Vaccine comments from the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences

Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences (AAHMS), Media releases

New level of protectionProfessor Tania Sorrell, Academy Fellow and University of Sydney infectious diseases researcher

“The vaccines being offered in Australia will provide a new level of protection for our community. Now we have the tools to help save lives and reduce the social and economic impact of the pandemic. However, ongoing research will remain crucial as the pandemic continues – as we seek to understand how well vaccines are preventing viral transmission and illness, how long they provide protection, and how they can be improved.”

Maintain public health measuresProfessor Brendan Crabb, Academy Fellow, Director of Melbourne’s Burnet Institute

“Vaccinating our population, and that of the rest of the world, will take quite a bit of time, so it is critical that for the foreseeable future we continue to use public health measures, including physical distancing, hand hygiene, the judicious use of face masks, good ventilation and effective controls at international borders.”

A full reviewProfessor Tony Cunningham, Academy Fellow and an infectious diseases expert at the University of Sydney

“The vaccines have been subject to a full, not emergency, review by TGA. We also have the phase 3 trial data and ongoing surveillance by regulatory agencies in the UK and Israel and Europe on the way.”

“The Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccine rollout has been carefully planned to protect the community, ensuring that populations such as quarantine, healthcare and aged care workers, as well as aged care residents, are given first priority. Follow up post rollout is being carefully planned in Australia.”

Effective vaccinations

The higher efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine of greater than 80% with a 12 week interdose interval is very encouraging and recommended by TGA.  Both vaccines appear to be effective in the latest figures from Israel and the UK although these are preliminary and may be partly due to lockdown effects.”

“The reduced efficacy of two vaccines against the South African strain has been shown in small trials but all companies with vaccines on the market are moving swiftly to produce second generation vaccines or boosters, as we do with influenza annually; Australian quarantine has been successful in preventing spread into the community.”

Vaccine equityFran Baum, Academy Fellow and a public health expert at Flinders University in Adelaide

“It is crucial that all countries have timely and affordable access to vaccines, to ensure that the world’s most vulnerable individuals can be protected.

“This particularly includes health workers. Indeed, it is incredibly important to ensure that health workers around the globe are vaccinated, as recently highlighted by WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has stressed that vaccine equity protects people everywhere and strengthens the international community’s ability to stop COVID-19.”

Communication and vaccine hesitancyProfessor Kirsten McCaffery, Academy Fellow, health literacy researcher, University of Sydney

The roll out of the vaccine is a crucial time to get public communication and messaging right. We want clear consistent messages from government, health professionals and opinion leaders. Messaging needs to be appropriate for diverse audiences and be inclusive of people with lower health literacy and from different cultural and language groups who sometimes get forgotten.

We need broad messaging but also targeted messages for key groups who may be more hesitant, and we need to use social media as well as mainstream media channels.

Being respectful of people who feel uncertain about the vaccine will be important as well as being responsive to their questions and needs. Health professionals have an important role here.  We must also encourage people to carefully consider the source and credibility of their health information and how it applies in Australia.

There is a risk of over focusing on a small minority who are strongly opposed to vaccination. This is a time for the community to come together and recognise the remarkable achievement of the vaccines that will help us get back our lives to a better normal.

Vaccination and pregnancyProfessor Caroline Homer, Academy Fellow, Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health researcher at the Burnet Institute in Melbourne

“There are no concerns about the vaccine’s safety in breastfeeding women or their babies. This means that breastfeeding women can receive the vaccine at any time and do not need to stop feeding before or after.”

“Vaccination during pregnancy is not currently recommended for all women. However, pregnant women who have medical risk factors for severe COVID-19 should consider being vaccinated. Women need to have this discussion with their health provider and weigh up the potential benefits of vaccination outweigh any potential risks. The guidance from the Australian Government and from RANZCOG will be helpful for each woman to make that decision.”

A global achievementAcademy President, Professor Ingrid Scheffer, University of Melbourne

“We have seen an incredible response to the pandemic by the world’s health and medical research community. At the beginning of 2020, COVID-19 was an unfolding threat of unknown proportions. Today, just over 12 months later, we have a suite of vaccines supported by robust diagnostic tests, public health measures, and steadily improving treatments for severe COVID-19 disease.

“Many hundreds of Australian researchers have contributed to every aspect of the fight against COVID-19: helping to stop its spread through evolving evidence-based public health measures, improving treatments, developing vaccines, supporting informed communication and reducing the social effects on disrupted families and communities.”