Date published: 
26 May 2021
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

JIM WILSON:         

Right. Well, I'm just hours away from getting my first COVID vaccine shot. 7 o'clock tonight, I'll get the AstraZeneca jab, and I'm looking forward to it. I have absolutely no qualms in getting the AstraZeneca vaccine. The reason being, well, I'm backing in our health experts and the overwhelming advice that the benefits far outweigh the risks. And I'll take the vaccine over the virus any day. Yesterday, we had a huge response from you about the vaccine rollout, and we were swamped with questions that you want answered. I think the messaging and the advertising campaign has lacked facts. And I think we've had generic ads saying go and get the vaccine, but there's a lot of questions that you want answered, and that's fair enough.

So, we've gone to the top this afternoon and one of the people who sits at the round table when it comes to the vaccine rollout. Adjunct Professor Alison McMillan is the Australian Government's Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer and is ready to take your calls and answer your questions. Our number is 131-873. You can text 0460-873-873. And Professor Alison McMillan joins me live on the line. Alison, welcome back to Drive.

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Thank you, Jim. It's nice to talk to you again today.

JIM WILSON:         

Thank you for your time. I know you're very, very busy. Let's start with the messaging around the vaccine rollout. Do you think it's been effective enough? Because there are a lot of our listeners who remain concerned and confused, especially around the AstraZeneca vaccine.

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Jim, I think- as you say, we've provided information in a whole range of different formats - television advertising, we've got web pages, Facebook, all these different things - but it is always hard to get a lot of information to the community. I would encourage your listeners again to go and look at our website. We've now made it in a way that tries to spell out all of the questions people might have about both vaccines - but obviously, your focus here is AstraZeneca - so we can answer people's questions very clearly. So I would encourage people to go and look to the highly reliable resources we've got, which is the most up to date information we have available to us too.

JIM WILSON:         

We got a lot of calls yesterday. Kate from the Lower North Shore has a question. She wants to know, is the AstraZeneca vaccine as effective as the Pfizer vaccine?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Yes, Jim, it is. Both vaccines are extremely effective against severe illness associated with COVID. And that's why it's so important that we're encouraging everyone who's currently eligible to get vaccinated. As you just said, vaccination definitely over getting COVID. And unfortunately, the older one gets, the greater the risk of severe disease and death with COVID. That's why we focus most on the most vulnerable first and obviously our older population.

JIM WILSON:         

Kate also asked, how effective are both vaccines against the variant strains of the virus like the ones we've seen out of India, the UK, and South Africa?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Jim, we haven't got a lot of data in Australia because fortunately, we don't have a lot of COVID in Australia. But we work very closely with our British and European colleagues because they're continuing to monitor the effectiveness of a range of vaccines, both on- not only on how effective it's preventing the disease, but also now we're looking at how effective it is against transmission. So, at the moment, we're continuing to be confident that these vaccines are effective against these variants of concern, but as more information emerges, we'll understand better. And I don't think anyone is shying away from the fact that we believe it's likely that, in the future, we're going to need boosters and potentially even additional vaccines over the coming years, in many ways the same as we do now with flu. We all know we have our flu vaccination every year as well.

JIM WILSON:         

Okay. So I want to go to our callers. Terri from Bankstown has called in, Alison. Go ahead, Terri.

CALLER TERRI:   

Yes, good afternoon. Good afternoon, Professor. I would like to ask-

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

[Talks over] Good afternoon, Terri. Terri, just call me Alison.

CALLER TERRI:   

Okay, Alison. My husband and I, both 68, he suffers from deep vein thrombosis. He had it twice in his life, and he's on warfarin. And he also had the Factor V, which I'm sure you are aware of the blood disorder(*). So we are 100 per cent want to be vaccinated, and we are on the list of to go and get the AstraZeneca. I was just wondering which is safer for him in his condition and the amount of [indistinct] he takes beta blockers and he takes warfarin every night, and he has that Factor V, which a hereditary thing. Two of my children have it as well. He's got the double mutation, which I think makes it a little bit more harder to deal with. So can you advise me?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Terri, I'm not in a position to give you personal advice. I think that's really important. But there is advice available to people who have a history of blood clots, and obviously, with your husband's condition, he will have a GP. So, I think go and read the information that's available on the website. We are saying that there's no evidence people who've had a past history of blood clots are at increased risk of this TTS, as we're calling it, but I can understand and appreciate that you may have some concerns. So have a look at the information available that answers directly the question you're asking me, and if you feel it still doesn't give you everything you need to understand, then go and talk to a health professional, one of the nurses potentially in the clinic, one of the doctors in the clinic, about what might be best for you. But obviously, in your age group, we are really encouraging you to get vaccinated. And I really do understand your nervousness, and you need to get all the information you can to make the best decision for you.

