Well, Australia's vaccine rollout has hit another hurdle with the Prime Minister abandoning any hopes of a timeline.
Scott Morrison conceding it's now impossible to know whether all Australians will receive a COVID shot by the end of the year.
For more, Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, joins us again. Professor, always good to have your company. Thank you for being with us at the start of the working week, a big week for you. We can't- we just can't seem to get this right, can we? Why did the Government make promises they couldn't keep?
So, look, I think we can be very clear what we are aiming to do is to give the opportunity for all adult Australians to have the vaccine as quickly as possible. Of course, that information that came from our expert medical advisory group around safety concerns last week has changed things again, as it has happened many times during this pandemic over the last year, and we'll be nimble to bring that into our planning. We've been planning over the weekend; we had a meeting with the states and territories in quite a lot of detail on Friday. They've fed back over the weekend their suggestions, and we'll put that all into the mix.
But our aim to continue on with our priority populations, getting them vaccinated by the middle of the year, is essentially unchanged - that's going to continue. And then the rest we will see.
I think the other thing that happened on Friday was the announcement about extra Pfizer doses, very welcome, but that won't be until the fourth quarter of the year. So, we'll put that into the mix and we'll just keep going. We're continuing to have a large and complex rollout - over 4000 points of contact with GPs by the end of this week - and that will just continue.
And that's all you really can do, isn't it? Just keep trucking on. But Professor, there's been so much mixed messaging. How can the public have any confidence in this program?
So, they should have confidence. We've been very open last week about that safety concern - safety is our first priority - a very rare but sometimes serious side effect. And so as you were saying, Christine McCartney, one of our key advisors in relation to this saying, it's about that risk benefit equation, that risk benefit balance. And so- And that's the sort of thing that GPs talk every day with their patients.
Every single thing we do in medicine has some risk and it has benefits, and so, we need to think through that in certain circumstances. The advice from the ATAGI group the people under 50, the preferred vaccine was Pfizer. But in some circumstances, AstraZeneca may be the only one available and the benefit outweigh risks. And that's the sort of discussion that people should have with their trusted medical advisor. That's why we're rolling it out primarily at the moment through general practice, so that people can have those conversations.
Professor, you really know how to wind up GPs, don't you? They're now in fear of legal action from patients who have a reaction to the AstraZeneca vaccine. What would you say to them about that?
Don't worry. So, there's- We've had a lot of discussion over that over the weekend. The AMA President came out in support yesterday of the, of the Government position. We've provided advice to both the AMA and the RACGP in relation to the Government arrangements, firstly with provide- the companies that are manufacturing the vaccines, but also, the various indemnity guarantees. I spoke with one of the head of the one of the largest indemnity groups, she's not worried. You know, so, it's an issue, we need to work through it, of course. But that's not the main thing.
Doctors are, doctors are most concerned about their patients and they want to give them their best advice. We've given them the advice to use, but that is absolutely the place where people should be having that conversation with their trusted medical advisors. And I'm sure that's happening from this morning.
I met with a good close friend of mine who is a rural GP on the weekend, I actually asked him, what would you do if someone under 50 turned up on Monday morning to your AstraZeneca clinic? He said, look, I'd have that conversation, like I do every day, about every procedure and informed consent, and we go from there.
It was a massive blow, wasn't it?
Well, yeah. It was an unexpected one, but on the other hand it was the system working. We have the advantage of seeing how the millions of doses have been rolled out in other countries, and see what happens. And these, sort of, rare side effects only come to light when there's large amounts of vaccine out there. Just remember, this is about four to six per million - that's extremely rare - and of those, there was mortality rate. So that was important to give that information out, it was important to get that advice from ATAGI.
But now, we have to, have to carry on. And I would absolutely urge all Australians, anyone who's in that 1A or 1B group, to keep going with your plans about vaccination. If you've got concerns, take them in to your general practice and talk to them about that, and make that decision with your trusted medical provider.
The rollout of Pfizer is going to be tricky though, isn't it? You talk about the final quarter, are you saying- Do you know? Is that going to arrive in October? Does that mean you won't get these until, potentially, December? And also, then they all need special freezers to be held in. Will you be relying on the GPs to rollout the Pfizer jab?
So, what the agreement we came to with Pfizer, overnight on Thursday night and early Friday morning, was, was for an extra 20 million by the end of the year - so, that's 40 million all up by the end of the year. It will, of course, be subject to the international market in terms of the exact timing of that, and we'll keep working with Pfizer to make it as quickly as possible. But that's the agreement, whether it'll be December or October I'm not going to speculate on that at the moment.
In terms of the rollout through GPs, we're certainly putting that into the mix. One of the announcements- another announcement that was kind of buried in these larger announcements last week was from the TGA. They've done their independent regulatory assessment of how Pfizer can be stored and distributed. Looked at the data that's been provided recently by Pfizer and decisions made, for example, in the FDA, the US regulator. And it's- it is actually really good news. It doesn't- It can remain very stable at minus 20, which is a normal freezer temperature, and for a period in a normal fridge temperature as well. So that opens up the possibilities for using Pfizer more generally and more broadly than we had first envisaged. So, that will go into the mix with these other things and those plans will continue.
Professor, always good to talk to you. Thanks for talking to us today.