Date published: 
17 February 2021
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

LEIGH SALES:       

Australia has approved the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, paving the way for home-grown doses. John Skerritt is the Deputy Secretary of the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which approved the vaccine.

[Excerpt]        

Professor Skerritt, can I start by asking about the over 65s? If they get the AstraZeneca vaccine, will it be as effective for them as the Pfizer one?

JOHN SKERRITT: 

We've got every confidence, Leigh, that it will be as effective. The results from the clinical trials showed there was a strong immune response in these people. And just last night, some of my colleagues had a lengthy conversation with Boris Johnson's team in the Prime Minister's office in the UK. Now, they've been putting this vaccine into quite large numbers of people over 65 with excellent results.

LEIGH SALES:       

Will people be allowed any choice in which vaccine they opt for?

JOHN SKERRITT: 

The Government's policy is that each centre will have one vaccine, and there'll be different groups going to different centres depending on, obviously, whether you're an aged care resident or you're going to go to primary care in Category 1B of the Phase 1B of a rollout. And so, no, they won't have a choice, but frankly, both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines have been excellent vaccines from our review of them.

LEIGH SALES:       

Some churches have told parishioners to ask for the Pfizer jab, not the AstraZeneca one, because the AstraZeneca one reportedly uses aborted foetuses. What's your view on that and would religious objection be grounds for an exemption to get the vaccine you wanted?

JOHN SKERRITT: 

When the vaccine was developed, quite a range of vaccines were produced in embryonic kidney cells, and these cells came originally from - and we don't know the personal situation - from a termination that was done, we think, in the Netherlands in the early 1970s. So a very long time ago. And those cells are many generations old now. What we do know is that even at the highest levels from the Vatican down, they've said that the source of this vaccine is not a reason not to be vaccinated. So, churches have come out quite strongly, emphasising the importance of vaccination.

LEIGH SALES:       

With two vaccines going to be available in Australia, what is the best possible timeframe by which you would have the vast majority of the population inoculated?

JOHN SKERRITT: 

Well, the Government has undertaken that everyone who is keen to be vaccinated should be able to be by the end of October. And what this actually means in the choice of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the Government's advisory group, ATAGI, has actually recommended a 12-week gap, unless if you're off to have surgery or chemotherapy or something or other, but for the vast majority of people, a 12-week gap. And that actually means that more people will be able to be vaccinated earlier because we'll be leaving a 12-week gap routinely with the AstraZeneca vaccine. So, the aspiration for the end of October is more than that, especially because we know that as of next month, large amounts of locally manufactured vaccine will come online, subject to our approval. But that work's going well too. That's a separate approval for the Australian-manufactured AstraZeneca vaccine because it's actually made at a different site from the first lot of AstraZeneca vaccines that we've just approved yesterday.

LEIGH SALES:       

Just briefly, finally, regarding the Pfizer shipment that arrived yesterday, what sort of effort is underway to make sure that's working appropriately? We know, for example, it has to be maintained under extremely cold temperatures.

JOHN SKERRITT: 

So we've actually checked the data that the airlines and the company have sent to us, and yes, it stayed nice and cold through its whole way from Belgium, via Singapore, through to Sydney. And so, it's passed the test of keeping sufficiently cold because that one does have to keep very cold. We also have samples of those vaccines being analysed, but we also are working closely with European laboratories and we've passed all the laboratory tests. So we are getting close to finalising our look at those products but we expect that in the next 24 hours or so, we'll be able to tick all the boxes on those vaccines.

LEIGH SALES:       

Professor Skerritt, thank you very much.

JOHN SKERRITT: 

Thank you very much, Leigh.

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