So, Terri, I don't want you to think I'm giving you advice because, you know, this is a telephone conversation, but definitely read the information, and if you still don't feel you've got what you need, talk to a doctor or nurse at the clinics that you would regularly go to.

JIM WILSON:         

Terri, thank you for your call. Gary on the text line, Alison, has said, hi Jim, could you please ask if the vaccine will be something we will need to get annually like the flu vaccine?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Yeah, Jim, I already said that. I think we don't know yet, but we're beginning to think that it is something that we're likely to see some form of needing to continue to maintain that protection over the years. I think the experts are still looking at this. And this is something that our expert group, as we call them, ATAGI, will think about into the future and we're making some provision for that to go into the- yeah.

JIM WILSON:         

Right, okay. Thank you for clarifying that. Let's go to Shant(*) from Pendle Hill. Hello Shant.

CALLER SHANT:  

How are you, Jim? Hi Alison.

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Good afternoon.

CALLER SHANT:  

Good afternoon to you. My wife has a problem as well [indistinct]… and plus she's got lichen planus skin disease as well. So I don't know how much that vaccines going to affect it. We're over 50.

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

You're over 50? Okay, so again, I'm going to encourage you to go and look at the information available to you. I don't want to be you know, I'm going to repeat myself, but I can't give you the personal advice over the telephone. That's not appropriate for me. I can give you general advice. And again, look at the information available for you and your wife. Make sure you read it and understand it. And again, we are- but as I've just said, you know, we are saying that there aren't many conditions that anybody has, preconditions, that preclude people from having these vaccines. So I'm not going to be rude and ask you your age, but it is important that you remember that as we get older, we're at greater risk of COVID than we are of the vaccine. I'm in that age group as well. So get that information and make sure you that you've read it properly. If you're still concerned, definitely talk to a doctor or a nurse about that particular, because with that condition, she'll definitely have a specialist or a GP that manages that condition.

JIM WILSON:         

Shant, thank you. Let's go to Bill from Randwick. Hello Bill.

CALLER BILL:      

Hello. Thank you, Alison and Jim. Alison, I'm 62. I have no problem with getting vaccinated, but I have an ethical objection to the AstraZeneca vaccine because as I understand it, it was developed using some sort of gene sequence from an aborted foetus in 1972. A lot of people may not know that, but I just have an ethical objection to getting that vaccine, whereas I understand the Pfizer one doesn't use that. So why couldn't I get Pfizer if I have an ethical objection?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Bill, because the recommendations around the access to vaccine based on age is based on the expert advice from ATAGI. So that's the advice we are providing and your beliefs are obviously your beliefs. But I would suggest that you need to make sure that you're getting your information from the most reliable sources, because perhaps what you believe this vaccine may have been produced from is not correct. And I think that all the vaccines have gone through rigorous analysis and assessment by many religious groups who have also echoed some of these concerns that you may have. And they've approved these vaccines and are encouraging people to have them. So I think that you need to make sure you're getting the information from a reliable source. Then if you make a decision that you don't want a vaccine based on your ethical beliefs, that's fine. But ethics alone is not a reason for you to be able to access the Pfizer vaccine. You are eligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine.

JIM WILSON:         

Thank you, Bill. Let's go to Richard from Bellevue Hill. Hello, Richard.

CALLER RICHARD:        

G'day, g'day, g'day. I just- a simple question. Do the injections affect your antibodies?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

The vaccines stimulate your immune system so that when and if you come in contact with the virus, your body will respond really positively and you'll not get really sick and hopefully not die as a consequence of getting that illness. So it makes your immune system respond really positively and gives you all that resistance to COVID.

CALLER RICHARD:        

So what happens in 12 months' time? Do we know what goes on after that?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

We don't because no one's been vaccinated for 12 months yet. And so everyone all over the world now and all these vaccine companies are monitoring what the impact is over the longer term. And that's one of the reasons that you might have heard recently that we've entered a contract with Moderna, because we think in Australia we might need to have other, you know, either booster doses or like with the flu, we get that dose every year. It's possible that that will be necessary in the future.

CALLER RICHARD:        

Yes, okay. No because I haven't had it, I'm just sort of debating and like a lot of people, have to make sure that- I mean there's been a lot of disasters we know about. But I think the [indistinct] situation is beneficial.

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

It is. And remember that these side effects that we've talked about, this clotting syndrome, is really, really rare. It's very, very rare. Most people, other than a sore arm and a bit of a headache perhaps for a day or so- it's a very rare side effect.

