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

CHARLES CROUCHER:

More now on those calls to pause Australia's vaccine roll-out, with Australia's top doctors concerned our choice jab, the AstraZeneca vaccine, is not effective enough.

SYLVIA JEFFREYS:

Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly is in Canberra with more. Professor Kelly, thank you for your time this morning. Tell us, are you considering a change to our roll-out plan based on this?

PAUL KELLY:

No, I'm not. The- we will be guided on the TGA advice, our Therapeutic Goods Administration, the independent regulator. They will have all of the information they need to make decisions about what vaccines are safe, what vaccines are effective, and what vaccines are high quality. Now, AstraZeneca is one of the mainstays, if not the mainstay of the global response in terms of vaccination.        

We are not alone in ordering AstraZeneca vaccine; for example, the UK has ordered and is already using 100 million doses of this vaccine in their emergency use authorisation. The US has ordered 300 million doses, the Europeans have ordered 400 million doses. So, this is- we're not an outlier in this. AstraZeneca is, on the evidence we have so far, a safe and effective vaccine. And we'll know more about that once the TGA has done all its work. That's what we'll be guided bout- by.

CHARLES CROUCHER:

Yeah, certainly. Even these concerns, it should be noted, there is no question about safety or any health concerns with the vaccine and its efficacy. Are you concerned, though, about public trust in the jab suffering?

PAUL KELLY:

I am concerned. Once controversy is opened up and people make comments based on interim results from a Phase 3 trial - it was published, by the way, a month ago, so I'm not exactly sure why it's coming up today. But once that sort of conversation starts, of course people will be wondering about whether it's the right decision. We'll be guided by the actual medical advice.  

We've had medical advice guiding this choice of the vaccine all along through our Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, longstanding advice that stood us very in good stead on all vaccines, not just COVID vaccine. And they were the ones that have advised us all along, continue to advise us. I met with the co-chairs of that advisory group yesterday. We also have another group that's advising, our Scientific and Industry Technical Advisory Group, set up by the Prime Minister, actually, late last year and the Minister for Health, Minister Hunt, specifically to guide us about how- what vaccines we should purchase, and what the goals and et cetera the vaccine program should be. So, AstraZeneca is absolutely important to that. That's the one we will have; we're making it here in Australia. And if it gets the tick from TGA, we'll be moving ahead with that vaccination.

SYLVIA JEFFREYS:

If it's only 62 per cent effective though, which is not enough to reach herd immunity, does that make it pointless?

PAUL KELLY:

So again, I would urge people that are looking at this to look at the full information, not to just pick one figure from that study. So, the study looked at a range of sites, they had three different countries with three slightly different protocols they were doing for looking at this vaccine. The pooled result was 70 per cent, they had in one group it was 90 per cent. Now, the- and 62 per cent was the larger group that was there.

As I say, we'll have much more information than a five or six-page article published in The Lancet a month ago, when The TGA makes its decision. They will have tens of thousands of pages, probably, of information. Once they've made that decision, we'll be guided by it. But minimum, this is an effective vaccine; it definitely exceeds the World Health Organization's goal of over 50 per cent effectiveness.

CHARLES CROUCHER:

Okay. The Australian Medical Association is this morning calling for a national ad campaign to stop the spread of health misinformation online. Is one currently in the works, and would you like to see that rolled out as well?

PAUL KELLY:

Oh, absolutely. We've been planning that for quite some time. We're already very active on social media, we're doing press conferences like this very often. And once that information was made public by the Prime Minister, the Minister for Health, myself and Professor Murphy last Thursday, we've been given the green light to continue with those information campaigns.

I think we have to be careful, though, about raising expectations too early, because at the moment we don't have a vaccine licence for use in Australia. And as we've said all along, we'll be waiting for the TGA to tick all the boxes, particularly on safety, but to guide us also about which groups to work through in terms of the vaccine. So, once it is available, we'll definitely be going out with all that information.

SYLVIA JEFFREYS:

Is it frustrating for you, I mean, all these efforts to build confidence in the community, that members of Parliament are undermining the health advice on their own Facebook pages?

PAUL KELLY:

Well, look, I'm not going to comment on members of Parliament's Facebook pages; that's their choice to do these in a democratic country that allows free speech. I would say this though, we've, all along, the- this is- I labelled this as the social media pandemic. So, there is a pandemic of virus, but there's also the other type of virus on the- in social media. So, people should really be careful about who they're listening to and who they're looking for, for advice. And I would really respectfully say that the Australian Government and the state and territory governments are the places to go to first. Including on social media where we're all very active on social media, as well as more traditional channels.

CHARLES CROUCHER:

Just not certain members of the Australian Government, it would seem.

SYLVIA JEFFREYS:

No.

CHARLES CROUCHER:

Professor Kelly, we appreciate your time this morning.

SYLVIA JEFFREYS:

Thank you.

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