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

DAVID KOCH:       

AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine has been approved for use in Australia by our Therapeutic Goods Administration. The vaccine requires two doses, 12 weeks apart, and is safe for people aged 18 and over.

SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE:         

More than 3 million doses will begin arriving in Australia next month from Europe. The rest of the 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are being made by CSL in Melbourne. Professor John Skerritt from the Therapeutic Goods Administration joins us now from Canberra.

John, good morning to you. John, the Pfizer vaccine was given the green light some time ago, so why did it take longer to approve the AstraZeneca jab?

JOHN SKERRITT: 

Well we only got the final data from AstraZeneca a fair bit later, maybe a month or more, than Pfizer. And this was because their clinical trials also finished at a later stage. So there was a three-week gap between the approvals and there's probably about the same gap between receipt of the data from AstraZeneca compared with Pfizer.

DAVID KOCH:       

And John, did you rush it through? Did you take any shortcuts?

JOHN SKERRITT: 

Definitely wouldn't want to give anyone the view that we rushed it. So, one of the differences between Australia and the other countries that have done these emergency authorisations is we put this through one of our normal established pathways. So while end to end, the time was less, we did a couple of things. We got the data as it became available, instead of waiting for the full 10,000 pages to be completed and nicely formatted. As soon there was data available, our experts got it from the company to review. Second thing, we had teams of people working in parallel. And thirdly - and this is why I certainly wouldn't want to say we rushed it - we had people working weekends and over Christmas, New Year. In fact, the particular vaccine was approved at 7 o'clock at night and that just shows the sort of hours that my very dedicated staff have been working on this one.

DAVID KOCH:

Good.

SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE:         

Okay. Do you have any concerns over how effective the vaccine is, John? Because we did hear some reports from overseas that this particular vaccine, they were having trouble confirming that it would cover the mutant strains, the South African and UK strains, and that we may have to get a booster shot. So do you have any concerns over this one?

JOHN SKERRITT: 

Well there's two different things. First of all, the most recent data on efficacy, how well it works against most of the strains, in fact, all the common strains, is very encouraging. So, with the 12-week gap between shots for the AstraZeneca, the most recent data gone to a world's top medical journal talks about there being over 80 per cent efficacy. Now, the AstraZeneca vaccine, and some of the others, are less effective against the South African strain. Now that's fairly preliminary data against mild and moderate disease in young people.

So, it is likely that companies will have to develop new booster shots for some of these strains, and that happens with a lot of vaccines. So it's quite likely that as more strains and variants, as they call them, emerge, there may need to be a booster in early 2022, but that's no reason for people not to get vaccinated with one of two very good vaccines.

DAVID KOCH:       

Okay. You're saying they're both very good. Is one better than the other? You're finding lots of people saying: oh, I'm only going to have the Pfizer one because I've got a mate was in the industry that says it's better than AstraZeneca, and then vice versa. Are they both equally as good for all age groups?

JOHN SKERRITT: 

We believe that there's no real difference between them, and as I've said, the most recent data in the AstraZeneca- they're given differently. So Pfizer's three weeks apart; AstraZeneca's 12 weeks apart. But the most recent data on AstraZeneca has it at over 80 per cent. And really, once you go into the real world, it's a bit academic to talk about 80 per cent and 90 per cent from a clinical trial. You've got to actually see how it rolls out in the population. And just two days ago, my team, my colleagues were talking with the UK and the rollout there has been really positive data from both the AstraZeneca vaccine and Pfizer vaccine in older people.

SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE:         

Okay. That's good.

DAVID KOCH:       

Yeah.

SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE:         

John, I'm just trying to think how many days ago, a few days ago, we saw the plane come from Singapore with the Pfizer vaccine on board.

JOHN SKERRITT: 

On Monday.

SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE:         

Was it Monday? Thank you. It's been taken to a secret warehouse and the TGA is now testing that to make sure it hasn't been tampered with, that it's travelled okay, all of that sort of stuff. How is that going? Obviously a busy week for your people.

JOHN SKERRITT: 

It is. It's going well. And I- it will be completed well and truly in time for the vaccine to go into people's arms on Monday.

DAVID KOCH:       

Okay.

SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE:         

Great.

DAVID KOCH:       

Alright. That's good news.

SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE:         

That is terrific news.

DAVID KOCH:       

John Skerritt, really appreciate your time. You've cleared quite a few concerns that people have been having. Nice to chat.

JOHN SKERRITT: 

Thanks, Kochie. Bye-bye.

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