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

ALLISON LANGDON:

Well, encouraging news this morning in the race for a coronavirus vaccine with scientists in the UK saying their jab, which is currently in human trials, is safe and created immunity against the deadly virus.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth joins us now from Canberra. Doc, good morning to you. Thank you for your time again. This sounds incredibly promising.

NICK COATSWORTH:

[Talks over] Good morning, Karl.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

How promising?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, I think it really is promising, Karl. The vaccine news out of the Oxford trial's group today, that's shown in phase two trial, so these are the sort of trials where you give the vaccine to a small number of people, then you look to see what the immune response is. There's T cell activation and there's antibodies being produced, and they're the two parts of the immune system that can work in concert together to protect us from COVID-19. So, this is really encouraging news. It now has to go to broader trials of course, and it looks like 50,000 people will receive that vaccine within the next six weeks, according to the reports, and see if it really does protect against COVID-19.

ALLISON LANGDON:

That report is also suggesting we might see this vaccine by the end of the year if all goes smoothly?

NICK COATSWORTH:

So, I think- I saw that report as well, Ally, and whilst that would be a wonderful outcome, there are still steps, including assessing the safety over a larger number of participants in those trials. So, it's important that we take hope from it, cautious hope, and the sooner the vaccine comes around, the better. But remembering it's not our only weapon; we have our weapons of social distancing, of getting tested when we're sick, and that's what we need to do right at this moment.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Okay. Victoria yesterday, 275 new cases. Is it a sign yet that at least we're starting to look like we're getting on top of it?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Karl, one of the things that we know now is that it's very hard to know where you are on the curve until a few weeks after it happens, and you can actually see it on the graph. Any number that's not the peak is a good number, I reckon. But let's look over the next couple of days. The hospitalisation rates remain quite stable, the intensive care units have capacity. My colleagues down there are working hard, doctors and nurses, to keep people with severe COVID-19 alive and recovered out the other side.

ALLISON LANGDON:

How much capacity do our ICU wards have, because we were reading this morning that they're at 80 per cent right now. Does that sound right?

NICK COATSWORTH:

It does, Ally. And that's about nation-wide. Keeping in mind that we're in the middle of the influenza season, or what would usually be an influenza season and a lot of intensive cares would be close to 100 per cent of their usual capacity. So, to see them with two in 10 of their beds actually free is pretty good news, in terms of how much extra capacity we have to fight COVID-19 in our intensive care units.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

I was reading the other day, that the incidents of influenza are so dramatically reduced this year because of some of those restrictions. Is that correct?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, it's remarkable, Karl. And it just shows you what can happen to stop a respiratory virus when we have excellent hygiene, when we keep physical distance. Fortunately, we have a vaccine for influenza which has had incredible uptake, so the numbers of cases are extraordinarily low. In 2017, we lost 400 Australians over the age of 90 from influenza alone, and this year, hardly any people have passed away from influenza. So, a bit of a light, a bit of a silver lining, if you will, to the current situation.

ALLISON LANGDON:

Well, encouraging news this morning in the race for a coronavirus vaccine with scientists in the UK saying their jab, which is currently in human trials, is safe and created immunity against the deadly virus.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth joins us now from Canberra. Doc, good morning to you. Thank you for your time again. This sounds incredibly promising.

NICK COATSWORTH:

[Talks over] Good morning, Karl.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

How promising?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, I think it really is promising, Karl. The vaccine news out of the Oxford trial's group today, that's shown in phase two trial, so these are the sort of trials where you give the vaccine to a small number of people, then you look to see what the immune response is. There's T cell activation and there's antibodies being produced, and they're the two parts of the immune system that can work in concert together to protect us from COVID-19. So, this is really encouraging news. It now has to go to broader trials of course, and it looks like 50,000 people will receive that vaccine within the next six weeks, according to the reports, and see if it really does protect against COVID-19.

ALLISON LANGDON:

That report is also suggesting we might see this vaccine by the end of the year if all goes smoothly?

NICK COATSWORTH:

So, I think- I saw that report as well, Ally, and whilst that would be a wonderful outcome, there are still steps, including assessing the safety over a larger number of participants in those trials. So, it's important that we take hope from it, cautious hope, and the sooner the vaccine comes around, the better. But remembering it's not our only weapon; we have our weapons of social distancing, of getting tested when we're sick, and that's what we need to do right at this moment.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Okay. Victoria yesterday, 275 new cases. Is it a sign yet that at least we're starting to look like we're getting on top of it?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Karl, one of the things that we know now is that it's very hard to know where you are on the curve until a few weeks after it happens, and you can actually see it on the graph. Any number that's not the peak is a good number, I reckon. But let's look over the next couple of days. The hospitalisation rates remain quite stable, the intensive care units have capacity. My colleagues down there are working hard, doctors and nurses, to keep people with severe COVID-19 alive and recovered out the other side.

ALLISON LANGDON:

How much capacity do our ICU wards have, because we were reading this morning that they're at 80 per cent right now. Does that sound right?

NICK COATSWORTH:

It does, Ally. And that's about nation-wide. Keeping in mind that we're in the middle of the influenza season, or what would usually be an influenza season and a lot of intensive cares would be close to 100 per cent of their usual capacity. So, to see them with two in 10 of their beds actually free is pretty good news, in terms of how much extra capacity we have to fight COVID-19 in our intensive care units.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

I was reading the other day, that the incidents of influenza are so dramatically reduced this year because of some of those restrictions. Is that correct?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, it's remarkable, Karl. And it just shows you what can happen to stop a respiratory virus when we have excellent hygiene, when we keep physical distance. Fortunately, we have a vaccine for influenza which has had incredible uptake, so the numbers of cases are extraordinarily low. In 2017, we lost 400 Australians over the age of 90 from influenza alone, and this year, hardly any people have passed away from influenza. So, a bit of a light, a bit of a silver lining, if you will, to the current situation.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Absolutely.

ALLISON LANGDON:

And Nick, these major outbreaks that we're seeing across Sydney and regional New South Wales, we're being told it is at a critical point. What are you looking out for?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, we're looking out, Ally, for unexplained cases that the public health unit in New South Wales - who I might add are doing a fantastic job, tracing every case, every day - but if they can't find the contact or where that person contracted COVID-19, that starts to become a problem. Whilst we can still understand the chains of transmission, as we did yesterday with all 20 new cases in New South Wales, that suggests that we've got things under control. So, we're watching those unknown cases very closely in the coming days.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Okay. Doc, great to talk to you today. Really appreciate it as always, thank you for your time.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Thanks very much Karl, thanks Ally.

Absolutely.

ALLISON LANGDON:

And Nick, these major outbreaks that we're seeing across Sydney and regional New South Wales, we're being told it is at a critical point. What are you looking out for?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, we're looking out, Ally, for unexplained cases that the public health unit in New South Wales - who I might add are doing a fantastic job, tracing every case, every day - but if they can't find the contact or where that person contracted COVID-19, that starts to become a problem. Whilst we can still understand the chains of transmission, as we did yesterday with all 20 new cases in New South Wales, that suggests that we've got things under control. So, we're watching those unknown cases very closely in the coming days.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Okay. Doc, great to talk to you today. Really appreciate it as always, thank you for your time.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Thanks very much Karl, thanks Ally.

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