Date published: 
9 April 2021
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

MICHAEL USHER:

Australians under 50 will not be given the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine after the Government accepted expert advice to limit its use due to blood clot concerns possibly caused by an overreaction in the immune system.

NATALIE BARR:   

The Prime Minister says the Pfizer jab will be offered as an alternative, casting serious doubt over whether his October vaccination target can be met.

MICHAEL USHER:

Well, for more, we're joined by the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly. Professor Kelly, good to have you on the show this morning. Now, is the Government's goal of getting every Australian at least their first shot by October now unrealistic? I'm guessing what I'm asking is clarify the timeline from now so we know where we are?

PAUL KELLY:       

Well, I can't clarify the timeline right now. As the Prime Minister mentioned last night at our evening press conference, that's the sort of thing we need to work through with our partners in the states and territories today. It will be discussed at National Cabinet in the next hour or two, but also, very specifically with, and in great detail with the states and territory vaccination coordinators later today.

We- It will affect the timing of the program, there's no question. We were on the cusp, actually, right at the moment of doubling and doubling again the number of doses being given every day through the GP rollout, and that relied very much on the increased supply from our CSL plant in Melbourne which is, of course, the AstraZeneca vaccine.

So, that will continue, of course, for people over the age of 50, and that's the large group of people in a priority age group. So, I think that first target we've got of making sure we get the vaccines to our most vulnerable people in our population, and those at most risk of being exposed to COVID-19 by the middle of the year. So, that's our priority now.

Second half of the year, we're looking to get out third vaccine, the Novavax vaccine; that's certainly well on track. We've been talking to them over the last few days about making sure that that's locked in. We've got a pre-purchase agreement there and they need to go through their final approvals with the TGA and have supply in Australia. But that's, that's part of it. And then there's the Pfizer, of course.

NATALIE BARR:   

Okay. Just explain- There's a lot on social media today - people saying you've got 25 per cent chance of dying from this. You know, let's look at how dangerous this is. There's, as I understand it, a four in one million chance of getting a blood clot? And then a quarter of those may pass away. Is that correct? How dangerous are we talking?

PAUL KELLY:       

So, this is a rapidly emerging thing, Nat. So, we've been watching the data come out of Europe over the last few weeks, and we had our own local case - our first local case last week that's been confirmed as being this very rare, but serious side effect. So, it's a real thing, it's a new disease. It almost certainly now associated with the AstraZeneca. We don't exactly understand why that is but it appears to be an immune reaction possibly to the adenovirus vector in that vaccine. But that's something for the future.

Yes, you're right, it's a rare event but it is serious. And when you'd need, with all of these things, balance the risk and the benefit for a young person where the risk of COVID-19 is not so great, not so high as for an older person; and there is some suggestion early on in this investigation that the clotting events are more likely in younger people, that tips the balance that risk and benefit. And so, that's what went to the medical advisory group. They met for hours again yesterday, and overnight with the European colleagues, and that what formed their advice.

MICHAEL USHER:

Professor Kelly, I'd imagine behind the scenes that with so much talk about the AstraZeneca vaccine before this advisory last night, that a lot of work has been going on to try and shore up our supply for the other, the other brands. Pfizer, for example, I think we've got 20 million on order. Are you confident that the delivery of that and the Novavax are going to be okay?

PAUL KELLY:       

So, the- we- of course, our primary purpose when we've looked through what we should have in our vaccination strategy last year, was firstly diversification. So, we had four different vaccines that we looked at, three different ways of making those vaccines, but also looking at local supply because then we knew that we had that secure - and that's where we went with the AstraZeneca vaccine. We went, initially, with the UQ vaccine which unfortunately had other issues and needed to be discontinued.

So, we're always reliant on vaccines coming in from international suppliers - there's always going to be a slight risk there. But so far, Pfizers been very regular. Every week, they've said it will come and every week, they have supplied what they said what they would supply.

MICHAEL USHER:

That's some good news then.

PAUL KELLY:       

And so, we're looking at 20 million of those by the end of the year, and in discussions with them about increasing that.

MICHAEL USHER:

All right.

NATALIE BARR:   

Okay. So, 10 million people. Okay. Paul Kelly, we really appreciate your time. We know you're busy, a lot going on.

MICHAEL USHER:

Indeed.

NATALIE BARR:   

Thank you.

PAUL KELLY:       

You're welcome.

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