Dr Brendan Murphy answers questions about the safety of the COVID vaccine

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Dr Brendan Murphy answers questions about the safety of the COVID vaccine.

By Dr Brendan Murphy

Dr Brendan Murphy is the former Chief Medical Officer, now Secretary of the Department of Health. He joins Leigh Sales toanswer questions about the vaccine rollout and to dispel some of the myths that have been circling about the vaccine.

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Dr Murphy, thanks for your time today.

DR BRENDAN MURPHY, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH SECRETARY: Pleasure.

LEIGH SALES: Just to get it out of the way, vaccine misinformation, can you briefly answer with yes or no kind of answersand dispense with some of this nonsense for us.

Is hydroxychloroquine the answer to stopping the coronavirus pandemic?

BRENDAN MURPHY: There is no current evidence that supports a role for hydroxychloroquine and stopping thecoronavirus pandemic.

LEIGH SALES: Are any of the vaccines dangerous or going to kill you?

BRENDAN MURPHY: There is no evidence at all that any of the vaccines are dangerous or would kill you. They are allvery, very carefully tested by our TGA, which is one of the best regulatory authorities in the world.

LEIGH SALES: Is the health risk of side effects from any of the vaccines greater than the health risks to the community of COVID?

BRENDAN MURPHY: There is no evidence to support that and we now have quite good evidence of the vaccine rollout in anumber of countries where they’ve needed to do it in an emergency situation, and the evidence suggests that whilst there aresome minor side effects, serious side effects are very, very limited and the risk is much greater of the disease than beingvaccinated – much, much, much greater.

LEIGH SALES: Have you ever raised with the Prime Minister concerns about politicians like Craig Kelly spreadingmisinformation?

BRENDAN MURPHY: No, I haven’t personally raised concerns with the Prime Minister.

I’m on the record in parliamentary committees saying that I think everyone should follow the expert medical advice and their views.

LEIGH SALES: And just to wrap up, what is your message to any Australian who might be legitimately worried thinking,”This has happened all pretty quickly. I’m sort of worried. Is it going to be safe to have a vaccine?” What is your official advice on that?

BRENDAN MURPHY: My official advice is that we have deliberately gone through the normal, full range of regulatory approvals for our vaccines, because we are in such a good place in this country with no community transmission, we have been able to do the full, safe, regulatory approval.

The Pfizer vaccine is approved, and we hope the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) will approve the AstraZeneca vaccine in coming weeks, but we have not cut any corners, and we will not register a vaccine unless we’re confident about its safety.

LEIGH SALES: Okay, so that aside, is Australia going to get to herd immunity using the AstraZeneca vaccine, given that some of the other leading vaccines have greater efficacy?

BRENDAN MURPHY: We don’t know whether any of the vaccines will give us herd immunity. That’s our goal.

All we know at the moment is that the vaccines are very good, all of them, at protecting against clinical COVID disease.

There is less data on the AstraZeneca vaccine in the phase 3 trials, but there is more data coming, and the data coming just recently out of the UK suggests that they are getting a very good benefit from that vaccine.

We are confident that both the Pfizer vaccine, the AstraZeneca vaccine and later the Novavax vaccine are all good at preventing clinical disease.

We will only know over time whether they prevent transmission of the virus and give us herd immunity.

We don’t know how long that immunisation will last for, and we don’t know what any of them will do on the transmission of the virus. That information will come in time.

Our strategy at the moment is to protect our population against COVID disease, and both vaccines are very good at that.

I’m going to have the AstraZeneca vaccine. I will be very pleased to have it.

LEIGH SALES: Novavax has had better results than AstraZeneca, but we aren’t producing it locally. Why not?

BRENDAN MURPHY: At the moment, CSL who is our only local manufacturing plant, have been focused on producing AstraZeneca and as I said, it is a vaccine that there have been billions of doses of AstraZeneca ordered around the world in many, many countries. It is a very good vaccine.

Novavax has some preliminary data, too, but all of the vaccines have only got phase 3 trial data. We will get more and more data – big data coming out of a US trial on AstraZeneca soon. So Novavax has on its preliminary phase 3 data good results but I think AstraZeneca is a very strong and good vaccine.

LEIGH SALES: A couple of weeks ago you were asked why Australia isn’t getting any of the Moderna vaccine, and you implied there was an issue in negotiations. Why haven’t we able to get supply from them?

BRENDAN MURPHY: All of our vaccine purchases have been guided a scientific and technical expert advisory group which I chair. That group made a decision before any of the phase 3 data was out to make a strategic investment in Pfizer, which we did.

We continue to review our vaccine portfolio, and we’re continuing to have discussions with several major vaccine companies, and we also have access to a number of vaccines through the COVAX Facility.

So at the moment we’ve got three times population coverage with the vaccines we’ve got. We know those vaccines are good, but we will continue to explore our vaccine portfolio and may make additional purchases in the future, but we can’t detail the commercial-in-confidence discussions with all the vaccine companies.

LEIGH SALES: So to be clear, are we currently involved in negotiations to try to secure more doses of vaccine from any of the leading candidates?

BRENDAN MURPHY: We are continuing to discuss with a number of companies, and we will continue to get advice from our Scientific and Technical Advisory Group to see whether, despite the fact that we’ve got very good population coverage, as extra insurance, we may get some more doses of some vaccines, but we can’t, I can’t detail anything more than that other than to say we are continuing those discussions and continuing to get advice from the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee.

LEIGH SALES: Why are we slower at rollout than, say, Israel? It has already administered 5 million doses to its 9 million residents, and they are not even manufacturing locally?

BRENDAN MURPHY: The decision we made, unlike a lot of other countries, including Israel, who have community transmission and have an urgent need to get going early, we decided that to get the confidence of the people in Australia, because we had no community transmission, we were not going to do anything other than our full normal registration process.

That has been the major reason why we are starting later than some countries. We have not had that burning platform.

LEIGH SALES: Dr Murphy, thank you very much.

BRENDAN MURPHY: Pleasure, Leigh.

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