COVID-19 – Omicron update from CMO Professor Paul Kelly – 23 December 2021

An update from Australia's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, about the new Omicron variant of concern.


Good morning everyone. I'm here with my trusty interpreter Ramas. We are on Ngunnawal and Ngambri country today, and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging. Because we are also in Canberra, we are wearing masks today, we will take them off for ease of communication. I am Paul Kelly, I am the Chief Medical Officer here to give the top 3 today, and I will refer to questions we have been receiving from you on social media.

The first one is, are vaccinated people spreading Omicron? This is an interesting question, we do know now the vaccine does not protect people against Omicron, as well as it does in terms of the Delta virus or previous versions of the Coronavirus. What I mean by not protecting is, you can be infected, and you therefore can transmit to others. So, this is a very strong message as to why we need that booster shot, that third dose does appear to increase that protection against being infected with Omicron, and transmitting to others, and also to strengthen your protection against severe disease. So far, we don't actually have a lot of information about severity of Omicron. Even though it does appear that the vaccine continues to protect you against severe disease certainly that booster when you become eligible is really important. A big message today, if you are due for a booster, make that appointment, get that jab, there is plenty available.

The 2nd question is about a COVIDSafe Christmas. Unfortunately, here we are again, a second Christmas in a row, with outbreaks of Coronavirus or COVID-19 here in the country. It is that Omicron variant, the cases are increasing rapidly particularly in New South Wales, Victoria, and the ACT, but now also in several other states. The main message today is the same COVIDSafe messages we have been saying all along, if you are due for a vaccine, get it done. If you are due for a booster, get it done. If you are inside, as Ramas and I have been doing, where a mask. You don't have to be told to that, it's just good etiquette. Keep your distance, cough and sneeze safely. Fist bump rather than shake hands. All of those things you have heard, wash your hands, if you are sick stay at home, if you are sick please don't go and visit Granny on Christmas Day. I'm sorry, you are just going to have to think about that differently this year. We need to protect our people, our older people, who we know a higher risk. I am sure you will be able to work through that over the next coming days. If you are able to get a rapid antigen test and check whether you are negative, go ahead. They are available in pharmacies all around the country and other places.

Third question, I am really worried about my toddler, when will they get a chance to have the vaccine? Unfortunately, at the moment we don't have any vaccines that have been approved anywhere in the world for that under 5 age group. We do know that clinical trials are happening right now, and I'm sure we will find out more about that in the New Year. We know that Pfizer, for example, is doing that clinical trial, and they are looking for further results before they can give a message on that. In the meantime, how do we protect our children? Well, number one thing is if you are a parent, get vaccinated. If you have older kids, we know that 12 to 15-year-olds are being vaccinated right now, get them vaccinated. Early next year, from the 10th of January, we will be rolling out the 5 to 11 vaccine, make that appointment right now, they are available right around the country. This will be that cocooning effect around those younger kids who can't get a vaccine right now.  In the meantime, coming up to Christmas it's a great time to be with family, I didn't get to make my gravy day message this year, 21st of December, for various reasons. But just like my namesake, the other Paul Kelly, I do want to wish you all a very merry Christmas and I hope that you do get a chance to be with family and friends during that special time.

In the meantime, I want to thank you Ramas, thank you very much, and let's wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. Thank you.

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