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Chief medical officer Paul Kelly responds to AstraZeneca vaccine concerns


Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly has defended the decision to roll out the AstraZeneca vaccine in the wake of concerns about its effectiveness.

Infectious diseases experts have joined medics in calling for authorities to halt the rollout in favour of coronavirus vaccines with higher efficacy rates to ensure herd immunity.

This follows results from several trials that showed that the Oxford University-AstraZeneca jab had an efficacy rate of between 62-90 per cent depending on the doses.

Professor Kelly said AstraZeneca vaccine was well above the World Health Organisation’s 50 per cent efficacy threshold.

“All of the three vaccines that have so far published their data in peer-viewed journals – AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna – show a very significant effect against severe illness,” he said on Wednesday.

“They’re all good at protecting against severe illness and death. That’s why I say that lives will be saved by the AstraZeneca vaccine, I have no doubt about it.”

RELATED Virus plea: ‘Listen to the experts’

He conceded he was troubled by what he called “selective” reporting over AstraZeneca’s efficacy, warning it could undermine confidence in the jab.

“Confidence is absolutely the most important thing, and that’s what worries me about the coverage we had today in relation to the AstraZeneca vaccine,” he said.

“People will be nervous, of course. We need to give more information and we’re doing that. So I am worried about the selective use of the data that we have.”

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is expected to approve the Pfizer vaccine by the end of January, with a rollout pencilled for mid to late February for five million Australians in priority groups.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to have completed the approval process in February.

Professor Kelly said the jab would prevent death and severe illness 100 per cent of the time, like the Pfizer vaccine.

He said both vaccines would only be rolled out if they had the full tick for safety, efficacy and production quality.

“The EU has also pre-purchased 400 million doses of AstraZeneca, the US has pre-purchased 300 million doses of AstraZeneca, and the UK 100 million doses of AstraZeneca. So we‘re not an outlier there,” he said.

The UK has already begun immunising people with the jab under emergency approvals.

Most Australians are expected to get the AstraZeneca vaccine because it can be made in Melbourne, unlike the Pfizer vaccine that has to be imported from overseas due to its mRNA technology.

Infectious diseases physician Professor Peter Collignon told Sunrise that the AstraZeneca vaccine might not be as good as the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

But he said those would be in short supply because they were not readily available and had to be stored in minus temperatures.

“I would be all for rolling out this (AstraZeneca) vaccine because it is much better than anything that is going to be available for quite a while,” Professor Collignon said.

Health Minister Greg Hunt on Tuesday refuted claims the government was conceding its vaccine strategy would not provide herd immunity.

“This is what the medical expert panel of Australia, the one that has helped keep us safe, has recommended,” Mr Hunt said.

In the wake of efficacy concerns, Labor leader Anthony Albanese told 2GB that the government should have invested in six vaccine candidates instead of three.

The opposition has long called for the rollout of the vaccine to be brought forward following the approval process.

But Mr Albanese said the party had never argued that authorities should circumvent the TGA process.

“We need to listen to the experts,” he said.

“Once it (the TGA) approves it, the vaccine should be rolled out.”



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Top medical officer rules out changing UK border rules


Flights from the UK will continue despite a highly infectious COVID-19 strain wreaking havoc across the country’s south, Australia’s acting chief medical officer says.

The new variant has forced the UK’s south into its harshest level lockdown for Christmas.

Countries across the world, including France and other European nations, have also slapped travel bans on people entering from Britain.

But Paul Kelly said there was no need for Australia to follow suit, despite two people undertaking hotel quarantine in Sydney being found to have the new variant.

He said the Australia’s quarantine system, which forces arrivals from the UK to undergo 14 days in isolation, was well-equipped to deal with the new strain.

“We have a lot of Australian citizens that live in the UK right now wanting to come back to Australia and we still are welcoming them,” he said on Tuesday.

“If you are a person coming by yourself into a hotel room for two weeks, you’re not going to transmit that out of that room.

“And in most of the cases, for most of the time, our quarantine system has been very safe and effective.”

Professor Kelly said only four of the almost 2500 confirmed total cases in hotel quarantine were from the new strain.

He stressed although the new variant was particularly infectious, there was no evidence that it caused more severe symptoms or reduced the effectiveness of vaccines.

It comes after Transport Minister Michael McCormack was asked on Tuesday if Australia was considering stopping flights from the UK.

“Indeed,” Mr McCormack told ABC Radio National.