JIM WILSON:         

Thank you, Richard. Now for another Richard, Alison. This is a question. Has the vaccine gone through proper regulatory processes? Has it been rushed?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Okay. It's a regularly often asked question, Richard. And as you will have heard many times, we did not rush any of this. All of the vaccines that are approved for use in Australia have gone through our very, very stringent regulatory processes. And that's- you know, some people have criticised us potentially for being slow, but part of our very careful and considered approach to this was to make sure that we were providing a safe and effective vaccine to all Australians, and that meant we followed every part of the normal regulatory things that we do, and we'll continue to. That's an ongoing process where these companies have to continue to give us data so we can have a very clear picture about what's going on. So you can have confidence that the TGA, who is our regulator, is considered one of the best in the world.

JIM WILSON:         

Richard, thank you for your question. Alison, let's take a quick break and come back with you. We've got still some more questions from our listeners. It's 3.47

[Unrelated content - ad break]

We're very lucky to have live on the line this afternoon someone whose- we went to the top for some answers and we're getting those answers this afternoon. We're getting clarity as far as the vaccine rollout's concerned. Adjunct Professor Alison McMillan is the Australian Government's Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer. And Alison, again, thank you very, very much for joining us this afternoon.

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Thanks, Jim.

JIM WILSON:         

Good on you. Now, let's get let's go back to the calls. Peter from Blacktown. Hello, Peter.

CALLER PETER:  

Hi, how are you doing?

JIM WILSON:         

Yeah, good, mate. Alison's on the line and ready to take your question.

CALLER PETER:  

If you get the injection, can you still contract COVID?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Yes, Peter, you can. Yes…

CALLER PETER:  

[Interrupts] Which means you can still carry- even with the injection, you could still be a carrier?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

You have that possibility, yes. We're learning more about how if you have to full- the two doses of the vaccine, we know that that protects you very, very well against severe disease and death. As yet, we're still learning about does that mean that it reduces your likelihood of transmitting it to somebody else. We're seeing some early results out of the UK that are saying that that's probably to some extent likely. But it does mean it protects you from ending up in intensive care or god forbid, passing away. That's the really important bit to protect you from those things.

JIM WILSON:         

Thank you, Peter. Alison, just got this on the email from Michelle. Do we have to sign a consent form before we can be vaccinated?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

There is a consent form associated with the vaccines, yes. And the consent form is a series of questions that you'll get asked as well just to make sure that we've got the right person, that you haven't got any past history of having an allergic reaction to the vaccine. So, yes, there is a consent form. The consent is more about just that conversation rather than actually signing something. But yes, we go through that process, as we do with many medical and health procedures.

JIM WILSON:         

Sure, okay. On the text line, Ron says: does it mutate your DNA?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

No, it doesn't mutate your DNA. What it does is it stimulates your immune system so that you get better protection if you get exposed to the virus through a contact with an infected person.

JIM WILSON:         

Okay. Lorraine says: hi, Jim and Alison. If older people are the most vulnerable, why are they being left for 12 weeks with only the one dose? Wouldn't the Pfizer be better for them with the shorter time between doses?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

So when the ATAGI were making the decisions about the vaccine, we wanted to- we were cognisant also with availability and how much vaccine was available to us. We do know that people get good protection from their first dose and then that second dose just tops it up. So we have gone with the program of work that we were looking at, which is the AstraZeneca for the older population and now the Pfizer for the younger population. It's not that we're giving them no suggestion at all. We're giving them a sub-optimal vaccine. Both vaccines are very effective.

JIM WILSON:         

Just a quick one before I let you go, Alison. And again, we really appreciate your time. Margaret has asked can you please repeat the website to find info, re family histories of blood clots?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Okay. So the best place to go is to go to Health.gov - which is G-O-V - dot au. That's the Department of Health website. That's our website. And there's oodles, oodles of information there in multiple languages and in different formats and videos that is intended to keep to keep people informed. And that's where it'll talk through all of those questions about blood clots. And I know people have got concerns, but so, Jim, for a minute, just to remind you, you know, we've now had 2.1 million AstraZeneca vaccines delivered on 21 episodes of this very, very rare blood clotting. And 22 of those people have- so 20 people have already gone home from hospital. So it is rare. And certainly, the risk of COVID is much greater than the risk from the vaccine.

JIM WILSON:         

That website again, health.gov.au. Alison, again, thank you for adding so much clarity around some of these questions from our listeners. And we really appreciate your time this afternoon for joining us on Drive.

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Thanks, Jim.

JIM WILSON:         

Good on you. That's Adjunct Professor Alison McMillan, who is the Australian Government's Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer. And again, thank you to Health and to Alison for her time this afternoon.

Contact

Departmental media enquiries

Contact for members of the media

news [at] health.gov.au (subject: Media%20enquiry%20-%20News%20item%20ID22689, body: URL - https%3A%2F%2Fwww.health.gov.au%2Fnews%2Fchief-midwifery-and-nursing-officer-professor-alison-mcmillans-interview-on-2gb-26-may-2021)

View contact