and BA-5, that's now become the dominant strain in the UK for example, and it is growing particularly on the east coast of Australia. We know that that is more transmissible and does have the tendency to escape the immune system so we do- we will see reinfections over the coming weeks and months unfortunately with that one. But what we're not seeing is a large increase in severe disease and that's due to the vaccine protection which can be boosted again, as we've said, with a third and fourth doses, aged care, and those that are eligible for that, absolutely. And the other issue we should talk about, Peter, is treatments and the availability of antivirals for COVID as well.

PETER STEFANOVIC:           

Can I just close here on a, I guess a personal question from a- from a personal experience Professor, and it relates to my kids. They keep on getting sick at day care, right, and there's so many other kids who keep getting sick with so many other different illnesses. I know that there's foot and mouth disease that's sweeping through day cares at the moment. There's so many other illnesses. Just- I'm curious, how many different viruses and how many different bugs are circulating right now at any one time?

PAUL KELLY:                         

So firstly, Peter, foot, hand, and mouth disease. Foot and mouth disease is a terrible disease of cattle that we, you know, don't have here in Australia, thank goodness. But foot, hand, and mouth disease is a common one, exactly, in childcare. And I think wherever young kids congregate in numbers, these illnesses, so any parent who knows- every parent I'd say who's had kids in childcare knows that. And it's a challenge. We've done a lot of work with childcare and, you know, I think there's- if we look at the positive from the COVID experience, people are very much more attuned to hand hygiene and to, you know, cough hygiene and all of those messages we've been giving for so many years. But little kids, it's pretty tricky.

PETER STEFANOVIC:           

Yeah.

PAUL KELLY:                         

So we are going to continue to see those things. But again, a real strong message to you and to other parents with kids of that age: get the flu vaccine. That certainly will protect them against that. It won't protect them against some of the other respiratory illnesses but certainly that one. Very much encouraged.

PETER STEFANOVIC:           

[Interrupts] But just quickly, I mean, are there dozens- are there dozens of different bugs that are going around at any one time?

PAUL KELLY:                         

Yeah, there's a lot. We know- but we only know what we look for, of course. So we know about COVID, we know about flu, we know about several other viruses. And it is possible to get tests for all those viruses. And indeed, in the laboratories, that's what we're doing now, looking not just at COVID, but at all other respiratory viruses. It's the time of year, right. They do circulate in winter.

PETER STEFANOVIC:           

Yeah. Yep. No doubt. Professor Paul Kelly, thank you. We'll talk to you again soon.

PAUL KELLY:                         

You're welcome.

Contact

Departmental media enquiries

Contact for members of the media

news [at] health.gov.au (subject: Media%20enquiry%20-%20News%20item%20ID40008, body: URL - https%3A%2F%2Fwww.health.gov.au%2Fnews%2Fchief-medical-officer-professor-paul-kellys-interview-on-sky-news-live-on-24-june-2022)

View contact