“We continue to review all of these arrangements.”

Mr McCormack said the two people in Sydney with the variant were a concern and that Australia’s expert medical panel was meeting daily with the prime minister.

“It is not just a concern for Australia, it’s a concern worldwide,” he said.

“We continue to monitor these and will act accordingly.”

More than 38,000 Australians stuck overseas have registered to come home with Australia’s foreign affairs department.

In October, Australians in the UK deemed vulnerable were first in line for a charter flight home.

But thousands still remain stranded as parts of the UK enter tough lockdowns, with 33,364 people testing positive for COVID-19 on Monday.

Prof Kelly also confirmed the new variant would not force Australia to expedite approval for a COVID-19 vaccine, which is set to rollout in March.

The UK and US both issued emergency approval for the Pfizer vaccine this month, while the EU’s medicines regulator on Monday recommended its use across the 27-country bloc.

But Prof Kelly said with Australia keeping the virus under control in relative terms, the government would stick to its current time frame.

“There are several countries in the world that have emergency-use authorisation, because they have emergencies,” he said.

“The US (had) 200,000 cases yesterday. They have an emergency, they need to get on with it. Same in the UK, same with Europe overnight.

“We are not going down that pathway because we don’t have anywhere near that need right now. But we’re certainly not stopping in our preparations.”



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Girl with medical condition missing for four days


Cairns police have launched a desperate plea to find a 12-year-old girl, missing for four days.

The girl, who lives with a medical condition which “requires medication”, was last seen at a house on Toogood Road, Bayview Heights in southern Cairns, on Thursday.

Police say the family is concerned for her welfare, “given her young age” and her medical needs.

The girl is described as caucasian, around 150cm in height, of slim build with blonde hair and brown eyes.

Anyone who has seen the girl or has further information is urged to contact police.



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MUA labels claims union’s tactics caused medical shortages lies


A militant union has pushed back against claims its industrial action tactics are causing medical shortages, labelling them “outrageous lies”.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) is in negotiations with Patrick Terminal at Port Botany in Sydney over increased pay for wharfies.

Pharmacy Guild Australia senior vice-president Trent Twomey claimed in a Daily Telegraph report the MUA’s actions were causing medicine shortages.

The union said the assertion was categorically false.

“We have always taken a very keen interest in ensuring we are not stopping any medication from coming across the quay line,” MUA Sydney branch secretary Paul McAleer said.

“They can tell us which boxes they are and we’ll ensure they get off these vessels.”

A spokesperson for Pharmacy Guild Australia said: “We welcome their commitment today to let medical freight through.”

The months-long dispute intensified on Monday as Patrick sought support from the Fair Work Commission and Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has weighed in, saying: “The MUA is holding the country to ransom with extortionate claims which has seen ships backed up, out at sea, trying to bring things into our country when we are in a COVID recession.”

The MUA originally demanded a 6 per cent pay rise for wharfies, but as negotiations have progressed, has set its aim on an increase closer to 2-2.5 per cent a year.

The union said a threat of a 24-hour stoppage at Port Botany slated for last Friday was called off.

The current negotiating tactics involve workers refusing to do overtime or work above their pay grade.

NCA NewsWire has contacted Patrick Terminal for comment.



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Porsche driver granted access to medical records in court


A Porsche driver accused of filming a dying police officer after a crash on a Melbourne freeway has been granted access to medical records for his case.

Mortgage broker Richard Pusey is facing more than a dozen charges relating to a horrific fatal crash that left four police officers dead on Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway in April.

The 42-year-old who didn’t appear via video link in the Melbourne Magistrates Court sought access to his medical records and a witness summons on Thursday.

Access to 177 pages of medical documents produced under subpoena were granted to his lawyer Chris McLennan in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Thursday.

However, some additional pages were redacted because they could “identify others,” Ms Bakos said.

There were no details aired about what the records contained, and prosecutor Jason Ong did not seek to access them.

Police will allege Mr Pusey recorded the crash scene on his mobile phone instead of helping Senior Constable Lynette Taylor as she lay dying on the road.

“Now you’ve f**cked my f**king car,” the court heard Mr Pusey allegedly said at the time.

Mr Pusey is facing multiple charges including driving at a dangerous speed, reckless conduct endangering life, destruction of evidence, perverting the course of justice, failing to remain at the scene after a drug test and failing to render assistance.

Snr Const Taylor along with officers Sen-Constable Kevin King, Constable Josh Prestney and Constable Glen Humphris were killed in the crash in April.

