Health unveils ATAGI appointments

By Megan Brodie 3 years ago | In Vaccines
  • 3 years ago

23 July 2021

The Department of Health has finally unveiled the make-up of the ATAGI expert advisory group on vaccines almost a year after at least two of the appointments were made, while the Prime Minister announced a new chair and deputy chair.

After weeks of questions from MedNews, the Department of Health updated its website late Thursday ahead of co-chairs Professors Christopher Blyth and Allen Cheng appearing before a Parliamentary Senate Select Committee on Covid-19 today (Friday).

While most ATAGI appointments are for four years, the Government website shows the co-chairs reappointment for just six months, finishing on 31 December 2021.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed Associate Professor Nigel Crawford would take over as chair from 1 January 2022, while Professor Michelle Giles moves into the deputy chair role. Professor Crawford is halfway through his four-year term.

He said the change at the top was not connected to the advice of the committee, which he said on Thursday had resulted in the vaccine hesitancy regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine. Morrison is quoted in media reports as saying he “completely respected” the advice of the committee while saying it had also sparked vaccine hesitancy in the over 60s.

Also reappointed to ATAGI is GP Dr Nicholas Silberstein, although his appointment has also been cut down to just 18 months, finishing 31 December 2022.

Two other new appointments to the expert committee were clearly made by Health Minister Greg Hunt last year, other documents reveal. ATAGI minutes from October 2020 show consumer representative Diane Walsh and Associate Professor James Wood, an expert in mathematical modelling, have been attending meetings for 10 months.

Officially appointed from 1 July 2021, both appointments also finish on 31 December 2022 – at least six months before the remaining nine committee members, all of whom are serving four-year terms.

Walsh was nominated by the Consumers Health Forum and is currently also listed on the Advisory Group of the PHN Immunisation Support Program as well as being named as a consumer rep on the Advisory Committee for Vaccines.

Appearing on Health’s website but not the Government Directory, ANU Clinical Associate Professor and GP Dr Penelope Burns is also named as a member of ATAGI, taking its current number to 16 although the retirement of Professors Blyth and Cheng at the end of the year will reduce it to 14.

The appointments bring to an end much of the mystery behind who was appointed to ATAGI and why Health refused to answer questions on the appointments or to update the Government Directory. MedNews was, however, the only publication publicly questioning the lack of transparency in the expert committee.

The current ATAGI co-chairs will appear before the Senate Select committee today following an appearance by a wide range of Department of Health bureaucrats including Secretary Dr Brendan Murphy, Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly, National COVID Vaccine Taskforce Coordinator-General Lieutenant General John Frewen, A/g Deputy Coordinator-General Teena Blewitt, Strategic Evidence and Research Deputy Secretary Paul McBride, five First Assistant Secretaries, and TGA boss Adjunct Professor John Skerritt.

©MedNews

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