Quarantine free travel for New Zealanders coming to Australia has been suspended amid fears of a concerning strain of COVID-19 across the Tasman. Joining us from Canberra is the Acting Chief Health Officer, Professor Michael Kidd.
Hey Michael, thank you so much for joining us. I want to talk about vaccine rollout in just a moment, but first this new strain. How worrying is it?
Well, this new strain is one of the variants of concern. It’s the strain which was originally identified in South Africa, the B1351 strain. It’s been picked up in 13 countries around the world, including in Australia and people who have come into Australia from overseas and who’ve been in hotel quarantine - we’ve had 13 cases in Australia to date.
But the worry about this case in New Zealand is that the person who was infected had finished their period of quarantine. It looks like they were infected by another passenger towards the end of their period of quarantine. They’ve then been out in the community for the past 10 days, visiting a number of venues, interacting with other people in the community.
Yesterday, we got the report that the rapid genome sequence had shown that this was the so-called South African variant, and as a consequence, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee met at midday yesterday and made a recommendation to the Prime Minister and the Australian Government that we suspend from the Green Zone arrangements for flights from New Zealand for the next 72 hours. And this allows us time- for the New Zealand authorities to follow up with all the contacts of this individual to see if there has been more widespread community transmission of this particular variant, which is more transmissible than the other variants of COVID-19 that we've seen in Australia. And then we can see if it's safe to resume the Green Zone arrangements or not.
So, there’ll still be flighting comes in from New Zealand, but they will be Red Zone flights over the 72-hour period.
Okay. Hey, let's go to the independent regulator approving the Pfizer vaccine rollout in Australia. The Government has ordered 10 million doses, that covers five million Australians of course - two doses each. The first batch of 800,000 is expected when, exactly?
So, we're expecting the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine to come into Australia during the middle of February, so over the next few weeks. The Therapeutic Goods Administration then does its regular batch testing to ensure that everything is fine with those doses which have come in. Those doses will then be distributed by the Australian Government out to the hubs which have been established with the states and territories, and the vaccine will start to rollout.
As we know, the initial priority populations are the residents and staff of aged care and disability care facilities across the country, as well as frontline health care workers and people working in quarantine and Border Force whose are at risk of coming into contact with people with COVID-19 from overseas.
Okay. Five million Australians will get, eventually, the Pfizer vaccine. The bulk of the rest of us will get the AstraZeneca, AstraZeneca version that is less effective than Pfizer. Are we worried about creating, I guess, a two-tier vaccination system here?
So what we know from the research and the clinical trials is that both the Pfizer vaccine and the AstraZeneca vaccine are very effective at preventing serious disease and preventing death from COVID-19. And this of course, this protection of the population is our number one priority.
The initial trials of the AstraZeneca vaccine have shown variable responses in preventing mild to moderate infections compared to the Pfizer vaccine, but they were early trials, and early data that came in towards the end of last year. The Therapeutic Goods Administration is looking at the much more updated clinical trial details and the further research which has been presented to them by AstraZeneca, and will be using this to make its determination about the safety and efficacy of that vaccine over the coming weeks.
Okay. Michael Kidd in Canberra, thank you so much for joining us.