Police will allege a truck veered into the group who were on the roadside after they pulled Mr Pusey over for speeding.

Mr Pusey’s lawyers have repeatedly told the court the mortgage broker wanted to resolve the case and avoid a trial.

But the court has previously heard one of the sticking points relates to the charge of outraging public decency.

His lawyers want the charge dropped and argued last month it was “so rare as to be unrecognisable”.

Mr Pusey is expected back in court next month.



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Victorian lockdown necessary: medical expert panel


More mental health support will be offered for Victorians facing the toughest lockdown yet, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said today.

It comes after Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews declared a state of emergency on Sunday including a curfew and 5km radius for grocery shopping under stage four restrictions for the next six weeks.

In a special message for Victorians, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said “Australians all around the country are backing you in”.

“We all know for Australia to succeed, we need for Victoria to get through this,” Mr Morrison said.

He also thanked the “amazing health professionals” and all those who are on the frontline working to support communities in these “tough times”.

Mr Hunt acknowledged that Victorians would be facing some mental health challenges following Sunday’s announcements.

“These measures today are beyond what any of us could ever have imagined our community would face, but they are with us, because we have had an outbreak in Victoria,” he said.

“(We will be) expanding the better access psychological program under Medicare, providing an additional 10 sessions.

“These will be available for anybody who has used their initial 10 services in a lockdown area under a public health order.”

Mr Hunt said the $7.3 million investment would apply across Victoria, and more areas in Australia if restrictions are introduced.

He said Victoria had a “difficult and hard” six weeks ahead.

“We will need our resilience more than ever before but I see that resilience and see it in the faces of mums and dads, of small business owners, of the people working in the IGA,” Mr Hunt said.

The expert medical panel met on Sunday to consider the epidemiological advice and proposals for action.

“They determined, that sadly, more action was necessary,” Mr Hunt said.

“Regrettably necessary.

“We support them with a heavy heart but we do so because they will help save and protect lives in Victoria.”

Australia has now recorded 17,921 cases and 208 deaths.

More than 400 people are in hospital, 46 in intensive care and 30 on ventilation.

The focus on protecting vulnerable people in aged care remains with 47 of 671 positive cases recorded on Sunday among aged care residents.

Up to 12 Australian Defence Force personnel now assisting Opal Aged Care in Geelong for up to three weeks.

Teams have also been on the ground at Cumberland Lodge and Florence Aged Care.

Mr Hunt said their advice was that progress was being made to stop the spread across all facilities.

He said supplies, resources and facilities for hospitalisation was strong.



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Local News - Victoria

Australia’s top medical experts to spend Saturday deciding further Victorian restrictions


Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the panel faced “impossible decisions” that could cause widespread economic ruptures with the closure of non-essential businesses, tougher restrictions on high-risk workplaces and tighter limits on movement between suburbs of Melbourne and Mitchell Shire.

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Professor Sutton said tougher restrictions would bring “really significant consequences” but admitted that after a record 723 new cases on Thursday and 42 deaths since Sunday, a tougher lockdown appeared unavoidable.

“It may be the case that an intervention in a certain area [such as high-risk workplaces] will make a difference. It may also be the case that we look at restrictions in areas that are not a driver of transmission,” Professor Sutton said.

“The impact on businesses, the impact on people’s livelihoods, on their psychological and emotional wellbeing are all part of those considerations. I’ve said before, these are impossible decisions in lots of ways. We are balancing harms.”

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton will speak with his state and federal counterparts on the AHPPC on Saturday.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton will speak with his state and federal counterparts on the AHPPC on Saturday.Credit:Justin McManus

Five months after COVID-19 took hold in Australia, Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton and Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton have been appointed to be part of the State Control Centre meetings, which will now be chaired by Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp.

The Department of Health and Human Services secretary, Kym Peake, has been appointed to the role of State Controller for Health. Professor Allen Cheng, from The Alfred hospital, Professor Rhonda Stuart, from Monash Health, and Professor Paul Johnson, from Austin Health, have joined the DHHS as Professor Sutton’s deputies, after Deputy Chief Health Officer Annaliese van Diemen decided to return to her former role of managing other communicable diseases, including the avian flu.

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Professor Tony Blakely, an epidemiologist from Melbourne University, said authorities would be considering elements of a New Zealand-style stage four lockdown including closing department stores, banning takeaway and delivery food, blocking construction and closing schools.

