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

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

The rollout race is now on, with the Therapeutic Goods Administration green-lighting the AstraZeneca vaccine.

LEILA MCKINNON:         

It takes Australia's jab defence to two, with first doses of the Pfizer variant to be administered on Monday. And Professor John Skerritt from the TGA joins us now in Canberra. Professor, it's great news. Everything has moved so swiftly, but safely. What does it look like from here?

JOHN SKERRITT: 

Well, it is good news. We now have two very good vaccines approved, and we also have laid the groundwork for the Australian manufacture of the AstraZeneca vaccine. There are a few more checks and balances we have to do with the Australian manufactured vaccine next month to make sure it is actually exactly the same as the overseas vaccine. The first AstraZeneca vaccine that will come in soon is actually coming in from Europe. But as everyone has been told before, very soon we'll have a large number of doses coming off every week from Melbourne from CSL's manufacture.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

Can you explain, just for our purposes, why there is that delay in terms of the one coming in from overseas and also the one locally made?

JOHN SKERRITT: 

Well, the companies are only shipping the vaccine once they hear they have a regulatory approval from us. And so, while the Pfizer vaccine was approved three weeks ago, the company policy was they would only set up a shipment after we had approved the vaccine. Then there is a short period of time once the vaccine arrives that we check that it's arrived safely, that vials haven't been broken, that it hasn't got hot during the shipping - especially if it is sitting on an airport in Singapore or Dubai or somewhere or other - and we do what's known as batch release. But, as the government's announced, we will be all ready to go with the Pfizer vaccine on Monday morning.

LEILA MCKINNON:         

Now, because things have had to move quickly, it's still unknown how long the vaccine will remain effective. Is that a major concern for you right now?

JOHN SKERRITT: 

I wouldn't use the word concern - it's an unknown. So vaccines vary. And so, for example, there's some vaccines that you get one shot and you're immune for life. There's others - and the flu vaccine I guess is the most well-known - where every year you have to get new shots because the virus itself mutates. Now, coronavirus doesn't mutate and change as much as the flu virus, but it does change. And some viruses that even don't change, the vaccine wears off after a year or two or five. No one in the world knows that, that's an active area of research. So by late 2021, and it will only be then, we'll be in a position to know whether people have to have another shot in 2022. But it's still a minor inconvenience compared with the whole dislocation that COVID's caused.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

We had AstraZeneca on before, and they were talking about the possibility of side effects and to be made aware of it. Given those, even the small number of side effects, do you have a job ahead of you convincing every Australian to get the vaccine? And if you don't have the majority get the vaccine, does it affect how we are in this country?

JOHN SKERRITT: 

Well, we obviously want as many people to get the vaccine as possible in Australia. The current focus is on being vaccinated to reduce serious illness, especially in the elderly, and reduce the chance of frontline health workers and also frontline people in quarantine from catching the disease. A longer-term ambition is to achieve what's known as herd immunity, but the first focus is to stop people who are in contact with potentially infected people from getting sick.

LEILA MCKINNON:         

Now, every dose is precious. You know, we don't have enough quickly enough but obviously we're working on that. But other countries have experienced some problems with doses expiring before use. Are there things in place to make sure that doesn't happen here?

JOHN SKERRITT: 

I don't think expiry of doses will be a challenge. The first lot of doses from Pfizer have an expiry date of the end of May at this stage. I say at this stage because one of the other things we don't know, which we normally would know, is whether the medicine lasts three months, six months, 12 months, five years in the fridge, in the freezer. And so the expiry dates have been very conservative to start with, but I don't think we're going to be throwing out unused vaccine.

LEILA MCKINNON:         

But if it's been thawed past that temperature and has to be used that day, I guess there's things that have been brought in so that we- that people can jump in and get it before it goes to waste?

JOHN SKERRITT: 

Particularly with the Pfizer. And you can imagine that if you're vaccinating at a large healthcare facility, you're going to have any number of healthcare workers that you can tap on the shoulder if it's five minutes to six and you still got one or two shots left. With the AstraZeneca vaccine, it can go back into the doctor's fridge overnight, so we don't have the same challenge with it.

LEILA MCKINNON:         

Don't have the same problem. Right. Okay. All right, thank you for that. Professor John Skerritt, thank you.

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