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

NATALIE BARR:

Leading scientists have called on the Federal Government to pause the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine over concerns it won't achieve herd immunity. The jab was originally thought to be 70 per cent effective, but Stage 3 trials now indicate it's 62 per cent, with more than 53 million doses ordered. While Pfizer, that jab is 95 per cent effective, but with only 10 million doses on the way, will only be given to those most at risk.

MATT DORAN:

Australia's Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly joins us now. Professor, a very good morning to you.

This is such an important discussion because Australian faith in the vaccine process is vital. I understand that obviously, the Government had to make a call early on, there was a race against other countries. Have we backed the wrong horse here? What is your response to these concerns?

PAUL KELLY:

Well, the advantage of the AstraZeneca vaccine is that we do have it here in Australia, it's being made in Australia. There will be plenty to vaccinate the entire population of Australia twice. The choice of the vaccines was based on the best medical advice that we had last year. We had to take a chance in a sense about several vaccines. We picked a diversified portfolio and the AstraZeneca vaccine has now published their interim results from their phase 3 clinical trial. That was in early December, I read it the same day, and we've been, continue to be guided by that information.

But most importantly, we are waiting for the TGA, the Therapeutic Goods Administration here in Australia, the independent regulator to make their full assessment of the data, not just one paper in The Lancet on the 8th of December.

NATALIE BARR:

Okay. Look, we don't want to be critical because you guys are in a terribly difficult situation and you were back when you place that order. But you have already got a lot of Australians that are wary of getting a vaccine for COVID. If there are headlines today saying this one is only 62 per cent effective, are you worried that this will reduce the amount people getting it or wanting to get it?

PAUL KELLY:

Well, I'd say this again - we will have plenty of this vaccine to vaccinate the entire Australian population. It well exceeds the WHO standard of 50 per cent effectiveness but we need to see the full data and the TGA will look at the full data before that regulatory approval is given.

I would say this, that people should be wary about making statements, particularly in relation to incomplete data. So, this is interim results from the phase 3 trials. There will be more results from more data that the TGA will look at.

One thing is clear though from those interim results is that this vaccine is very effective against severe disease. Just exactly the same as the Pfizer and the Moderna data.

So it- we've chosen to start with our priority groups, those that are at risk of severe disease as well as those at high risk of exposure. We will start that as soon as we have the tick from the TGA as early as in the coming risk four weeks.

The AstraZeneca will be a little later in its approval and so we'll start that if and when the TGA gives its authority to do so.

MATT DORAN:

Yeah. Even though the results are interim, the alternatives are showing much more promising signs at this stage. But this ties in with our first viewer question, Professor. Jonathan in New South Wales asks: is there a major difference between Pfizer and AstraZeneca?

PAUL KELLY:

They're both effective against severe disease. They're both effective against disease of- with symptoms. They're both protective against death. So these are the endpoints that we're most interested in, of course.

One major difference is that the AstraZeneca is much easier logistically to rollout. The Pfizer vaccine requires a -70 temperature in the fridge- in the freezer so that's one of the issues with the Pfizer vaccine. But they're both effective vaccines and again, we'll be waiting for the TGA to make their full assessment on quality, safety and efficacy and that's when we'll use them.

NATALIE BARR:

Okay. Gina from WA says: the WA Premier says the virus should be eradicated not just suppressed. What do you think?

PAUL KELLY:

We've got a suppression strategy with an aim of getting zero community transmission. What the WA Premier says is up for the WA Premier to talk about.

MATT DORAN:

Jodie from New South Wales asks: can I either of the vaccines alter your DNA?

PAUL KELLY:

No, they cannot alter your DNA. The Pfizer vaccine is an RNA vaccine, the- which is delivered into the cells and creates the protein in our immune system and our immune system then reacts to that protein.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has a slightly different delivery mechanism, but it's the same process. It doesn't alter our cells, it's not a- that's not how it works. But it does create a very strong immune response; both of those do. And there are a range of other vaccines in the world that are also showing great promise.

NATALIE BARR:

Yeah. That DNA myth certainly doing the rounds, isn't it? Anna in Tasmania wants to know: will the vaccine by same for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to conceive?

PAUL KELLY:

Well, they're key questions for our regulator, the TGA to look at. It will be based on whatever data is available.

We know that mostly- most of the time with clinical trials, they exclude women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. But some of that information will come from the rollouts of these vaccines, in their millions, right now across the world. So we'll have that data, but probably later in the year. But we'll be guided by the TGA on that matter.

MATT DORAN:

Yeah. That data will be vital for public confidence. Lynda from Queensland has asked: will the vaccine be compulsory for healthcare and aged care workers?

PAUL KELLY:

The vaccine will not be compulsory. It may be a requirement for certain people working in certain workplaces mainly to protect the vulnerable people they're looking at. We've had that sort of arrangement, for example, for influenza vaccine in the past in aged care. Right throughout 2020, that was the case in every state and territory.

We have similar arrangements in neonatal intensive care units, for example, where it's a requirement for people that are working there to be vaccinated to protect the vulnerable. That doesn't make it mandatory; it just means that people will need to work somewhere else.

NATALIE BARR:

Okay. Just quickly, David in Victoria wants to know: how many people need to have the vaccine for it to eliminate COVID-19?

PAUL KELLY:

So, we are starting with our most vulnerable people and those at greatest risk of exposure. They're the ones we want to protect at the beginning and then we'll be rolling out the vaccine to the general population later in the year.

NATALIE BARR:

Okay. Professor Paul Kelly, you've answered a lot of questions; we'll have a lot more. We might get you on again. Thank you very much for your time today.

PAUL KELLY:

Happy to do so, Nat. Thank you.

NATALIE BARR:

Thank you.

 

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