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

TOM CONNELL:   

We're getting this prospect, it feels like basically close to a- well, not quite a lockdown, but national restrictions, essentially. We are more vulnerable because of our slow rollout of the vaccine. Australia's Chief Nursing Officer says, at the moment, it is actually possible for people under the age of 25 to get AstraZeneca. Remember, this vaccine it's basically back on the shelf at the moment. She does concede that practically, though, it may still not actually be possible. The current health advice is for the AZ jab, is only those to be used for 60 and over. Earlier, I spoke to Professor Alison McMillan. I began by asking her whether the risk factor for AstraZeneca, given the outbreaks at the moment, is being revisited.

[Excerpt]

 

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

So, Tom, as you know, ATAGI review this data on a regular basis. They'll meet again this week, but we don't expect that they'll change those recommendations. We have always relied very much on that independent health advice and we'll continue to do that. But I think it's important to remember that now, almost 30 per cent of eligible Australians have had their first dose of this- of a vaccine, and this will provide them with protection against the virus.

 

TOM CONNELL:   

That decision, when it's being made, do we factor in outbreaks? Because when outbreaks happen, they happen suddenly. Vaccinations can't happen suddenly.

 

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Yes, Tom, they do take the context of the situation into consideration when making those recommendations. So they look at a whole range of variables across the country and the data that they see coming in, in relation to the vaccine, the two vaccines currently available in Australia.

 

TOM CONNELL:   

[Talks over] Right, but…

 

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

They'll review that. And, yeah.

 

TOM CONNELL:   

So, yeah, I get they take into account the current context, but what about the possibility of outbreaks, which we're seeing now? Was that factored in then or will it be in the future that, again, you can't just suddenly play catch up, and winter, and Delta's here, the chances of outbreaks have just increased?

 

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Well, I think, Tom, what we have seen in recent weeks is a significant increase in the number of vaccines being taken up. And we continue to see that over the weekend. We're now more than 7 million. I can't pre-empt what they're going to do or what they're going to see, but I think we've got to remember that although we are seeing some outbreaks in Australia, they are still relatively low numbers and are well contained. And particularly in New South Wales, they're getting to those contacts very quickly, which is really very encouraging.

 

TOM CONNELL:   

AstraZeneca's limitation has led some people to say: well, I'm younger, I'd like to take it. What's the official policy there? Can someone in their 20s or 30s have AstraZeneca, if they're aware of the risks, they sign a disclaimer form, for example? And if not, why not?

 

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Well, they can, in fact, Tom. If they choose to do so, let's not prevent it. But it's certainly not recommended now by ATAGI. We are suggesting that they get their access to the Pfizer vaccine as we now see the recommendations. And we do know that in coming months, we'll see a significant increase in supply, so they will be able to access the vaccine. We have prioritised, as you know, the older and more vulnerable Australians for the first part of our vaccine roll out.

 

TOM CONNELL:   

Okay. So, if somebody's in Sydney right now, let's say they're 25 and they want AstraZeneca. How do they get that?

 

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Well, they'd need to talk to their general practitioner, make appointment to see their GP and they can talk it over with them, whether or not they feel it's appropriate for them to access, or have the AstraZeneca vaccine.

 

TOM CONNELL:   

Can a GP refuse to give it?

 

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

I think that the conversation would need to be held between the patient and the GP about the relative risks and benefits of that vaccine. And they would come to a shared conclusion around that, one would hope. I can't pre-empt what a GP might do.

 

TOM CONNELL:   

I guess I'm just talking about the right, though. If one person in their, as I said, in their 20s decided they want it, they- they're told about the risk, they have that conversation, does the GP still have the ultimate call? Or can the person say, I'm aware of that? I'll sign this. I'd like the vaccine?

 

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

I think if- Tom, if a, if a GP was still uncomfortable with the decision the patient was making, they may choose to refer them to someone else, or refer them to a specialist to make that decision. It really would depend on the nature of the individual, the 25 year old you're referring, to about what they may feel is, is their, their risk? So there'd be a conversation between patient and doctor, and the doctor still wasn't sure they may refer or choose to seek further advice with a colleague - as they often do.

 

TOM CONNELL:   

[Talks over] Right. So, it's possible, at least in theory, to get an AZ vaccine if you're under that age, but it might not be possible in practicality?

 

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

I- That's a fair assumption. Yes. Yeah.

 

TOM CONNELL:   

Okay. Frustration has been growing, we have these cities with outbreaks. And after the outbreak starts, suddenly we see these massive vaccine queues. It seems people aren't, for some reason, motivated enough. Why haven't we seen a big public awareness campaign on this?

 

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Well, I think I think, Tom, we are seeing an awareness campaign. We've got material out there in the, in the written press; in the radio; in TV advertisements. We're, we're taking- Obviously this rollout is targeted increasingly over a wider population, but we are promoting the vaccine and we're doing in a very controlled and sensible way as the vaccine becomes available to a wider part of the population. At the moment, obviously, our focus is still on those most vulnerable and encouraging them to get vaccinated.

 

TOM CONNELL:   

AHPPC has been tasked with looking at making COVID vaccination mandatory for aged care workers. What light can you shed on that work so far?

 

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

So we've been having a lot of very detailed conversations around that, Tom, and we continue to work through all of the things that we are doing to make access to the vaccine for aged care workers as easy as possible. So any aged care worker out there today, you can access the vaccine through a whole range of ways and we're really strongly encouraging you to do so. It protects you, but also, of course, it protects those most vulnerable, those in particularly in residential aged care, and those in disability care. So we're continuing to work on that, and we're looking at some additional options which may become- that we're continuing to explore - and we'll do that again today when we meet at 12.30.

 

TOM CONNELL:   

Right. So, are you open? Is your taskforce open to making this mandatory? Is that on the table? You've been asked to look at the logistics, essentially, around that.

 

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

I think we all know that there may be- well, there's certainly a consideration about whether this is absolutely necessary. We've seen vaccines being mandated in some other areas. In Queensland we know if you're going to work on a COVID ward, for instance, as a nurse, you are required to be vaccinated. And Western Australia mandated vaccine for the hotel quarantine workers. So we are seeing some examples of this.

We need to be very measured and considered, and we need to make sure that we provide aged care workers with all the information they need and access as easily as possible so that can get this vaccine.

 

TOM CONNELL:   

So just finally, only a third of them have been vaccinated so far. What's the biggest issue? Are they all being off [audio skips] effectively, but effectively looking at two thirds hesitancy rate?

 

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Well, we know that there is some hesitancy. We're looking to try to overcome that. We know that the best way to overcome hesitancy is to provide information that is relative to the individuals, and make it as easy as possible for them to get the, and that's why they're- all aged care workers are eligible now to get Pfizer. They can get it at a- they can get AstraZeneca through a GP, they can access it through the Commonwealth vaccination clinics, through the mass vaccine clinics. And we're also seeing some of the larger aged care providers doing an [indistinct] in reach programme with their own staff, where they're vaccinating their own staff under contract.

 

TOM CONNELL:   

[Talks over] Okay. Professor McMillan, thanks for your time this morning.

 

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Thanks, Tom.

[End of excerpt]

 

TOM CONNELL:   

That was my interview from a short time ago.

Contact

Departmental media enquiries

Contact for members of the media

news [at] health.gov.au (subject: Media%20enquiry%20-%20News%20item%20ID24119, body: URL - https%3A%2F%2Fwww.health.gov.au%2Fnews%2Fchief-nurse-and-midwifery-officer-professor-alison-mcmillans-interview-on-sky-news-on-28-june-2021)

View contact