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

STEPHEN QUARTERMAIN:  

Joining us on the line is the Secretary of the Department of Health, Professor Brendan Murphy. Good morning Professor. Thanks for your time.

BRENDAN MURPHY:           

Good morning.

STEPHEN QUARTERMAIN:  

Well, I'm sure there's a lot of Australians feeling a little uneasy about the AstraZeneca vaccine today. What's your message to them?

BRENDAN MURPHY:           

My message to them is that the AstraZeneca vaccine is a very, very good and effective vaccine. I've had it, and I'm very confident in it. It's very powerful at protecting against COVID. It has extremely rare complication which seems to be more common in younger people. And in younger people, there is less of a risk of severe COVID. And out of an abundance of caution, our experts have reluctantly recommended that we give a preference to using a different vaccine whilst this situation evolves.

So, I still think it is a wonderful vaccine. It's a really good vaccine. And for those over 50, they should have no hesitation about it. This complication is vanishingly rare, and the protection that's offered is fantastic. And COVID is always- it's with us in the world. It will come back, so we have to protect our vulnerable population, particularly the older population.

STEPHEN QUARTERMAIN:  

Now, you said it's very rare, which we all acknowledge, but is there anything for young people who have had the AstraZeneca vaccine should look out for just in case?

BRENDAN MURPHY:           

Yes. If- within four to- about four to 14 days, four to 20 days after the vaccine, the symptoms are generally quite severe when people get this clotting syndrome, often a very, very severe headache or very severe abdominal pain. And if that happens- it's very, very unlikely. We've only seen one potential case in Australia. They should go and seek medical attention. But I would caution that it is very, very rare. And the people who get a headache or feeling a bit unwell in the first three to four days after a vaccine, it's not this condition. It never occurs until about four days after.

EMILY POWER:                    

Professor, will Australians have the option to refuse an AstraZeneca jab and request Pfizer from their GP if they're not comfortable?

BRENDAN MURPHY:           

Well, the GPs have only got the AstraZeneca at the moment. The Pfizer is a very complex, cold chain vaccine that has to be given in special circumstances. No one is required to have a vaccine. Everyone has to consent and make a choice. If- I would strongly encourage those over 50 to take up the vaccine, the AstraZeneca, when offered. If they don't choose to do so, they wouldn't be able to get access in the short term to a Pfizer vaccine because those vaccines have been prioritised for the under 50s. But so I'd encourage them to take that up. There may well be in, you know, several months' time a broader availability of vaccines. But my strong advice to everybody who is eligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine, who's over 50, is to take it up like I have done. It is a very, very good vaccine.

EMILY POWER:                    

Professor, are you reviewing all vaccine purchases, including Novavax? And are there any others that you'll be looking more closely at now?

BRENDAN MURPHY:           

We continue to review all of our vaccine supply chains. We've- we have advance contracts for 150 million. We've got access to the Covax facility, which gives us access to several vaccines. Novavax, we've ordered 51 million doses, and we've talking to them about trying to bring forward the delivery of that vaccine. It still needs to get registration approval. But we expect to get some of that vaccine in quarter three of this year. And we are obviously looking at working with Pfizer on trying to increase their supply chain, the supply line of that vaccine and increase and looking at all of the companies at commercial deals to see what we can do about getting more redundancy again in our vaccine program.

STEPHEN QUARTERMAIN:  

The rollout hasn't been that quick when you compare it to many other countries, Professor. With this problem with the AstraZeneca, is that going to delay the rollout even further?

BRENDAN MURPHY:           

Well, I think- as I said at the press conf- firstly, let me say, I don't think everyone has been any slower than most other countries in those- the first couple of months of the rollout in terms of people- proportion of population vaccinated. We're about the middle of the pack. It's been a steady as you go, reasonable rollout. It's going well. In fact, you know, we hit a million doses yesterday, and that's a fantastic achievement. And so I dispute that it's not going well. There's been a bit of noise around the media, occasional people who have expressed issues, but it's largely gone extremely well.

Clearly, this will have some impact. The most apparent early impact will be some of those healthcare workers in 1B who are under 50 who were getting AstraZeneca. We will now prioritise Pfizer for them and that might take them a little longer to get vaccinated. But the rest of 1B- or 1A and 1B should be vaccinated exactly according to plan. And we are looking at all of those issues like vaccine supply to recalibrate the program overall, particularly for the general younger population in the second half of the year.

STEPHEN QUARTERMAIN:  

Professor, as we are speaking at the moment, we're getting quite a few calls. And I would just like you, if that's okay, to explain what it is about people over 50 that make them not susceptible to problems with the AstraZeneca.

BRENDAN MURPHY:           

Well, we don't really know why, but it does seem that this condition is much more common in younger people and it's probable that it is caused by some sort of immune reaction. So for some rare reason, people are making some sort of unusual antibody which interferes with their clotting system and younger people are more likely to form strong immune reactions. So that's one hypothesis. So it does seem to be, you know, all the international data, would suggests it's much more common in younger people. And the other reason why we're strongly recommending it in the over 50s is not only is this condition significantly less common, but the risk of COVID is so much greater and so, so, so much greater than the rare risk of this condition. And so people need to be protected. And it's- the risk benefit is very much in favour of getting the vaccine.

STEPHEN QUARTERMAIN:  

So, as we let you go. Professor Brendan Murphy, Secretary of the Department of Health. As you said, you've just had the first AstraZeneca shot, professor, and you say don't hesitate if you're over 50, go for it.

BRENDAN MURPHY:           

Absolutely. Go for it.

STEPHEN QUARTERMAIN:  

Good on you Professor. Thank you very much for your time. Professor Brendan Murphy, the Secretary of the Department of Health.

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