Professor Chris Blyth is a clinician scientist with the Division of Paediatrics in the UWA Medical School, Co-Director of the Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases at the Telethon Kids Institute, an Infectious Diseases Physician at Perth Children’s Hospital, and a Clinical Microbiologist at PathWest Laboratory Medicine. He is co-chair of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), and a member of the COVID-19 Vaccine and Treatments for Australia Science and Industry Technical Advisory Group.
1. What reassurances do you have for West Australians about the safety and speed of development of the two COVID-19 vaccinations (Pfizer and AstraZeneca) being provided for free in Australia as part of the Australian Government vaccine roll-out?
Vaccines have been developed rapidly given the severity and scale of the global pandemic. Developing and licensing a vaccine normally takes years however, in 2020 there were two important differences. Firstly, we have seen unprecedented funding and collaboration driving vaccine development. Significant financial risks have also been taken by both manufacturers and governments. Secondly, we were able to re-use many recently developed technologies that could be rapidly repurposed for COVID-19.
Despite the speed of development, the scrutiny and rigour at which the vaccines have been developed has not been compromised. Large studies recruiting thousands of individuals were required to demonstrate the safety of these vaccines. In Australia, the Therapeutics Goods Administration (TGA) utilised their normal review processes for these vaccines ensuring the same safety thresholds were applied. Millions of doses have now been used globally, with intense monitoring of safety ongoing, giving us confidence that these vaccines are not linked to common or even rare side effects.
2. With no recent reports of community spread of the COVID-19 virus in WA, why should West Australians consider making COVID-19 vaccination a priority?
We are still susceptible to COVID-19. Unfortunately, the tragedy that we have seen in other countries could still happen in Australia. We are heavily reliant on our quarantine processes. We cannot continue these indefinitely, nor remain isolated from the rest of the world . The only way that we can protect Australians from COVID-19 is through vaccination.
3. Does Australia need to make any changes to its vaccine roll-out following reports that several European countries have suspended their vaccine roll-out as a precaution while investigating cases of thromboembolic (blood clotting) events?
Australia is watching closely what is happening overseas and is in regular communication with vaccine and drug regulators in other countries. A small number of thrombo-embolic events have been reported in some European countries however, the number reported is not greater than would normally be expected in an unvaccinated population. Other countries, such as the United Kingdom, which has given millions of doses of these vaccines, have not seen these events, nor have we seen them in Australia.
Given this, we do not think we need to make changes to the roll-out strategy.