Department of Health Secretary, Dr Brendan Murphy interview on ABC Radio Canberra on 9 April 2021 – Australian Government Department of Health

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Date published: 

9 April 2021

Media type: 

Transcript

Audience: 

General public

SABRA LANE:                                 

AstraZeneca says it respects the Governments decision, adding that millions of doses of the vaccine have been given around the world and its effectiveness is not disputed.

Dr Brendan Murphy is the Secretary of the Federal Health Department and the former chief medical officer. He’s in charge of Australia’s vaccine roll-out. He joins us now. Good morning, and welcome.

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

Good morning, Sabra.

SABRA LANE:                                 

Sixty-six per cent of the Australian populations under 50, how will the roll-out change given this new advice?

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

Well I think we, obviously, have to do some pivoting and reprioritising – so we will be allocating the AstraZeneca vaccine, importantly, to the over 50s which is most of the vulnerable population. You’ll recall that our first aim was to protect those vulnerable from severe COVID, and that phase 1 protection, with the exception of some health care workers under 50, will now proceed absolutely as planned by the middle of the year. And that’s the most important phase of our vaccination – to protect those people vulnerable from severe COVID. Clearly-

SABRA LANE:                                 

[Interrupts] for the entire population, though. We’ll be lucky to have that done within a year.

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

Well Sabra, we obviously have to reprioritise. We are getting more Pfizer, we’re working with Pfizer to increase their supply; we have Novavax coming online in the second half of the year; and, we’re continuing to review and explore all of our vaccine procurement options. We’ve had a dynamic process. We’ve pre-ordered 150 million doses of vaccines, we’ve also got access to the COVAX facility. There’s lots of options for us.

SABRA LANE:                                 

We’ll get through these points. What do you say, first of all, to those under 50 who feel stranded? And the over 50s now who will worry that they’re getting an inferior vaccine?

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

Well, I would say to those over 50 that it is not an inferior vaccine – it’s an extremely good vaccine with an extremely rare side effect. And this decision, this recommendation of preferential use has been taken on the- an abundance of caution. I’ve had the AstraZeneca vaccine, I would have it again, I’ll have my second dose. It is a very, very effective vaccine. It’s saved thousands and thousands of lives in many parts of the world. And this rare condition seems to be much more common in younger people for whom the risk of severe COVID is not so high, and that’s the reason for this preferential recommendation. But for people over 50, it is clearly in their best interest to get this vaccine.

SABRA LANE:                                 

What about those under 50 who do feel stranded? Australia bought 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and it’s no secret we’re not getting it quickly. What’s being done to speed that up?

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

Well, we’re working every day with Pfizer, and we went with a range of companies to look at our vaccine supply lines. So, the Pfizer have been providing reliable weekly supplies, and they are working really hard to increase the weekly supply, and we think that that might happen in the near future. But it’s a very difficult situation with huge international demand, and we’re working actively with Pfizer on that.

SABRA LANE:                                 

How much Pfizer is actually here now? And how much will we get in the months ahead? Given we all know that we’re- you know, Europe, there seems to be problems getting it here to Australia?

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

No, there are- we have had no blockages out of Europe getting Pfizer – the Pfizer deliveries have come as planned. We are- They are absolutely committed to delivering the 20 million doses this calendar year and as quickly as possible. And that’s a dynamic process that we work with them on an almost daily basis. And we will explore with them whether we can get even more – so, that, that’s an ongoing discussion.

SABRA LANE:                                 

The next cab off the rank, as you mentioned, is the Novavax vaccine. It is still in the trial phase. Given the approvals process that’s still got to go with that, you know, let alone Australia’s own vetting system, realistically, when can we expect needles of that particular vaccine going into arms here?

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

Well, as Minister Hunt said last night at our press conference, we’ve had discussions with Novavax just yesterday and they are, are expressing confidence to get us some doses in quarter three of this year. So in the, in the second half of the year, but in the first quarter of the second half of the year, and we expect the approval process to be completed – it’s underway already with the TGA. They’re already processing things through the TGA. So expect that, the first doses, in quarter three.

SABRA LANE:                                 

What happened with the negotiations to get the Moderna vaccine?

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

Well, the committee that I chaired, the, the committee that advises the government on vaccines, decided that we needed one mRNA vaccine – they’re essentially the same. We went with Pfizer because of its experience and the predictive capability to produce a lot more vaccine. And that has proven to be the case – they have been able to provide vast amounts of vaccine for the world. Moderna, much smaller amounts, and they’re a newer company – and we have also been talking with them. But there is really not big advantage between one of the mRNA vaccines, and we have backed Pfizer, and are continuing to back it. But we are talking to Moderna, as we are with a range of other companies.

SABRA LANE:                                 

What does this all mean in regards to international borders? That probably means it’s going to remain longer, so that means that, you know, migrants won’t be coming into Australia, and Australians won’t, won’t be travelling overseas.

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

I don’t know that we can- at the moment we just have to recalibrate, replan our program. And we have already been saying that we don’t know exactly what will happen with international borders until we get a good idea on how effective all the vaccines are at preventing transmission. That data is still only just coming in for some of the vaccines, and that’s going to be the key issue with international borders. And we’ve said that we will be reviewing, you know, quarantine requirements, border requirements, progressively – according to the AHPPC expert medical advice – towards the second half of this year. But I don’t think it’s possible to make any further predictions at the moment.

SABRA LANE:                                 

All right. So realistically, though, when should we expect to see a timeline for the vaccination program? And for borders reopening? How soon?

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

Well, we will, we will- In coming weeks, we will give a very clear exposition of how the program is being recalibrated. We’re having long workshops with the states and territories today – they’re our partners in this vaccine rollout – and we will be working through with the various sectors, the aged care sector, the health care workers for the states and territories. And in coming weeks, we’ll be able to give a recalibration. And we’re also, as I said, working on our dynamic vaccine procurement plan.

SABRA LANE:                                 

Dr Brendan Murphy, thanks for joining AM this morning.

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

Thanks, Sabra.

SABRA LANE:                                 

Dr Murphy is the Secretary of the Federal Health Department.       

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