Date published: 
9 September 2021
Media event date: 
7 September 2021
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

RICHARD GLOVER: So we thought we'd talk to Professor John Skerritt, he's Head of the Therapeutic Goods Administration and he joins us on the line. John, good afternoon. Thanks for joining us back on Drive.

JOHN SKERRITT: Oh yes, good afternoon, Richard. Good to talk with you again.

RICHARD GLOVER: When you click on this, I noticed it looks like it's your website in that it's organised like your website, but it's actually his website but it seems like using your data and maybe your set up?

JOHN SKERRITT: Well, it's a piece of our website without explanations and disclaimers, and that, of course, can make it misleading. There are issues - and I don't want to talk about them in detail because our lawyers are looking into it - about whether you can use a government logo and copyright information.  Normally there's laws as around, whether you can just take a piece of someone else's website without permission. But the most important thing is that it's giving an incorrect picture of the safety of these vaccines, and it's actually discouraging people from being vaccinated.

RICHARD GLOVER: Is the data, for what it's worth - I know it's stripped of a lot of the normal warnings that you put on this data and the explanations of the data. But is the data correct as far as it goes?

JOHN SKERRITT: Well, without the explanation, it's quite misleading. So what it says is that 495 people have had reports given to us that there was a death, sometime, days or perhaps a week or so after they had a COVID vaccine. Now, as you know, thankfully more and more people every day are being vaccinated. And sadly, in Australia, 170,000 people die every year, 3250 Australians die every single week. And so it's not surprising that two days after, say, a Pfizer vaccine, some people will die, the same way two days after going and seeing a doctor about something totally unrelated, they will die or two days after catching a bus. So really, it's not the cause and effect thing. And when we've looked at cause and effect, we believe that there's a total of nine reports of deaths that can be associated to vaccines, and this is against a background of 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines being given in Australia. Nine out of 20 million doses. 

RICHARD GLOVER:  [Interrupts] Okay. So your figure is nine and the one that Craig Kelly in a way is emphasising is 448. It's quite different.

JOHN SKERRITT:  Well, 495 is the current figure, but what they are is out of an abundance of caution, either individual doctors or hospitals are saying, look, so-and-so died five days after having AstraZeneca or Pfizer, can you look into it? And we look into all those cases, and as I said, only nine, do we believe, and we use an independent panel of experts to help us. Only nine do we believe that there's a cause and effect relationship. In the other cases, they were things like strokes, and sadly, people die in hospital or even at home, of strokes every day of the year, or all other sorts of causes of death. And when you have 3000 people dying every week of the year, and especially with vaccines being given among older people, it's not surprising that coincidentally there are hundreds of people who sadly die within days of being vaccinated.

RICHARD GLOVER: I mean, one example, for instance, here. So this is a list of adverse events. But if you look at the- at the explanation it is does not necessarily mean that medicine is the cause of the adverse event. It's just that there was an adverse event in some timing with the medicine. So then, as you say, you investigate whether they are linked. For instance, again, you look at the Craig Kelly data, it says, oh well, you know, 2300 people had, you know, vomiting, gastrointestinal problems like vomiting after they had the vaccine. But you're saying, yeah, that's true but many of those, maybe all of them, were not linked, we're not causal.

JOHN SKERRITT: Well, of those 2300, maybe 2000 had dodgy Indian takeaway. I don't know.

RICHARD GLOVER: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

JOHN SKERRITT: But I don't want to be flippant, but of course, so many medical conditions arise either without cause or in many cases, people already have conditions. So a lot of people already have high blood pressure, a lot of people already have diabetes, a lot of people already have lung disorders. And you've got to remember that initially we also focussed on vaccinating people who are older, and the highest priority for initial vaccinations were people with other serious health conditions. So it's not surprising that just by coincidence, within the days or weeks after vaccinations, conditions either flare up or sadly, out of 170,000 people who die every year in Australia, some people die.

RICHARD GLOVER: So if you click on Crai- not that I'm recommending, but if you click on Craig Kelly's link, you'll find his website, but it has got your data on it, but without the crucial explanation that this is data that you collect from doctors so that you know about all the adverse outcomes that may or may not be connected with the drug so that you can then investigate?

