Date published: 
18 June 2021
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

LISA WILKINSON:

Well it could be another huge blow for our trouble-plagued COVID vaccine rollout. Today, advisory group, ATAGI, changed its advice on AstraZeneca, recommending it only be administered to over 60s.

[Excerpt]

GREG HUNT:         

The advice we've received from ATAGI is an increase in the age range for those who should be using AstraZeneca, from 50 to 60 and above.

REPORTER:

The original advice was based on the risk of TTS, the ultra-rare but potentially fatal clotting condition associated with AstraZeneca. Australia's recorded 48 TTS cases out of roughly 2.5 million doses administered, around 0.002 per cent. There was hope our success in detecting and treating TTS would see the AstraZeneca age advice loosened. So what's changed?

PAUL KELLY:       

Their advice has been based on the assessment of that new information that was given to them yesterday from the TGA.

REPORTER:

As of last week, the data showed that the clotting risk nearly halved for people over 50, remaining more or less constant after that. But since then, seven out of 12 new cases have fallen within the 50-59 bracket.

PAUL KELLY:       

That has changed the rate of that particular issue in that age group to the point where the rate is very similar to the under 50s.

REPORTER:

And with so little virus around, we can afford to be careful.

BRENDAN MURPHY:      

We're doing so this time on the basis of a highly precautionary approach given our good epidemiological situation in Australia.

REPORTER:

Fifty to 59-year-olds who’ve received their first jab are still advised to proceed with their second.

PAUL KELLY:       

I can imagine that this news could cause concern. Remember, this remains a very rare, but sometimes serious event.

REPORTER:

But the announcement is shaping up to be a double setback, spreading our stretched vaccine supply even thinner.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  

Fewer than 3 per cent of Australians are fully vaccinated. People are driving foreign air crews around who haven't been vaccinated.

REPORTER:

And potentially further fuelling vaccine hesitancy.

VOX POPS:  

I guess it's only the few people that have had the blood clots. But obviously if it were a family member or myself, I would be concerned.

VOX POPS:  

I'm not really sure what is true and what is not true, so just to be safe, I'm getting the Pfizer.

VOX POPS:  

You just have to keep going on the information that you've got at the time.

VOX POPS:  

As a civil right, it's a really good thing to do. I think we need to protect everybody, it is not just about yourself.

VOX POPS:  

Doors are never going to open to our country until we all get vaccinated. So get the shot, everyone. Get the shot, please.

LISA WILKINSON:

Professor Paul Kelly is the Chief Medical Officer and he joins us now. Professor, so is the reality now that the AstraZeneca vaccine is actually causing more blood clots than we first thought?

PAUL KELLY:       

Well, Lisa, the important part of the announcement today, it really shows how nimble we are when we get new information. And we have our medical experts, the ATAGI group in this case, for the vaccine program examining that new data virtually in real time. Because of the new data, the seven new cases, it really showed that the incidence rate was higher than what was previously thought in that age group. And so because the benefit of vaccine in that age group is lower than older age groups, so 60 and above, that really tipped the balance. And so that's why we came out with that information, that new information, today.

LISA WILKINSON:

Professor, part of the problem here is that we still have an incredibly low vaccination rate. Full vaccination is currently at around 3 per cent. So we're still very early in gathering all of this information about these blood clots. What chance that this vaccine recommendation is going to change yet again?

PAUL KELLY:       

Look, ATAGI will continue to look at the data every week. So yes, things may change again in the future. But I think the important element here is that risk-benefit analysis. We know, that last year, when we had those 910 deaths from COVID, almost all of those were in the older age group. The mortality rate from COVID for people over the age of 60 is 14 per cent. Below 60, it's only one-in-1000. We’ve got to put that in the context of the risk of the blood clots. So the risk of the blood clots in the 50-59 years old. The new data today, shows 2.7 per 100,000. And only 1.4 per 100,000 in the 60 to 69 age group. That’s a big difference when you go to that older age group. So I think it’s unlikely to change, but if there’s new data, they will look at it and they will give that advice.

WALEED ALY:      

Paul, to be clear, when these announcements happen, what I see is a group of experts dealing with a rapidly changing situation being as transparent as they possibly can about the risks and giving the best advice that they can. I fear, however, that I'm in a minority and that a lot of other people would look at this and say: well, I'm not sure we can really trust the advice that we’re being given because it keeps changing. And as a result of that, I don't think I'm prepared to follow through on getting the vaccine. Do you concede that’s a real problem here?

PAUL KELLY:       

Look, I can totally understand both points of view. I think the- from the beginning of this pandemic, and, you know, I've been involved in it from the very beginning, people have wanted certainty. And it has been difficult to give certainty, because we've been learning things all the way along. On the other hand, we've been totally transparent. The advice came from ATAGI today at 12.50, and by 1.15 we were out talking to the media about that. So as soon as we've got that information, we've passed that on to the public. And I certainly understand that there will be some people feeling anxious about that, particularly those that might have had an AstraZeneca shot in that 50-59 age group. My message to them is be alert, but don't be alarmed about this. It is still an extremely rare event and mostly not a serious one. Even with these rare events, we're finding that people are recovering well most of the time.

PETER HELLIAR: 

Professor, I don't mean to make your week any harder than it is, but I have some spies on the ground and I'm hearing, and can you confirm this, that there is growing tension between you and your colleague, Nick Coatsworth, about who gets to appear on The Project. Can you confirm this?

PAUL KELLY:       

Nick and I are great friends, despite having gone to rival schools in Perth. In the days when he was the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, we had a pact that he was the cool kid that went to The Project and I did all the other boring ones. But at the moment, he’s gone on to his other job, so you've got me

WALEED ALY:      

Because you've made it clear that he is no longer part of the team, haven't you? You've really just made sure we picked that up.

LISA WILKINSON:

Suck that, Nick Coatsworth.

[Laughter]

Alright. Professor, thanks so much for joining us this evening.

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%20ID23316, body: URL - https%3A%2F%2Fwww.health.gov.au%2Fnews%2Fchief-medical-officer-professor-paul-kellys-interview-on-the-project-on-17-june-2021)

View contact