“We’re halfway through the proposed six-week lockdown – it is almost certainly going to be tighter and longer,” Professor Blakely said.

Victoria’s aged care and healthcare concerns continued on Friday, with aged care residents comprising more than half of 928 active cases linked to nursing homes on Friday while there were 614 healthcare workers infected with the virus and thousands more colleagues in self-isolation.

Victoria had 349 people with coronavirus cases in hospital, including 36 in intensive care, while Friday’s eight deaths included two men in their 50s and four aged care residents.

Geelong has recorded its first COVID-19 death, with a patient who was receiving palliative care passing away overnight on Thursday.

Mr Andrews said Victoria was fighting to overcome a bind where the majority of cases were occurring in essential industries such as aged care, healthcare, meatworks and distribution, which would not normally be shut down in a widespread stage four lockdown.

“It is just not acceptable,” said Mr Andrews.

“No element of this strategy will be successful if, when we door knock you, we are finding one in four people are not home.”

Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly (left), who chairs the AHPPC, alongside Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier this month.

Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly (left), who chairs the AHPPC, alongside Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier this month.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The AHPPC, chaired by Australia’s acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly and comprising chief health officers from each state and territory, met on Thursday but could not reach a decision on what extra measures should be introduced in Victoria

That prompted Mr Andrews and Prime Minister Scott Morrison to agree the AHPPC should spend 48 hours starting on Friday examining Victoria’s coronavirus data.

Professor Sutton said as well as outbreaks in high-risk settings such as aged care and healthcare, he was concerned by Victoria’s levels of community transmission with an unknown source, which increased by 94 on Friday.

He said Victoria would not necessarily replicate New Zealand’s lockdown, in place for a month, which closed schools and all businesses except for essential services such as supermarkets, pharmacies, banks and medical services.

After the Prime Minister reiterated on Friday that Victoria’s level of community transmission remained unacceptably high, Mr Andrews said Victorians should take comfort that he and the Prime Minister were in lock-step in canvassing a stricter lockdown.

“There is a complete acknowledgement that there can be no economic recovery until we deal with this public health challenge,” the Premier said on Friday.

“It is incredibly difficult, in fact it’s almost impossible for us to see businesses recover unless and until we get these numbers down. That will mean there is a significant imposte. It may be that there will be further support that is needed for businesses and workers.”

Mr Andrews called the figures “rather disturbing” but said he did not yet have plans to increase punishments for positive cases who leave home without good reason.

Professor Sutton added that nine days after masks became compulsory, their effect appeared promising but was not yet fully clear. Fifty-three people were fined for not wearing a mask on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the first witnesses to give evidence at the inquiry into Victoria’s hotel quarantine program were confirmed on Friday.

Director of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology at Austin Health Professor Lindsay Grayson, Director of the Microbiological Diagnostic Unit Public Health Laboratory at The Doherty Institute Professor Ben Howden and Dr Charles Alpren, epidemiolost from the Department of Health and Human Services, will all give evidence on Thursday.

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Chief medical officer Jeanette Young reimposes coronavirus restriction to sit down


Queenslanders will be made to sit down in pubs, clubs and nightclubs once again, as concerns social distancing measures are being ignored across the state.

Chief health officer Jeannette Young said on Friday she realised how difficult it was to adhere to the 1.5-metre social-distancing requirement and suggested it was much easier to do so while sitting down.

“When you go into a facility, take a seat. It’s a good reminder you need to stay 1.5 metres away from people,” Dr Young said.

“I know this is very difficult for businesses, but we need to send a very clear signal to everyone to continue social distancing.”

Dr Young said her concerns for a coronavirus outbreak in Queensland had grown as cases began to take off in NSW and that people needed to take this directive seriously.

“Younger people are feeling that if they get this it will be a mild disease and we’re starting to see that is not always the case,” she said.

RELATED: Record number of deaths in Victoria

“We’re starting to see people experience complications from this disease for ongoing periods – you can get it and not fully recover. This is not a virus you want to get.”

Dr Young’s reimposing of mandatory seating in public venues comes as two new cases of COVID-19 were announced. Both cases came from individuals already in hotel quarantine.

This brings Queensland’s total number of active cases to five and total confirmed cases to date to 1076.



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Local News - Victoria

St Kilda players’ medical files stolen in car smash-and-grab


He has been one of St Kilda’s club doctors since 1997, and was granted life membership in 2016 for his services to the organisation.