JOHN SKERRITT: Exactly. So the most important word is notifications. It's a database of reports. And what we do encourage is even if you don't think something's related, if it's the slightest possible link, report it to us. And that's how we managed to track down the extremely rare condition that some people have this low platelets and blood clotting disorder with AstraZeneca, and it was through these reports. And this is how we've also tracked down the extremely rare case of people, usually younger people, who have a heart inflammation after the Pfizer [sic] vaccine. So we do want people to report. But I believe there's degree of responsibility, especially among people who have a public profile of explaining what it means and reporting it accurately because the worst thing that can happen, especially with the pandemic we have in Sydney and Melbourne with the current outbreaks, is to discourage people from being vaccinated because they think these vaccines are far more dangerous than the data really shows.

 I mean, every medicine or vaccine and even Panadol are associated with adverse events, but the adverse events with the COVID vaccines are extremely rare.

RICHARD GLOVER: And if I generated a report on Panadol, to take that example, there would be a mix of adverse effects which had been caused by the Panadol, but lots which just happened to be connected with my use, but not causal?

JOHN SKERRITT: You would find hundreds, if not thousands, of adverse events with Panadol and some of which are related to the Panadol, but the vast majority, again, will be coincidental in time.

RICHARD GLOVER: Okay. And collected by health authorities so you can keep us all safe. I mean, what did you think when you found- when you discovered that Craig Kelly had sent this, I think on the face of it, you've told us, very misleading link to, I don't know how many, but maybe hundreds of thousands of Australians?

JOHN SKERRITT: Well, it'll be obviously for legal advice whether any offence has been committed. And I don't want to pre-empt whether or not an offence has been committed. I'd return to the fact whether people who are in a position of power or influence, especially given the situation, that the East Coast of Australia, especially New South Wales, ACT, Victoria, are currently in, whether it is an appropriate thing to be using data to discourage people from being vaccinated, when, really, you only have to look at the difference of the course of the pandemic outbreak in Sydney this year and Melbourne last year. We saw so many more deaths in Melbourne because we didn't have a vaccine, and sadly so many of the people who, you know, do die or are admitted to the ICU in Sydney this year, fortunately, the numbers of deaths have been lower. But those people largely are unvaccinated, or they're extremely old, but largely it's the unvaccinated. Whereas in Melbourne, we didn't have a vaccine, and that's why we had several hundreds of deaths this time last year.

RICHARD GLOVER: So spreading misinformation that can put people off getting vaccinated can have the most serious consequence as you can imagine? The death of people.

JOHN SKERRITT: Of course, and not only for yourself, but for your family, because often younger, fitter people can contract COVID. They may only be mildly ill, but of course they can then spread it to a family member or neighbour who is older and it's still largely the older people who are succumbing in the numbers and the reports we're seeing in Sydney in recent weeks. And so it's not just about protecting yourself, it's about protecting those around you.

RICHARD GLOVER: John Skerritt, thank you very much for coming on and explaining all that because I know a lot of people- you get it on your phone, it's hard not to, even though you know it's from a disreputable source, you can't resist the urge to click on it and then it is alarming at first sight. But you've explained to us what it really is, and it doesn't tell you- it's not actually what it looks like.

JOHN SKERRITT: Yes. And so, look into it, look at the results. We are very transparent, in that every Thursday, between noon and early afternoon, we put out a report that describes the adverse events, our investigations, and sadly, if there have been any deaths. And so, you know, for example, we have had nine deaths. But again, it's nine deaths and 20 million vaccinations conducted in Australia. And again, the chance of other causes of death, whether it even be by road, or rail, or aeroplane accidents, or by other illnesses, are just so much higher. Being vaccinated is your best protection against COVID.

RICHARD GLOVER: Professor John Skerritt, thank you so much for talking to me.

JOHN SKERRITT: Thanks, Richard. Good to talk with you.

RICHARD GLOVER: Professor Skerritt is the Head of the Therapeutic Goods Administration, and that is the organisation who's purported data, or misrepresented data, I suppose, Craig Kelly links to in this phone message he's sent to so many people.

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