Date published: 
21 July 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Let's go back to our coronavirus coverage now, and as Victoria and New South Wales continue to report a rise in infections, there's some rare good news this morning, very promising. Researchers in Britain say first stage trials were a success and they're hopeful a vaccine can be developed before the end of the year. Joining us now from Canberra is Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Nick Coatsworth.

Nick, good morning to you. So you're more of an expert than any of us in this sort of area. How do you read what we have learnt from Oxford overnight?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, Michael, it looks very encouraging, and I know Professor Andy Pollard and his group of researchers there, they are absolutely world-class. The response of this vaccine has been to create increased number of antibody levels and T cell activation. Now they're the two parts of the immune system that will work in concert to protect against COVID-19. So what we're actually seeing is that those two elements of the immune system are boosted by the vaccine. What we need to see now is that boosting actually translates into protection from COVID when it's rolled out. And I too have seen the reports this morning that they're aiming to enrol up to 50,000 people within the next six to eight weeks. So this is encouraging news. We still have to make sure that over a large population it's a safe vaccine, and most importantly, an effective vaccine.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Okay. 50,000 people is quite a sample. Realistically, as we are reading this morning, if all things go well and it's found to be safe and triggers immunity, could it be available, say, by the end of the year or early next year?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, we hope that it's going to be available as soon as possible. There are some- still some significant steps obviously to get through. I can tell you that I'm part of the internal vaccination task force, that we're keeping a very close eye on all the vaccine developments and right through till to things like procurement, manufacturing, et cetera. So the finger is absolutely on the pulse here to make sure that we understand if and when the vaccine is going to become available for Australians.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Looking at the situation on the ground here in Australia, how concerned are you, Nick, about the situation in New South Wales with the rise in infections?

NICK COATSWORTH:

I think the situation in our most populous state is concerning. That said, there are some differences to the early outbreak in Victoria, which are that the cases are being traced to single point sources, single outbreaks, rather than a more dispersed outbreak in the community, which is what our Victorian colleagues had to deal with and has proved to be obviously immensely challenging. So I think there's still a reasonable chance that the New South Wales public health team will get this under control. But we do have to start to consider things, like mask use on public transport where we can can't socially distance. And that's something that we would start to encourage Sydneysiders to strongly consider.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Okay. Would it nip any further outbreak in the bud if mask use was to become mandatory in Sydney as it is about to be in Melbourne?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well I think the- as I've said before, the mandatory introduction of masks is a big policy intervention. Of course, Michael, you actually need people to intervene and enforce that and fine people. It has to be a proportionate response. And I think what we would say clearly at the moment is the number of cases in New South Wales, the proportionate response is to encourage people who can't socially distance to start getting used to wearing masks. These are medical masks or cloth masks.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

And that leads me to the next question, the Premier in New South Wales, Gladys Berejiklian, has expressed her anger, her frustration, about people not socially distancing, people being very irresponsible indeed. We've seen the pictures of crowds at Bondi Beach over the weekend. Do you reckon people are being either, what, complacent, too selfish in Sydney?

NICK COATSWORTH:

I'm not sure it's a question of being selfish. Complacency, absolutely. And I think we will see that in Australia, around the world, when there's a relaxation of restrictions, people are interpreting that to mean they should relax their behaviours. They're two very different things. Until we get that vaccine that we discussed earlier, we need to maintain the behaviours: physical distance, hygiene, getting tested when we're unwell. That has to be part of daily living. If people don't get the message, they will find themselves in the situation that greater Victoria- sorry, greater Melbourne and Mitchell Shire are in at the moment.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Always worth repeating that very important message. Nick Coatsworth, we've got fingers and toes crosses on the vaccine front as well. Thank you so much for joining us.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Thank you, Michael.

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