Dr Stone, who also sees patients through private practice, has also been a member of the AFL Medical Officers Association Network, which offers treatment to former players. Records show he has been a doctor since 1981.

A spokesman for the club said the stolen materials concerning its players were limited to “basic hand-written notes relating to training sessions”.

“While the club acknowledges all information relating to its players is private, the secondary hand-written notes do not disclose each player’s full medical history, with those files secured at the football club,” he said.

A source familiar with these types of medical documents said they held potentially sensitive details about players’ mental and physical fitness, including vulnerabilities from injuries. The notes were supposedly made when the doctor consulted players before and after training sessions.

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It remains unclear what information is contained on the missing laptop.

“The club is of the understanding that a private laptop that was part of the stolen goods contains no medical information relating to current or former St Kilda players,” the spokesman said, adding the laptop related to Dr Stone’s consulting work for people outside the club and was probably secured by a password.

The St Kilda spokesman initially declined to comment on whether affected players had been told that part of their medical files had been stolen.

In a revised statement, the club later said: “Players have also been informed of the theft of these notes.”

An AFL spokesman said the club had reported the theft to the AFL integrity department and “the doctor confirmed that his hand-written notes related to player training notes and no personal player medical information was stored on his personal computer”.

The AFL Players’ Association said it was aware of the theft.

Dr Stone’s car was broken into outside his Kew home during a 12-hour period on the night of June 18 or early morning of June 19. Under privacy and industry regulations, medical professionals are required to ensure patient records are stored securely.

In late June Dr Stone’s St Kilda FC identity pass was found in the doorway of a building on Sydney Road in Brunswick. The club spokesman said the ID had been cancelled as soon as the theft was reported to the club.

None of the other material stolen from the car has been recovered.

The medical files have most likely been dumped in the garbage and the laptop sold for cash, sources say. But there is also a lucrative underground market for personal information gleaned from stolen wallets, bags and mailboxes that can be used to create fake IDs and other documents.

Victoria Police has asked anyone who witnessed the incident or with information about the stolen items to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

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Black Lives Matter rallies could spread disease, Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said


Australia’s top medical officer says it would be catastrophic if the coronavirus spread to remote indigenous communities, as protesters are urged not to attend Black Lives Matter rallies.

Thousands are expected at protests in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Hobart on Saturday to show solidarity with the movement and African-American George Floyd who died while being arrested in Minneapolis.

The Australian protests are also a show of support to the Aboriginal community to highlight high levels of indigenous incarceration and deaths in custody. Professor Brendan Murphy says authorities have always feared an outbreak in indigenous communities.

“The risk to loss of life and spread of this virus in some of those remote communities would be catastrophic,” he said on Friday.

MORE: Follow the latest virus news

“This would be an absolute tragedy if we got that virus into one of our remote communities.” Huge crowds gathered in Perth, Sydney and Canberra this week to support the movement.

The NSW government initially endorsed the protests but on Friday, the state’s highest court banned a protest against Aboriginal deaths in custody because it breached coronavirus restrictions.

About 5000 people were expected to rally at Sydney Town Hall on Saturday in honour of George Floyd and Australian man David Dungay Jr, but Supreme Court Justice Des Fagan declined to approve the Stop All Black Deaths in Custody rally as an authorised public assembly.

Before the decision, however, Mr Dungay’s mother vowed she would march regardless of the ruling.

UK DEATH TOLL HITS 40,000

Meanwhile in Europe, the UK’s death toll of people who have died after testing positive for coronavirus has officially reached 40,000.

Only the US has more deaths, with 108,000 during the pandemic so far.

It comes as the UK starts to ease parts of lockdown with more children due to return to schools on June 15 in England and face coverings made mandatory on public transport.

Despite the rules, the BBC has revealed secret all-night raves have been taking place in London after being advertised on Instagram.

The EU has said it will not open borders to travellers from the rest of the world before July. The 27-member bloc closed borders to Asia, the Americas and elsewhere in a bid to slow the virus in a ban that expires June 15. However Ylva Johansson, the EU’s home affairs commissioner, said there was a “strong preference” among the ministers to extend it.

Restrictions are also still in place between some EU member states, but they are slowly being lifted and the commission hopes this process will be completed soon.

“That means that internal border controls are lifted by the end of June … we should consider the gradual lifting restrictions on non-essential travel to the EU early July,” Johansson told reporters.

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