Executive Interview: The health of Australia aviation

In a live interview, Peter Harbison of the CAPA – Centre for Aviation, talks with Professor Michael Kidd, AM, who is the Acting Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health in Australia, to discuss what is happening with the health of Australia and the aviation industry.

  1. When will Australia get to a stage of vaccination where from a health point of view, people will be safe to travel the world?
  2. Travel has been severely curtailed in Australia and in other parts of the world as a result of the pandemic.
  3. Vaccines have been rolling out under emergency provisions in Australia.

During an interview addressing the effects of the COVID-19 coronavirus on the country and specifically Australia aviation, Professor Kidd talked about this incredibly disruptive year.

The interview begins with Peter Harbison of the CAPA – Centre for Aviation, warning Professor Kidd that he is about to make him uncomfortable. Read – or listen – to what the Professor had to say.

Peter Harbison:

So I’m going to grill you for about half an hour, make you as uncomfortable as possible given that we’re all having to suffer. But what I want to focus on mostly, Michael, obviously is the aviation perspective. There are a lot of other issues around that are both totally uncertain and some a little bit more certain, but maybe if I could kick off with the looking forward a few months, I don’t know how many, to when vaccinations are reasonably well-distributed both in Australia and internationally.

We’ve heard a lot of discussion about airlines saying whether or not they would require everybody onboard the aircraft to be vaccinated, which to me is a bit of a furphy in a lot of ways, because for one thing, it’s only part of the total travel journey anyway, but I think more importantly to dissect outbound and inbound. So at what stage do we in Australia get to a stage of vaccination where you will feel free, from a health point of view, you will feel free to say, “Yes, you can go travel the world.” What are the hurdles to that? What are the conditions to that, and how long will that take, do you think, given the anticipated rollout that we have now?

Michael Kidd:

Well, so that’s a very complex question. Obviously, we already have people coming into Australia from overseas, but of course being required to quarantine on arrival, and we do have people leaving Australia with exemptions to travel overseas. But travel obviously has been severely curtailed in Australia and in other parts of the world as a result of the pandemic, and we don’t know exactly how long it’s going to take before we can move back to a degree of normality with travel. Obviously, the vaccines are going to make a difference, but the vaccine programs, of course, are only just starting to roll out in countries overseas. Vaccines have been rolling out under emergency provisions in Australia. We’ve only just had the approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration of the Pfizer vaccine. We’re still awaiting the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine to arrive in Australia. We’re anticipating that people will stop receiving those vaccines towards the end of this month, February, but the rollout to cover the entire adult population in Australia is expected to run until October of this year.

And, of course, we still don’t have any vaccines which have been licensed to be used in children. The Pfizer vaccine is able to be used in people age 16 and above, but it means that at the moment we’re unable to immunize a very significant percentage of our population and a significant percentage of the people who will be on planes. What we do know about the vaccines is, from the clinical trials and the other data which has been presented, they prevent the development of serious disease from COVID-19 and death, but there are a whole lot of things that we don’t know. We don’t know if you’ve been vaccinated whether you can still be infected with COVID-19, be asymptomatic, but still at risk of [inaudible 00:04:31] to other people. We don’t know how long the immunity which you get from being vaccinated will last. We don’t know for people who have been infected with COVID-19, and there are over 28,000 Australians who have recovered from COVID-19, we don’t know how long that immunity will start us.

So there are whole lot of unknowns at the moment, but of course, as has been happening for the last year throughout this pandemic, we are learning more and more every day, and so hopefully things will become clearer as our nation program rolls out over the coming months, but also as we gain more and more experience from what’s been happening overseas and particularly in those countries which have now been rolling out vaccines for the last two to three months.