Transcript - Dr Anthony Hobbs

Page last updated: 26 May 2018

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Canberra Conference Unit

ANTHONY HOBBS:
Today I'm pleased to announce that the Australian government has secured an extra 800,000 doses of seasonal influenza vaccine to be distributed right across the country. This is on top of the 10 million doses of vaccine that have already been distributed through the National Immunization Program, state programs and the private market. Very importantly, 5.1 million doses of those vaccines have been distributed through the National Immunization Program for those who are most likely to benefit from the vaccine, including those at the age of 65; most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders; people with chronic or complex conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease who are much more likely to have a complication should they get the flu; and pregnant women. Very importantly, this year we have released 3.4 million doses of the new enhanced trivalent vaccine for the elderly population. This represents now 85 per cent of the entire population of Australia over the age of 65. So that's a very good result.

This year we have seen a significant increase in demand for the vaccine right across the country, and this represents the experience from last year where there was a very high number of influenza cases. Indeed, this year each of the states and territories have provided a programme of immunization for the under five year olds. We will continue to work very closely with the Chief Health Officers of each of the states and territories to ensure that the vaccine gets to those most in need. And it's very important that we work closely with those Chief Health Officers because they're responsible for ensuring that that vaccine is well distributed and also to determine the demand for that vaccine.

Moving forward, if there are further demands for the vaccine in addition to the vaccine already distributed we will continue to work with manufacturers to source extra vaccine. I do want to stress for the Australian public that there is still time for them to be vaccinated. It's very early in the season as yet and the peak of the seasonal influenza season is not until August, September. So these vaccines will be distributed in June and indeed in July of this year. Very importantly an extra 500,000 of those 800,000 doses will be manufactured here in Australia in Seqirus in Parkville in Melbourne, and that's a very important contribution. Those vaccines will come on to the market in July. Of the other 300,000 doses, we've already received 93,000 doses of the enhanced trivalent vaccine for the elderly population and they are being distributed right across the country at the moment. One hundred fifty thousand doses of the quadrivalent vaccine will be in the country late next week, and they will be then distributed shortly thereafter. We are continuing to work to access the other 80,000 doses.

I want to congratulate the population of Australia for heeding the advice of health professionals and understanding that seasonal influenza is indeed a potentially serious illness, and that immunization is the best way of them affording their protection. I'm happy to take questions.

QUESTION:
Is there any particular reason why all the extra vaccines weren't brought in initially, given that last year was a record flu season with a record number of deaths as well?

ANTHONY HOBBS:
So this year we anticipated an increase in demand of 10 per cent on last year because it was a severe season. But importantly this year, as I've already stated, there are state and territory programs for the under fives which we didn't have in place last year. So, both of those circumstances have increased the demand. It is very important to understand that with these extra 800,000 doses we will fully have increased on last year 26.5 per cent of the vaccine available to the Australian community. I think that's a very important point.

QUESTION:
Given that there has been the extra demand that people have been wanting for the vaccines, [indistinct] in place to ensure the current stock doesn't run out if there is extra demand on top of that?

ANTHONY HOBBS:
So we will continue to work with the Chief Health Officers of each of the states and territories who are responsible for the distribution of that vaccine locally through general practices, Aboriginal medical services, and indeed community pharmacy. If there was increased demand going forward, then we will continue to work with them and indeed with manufacturers of vaccines to secure further supplies to meet that demand.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER:
There might be some questions on the phone.

ANTHONY HOBBS:
Yes, any questions on the phone?

QUESTION:
Hi Tony, it's Candice Wyatt from Channel 10 in Melbourne. Can you hear me?

ANTHONY HOBBS:
Yes I can.

QUESTION:
My question at the moment is how [indistinct] get this next batch?

ANTHONY HOBBS:
So the 93,000 extra doses of the enhanced vaccine are prioritized for those over the age of 65 and they're being distributed right now. Of the quadrivalent vaccine coming forward in the next week or two weeks, the 150,000 doses, they will be prioritized working with the Chief Health Officers who are in contact with their general practices and Aboriginal medical services to ensure that those most in need do get the vaccine. And as I stated that's pregnant women, most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and indeed those people with chronic conditions such as diabetes.

QUESTION:
Has Australia ever found itself in a critical situation like this before in terms of the flu vaccine? Is this unprecedented?

ANTHONY HOBBS:
So this year as I've stated we've seen almost unprecedented demand for vaccine, and to meet that demand we're releasing 26.5 per cent more vaccine than last year. Already we've released almost 10 million doses. That's up from 8.3 million doses last year and 7.8 million doses in 2016. So a significant increase in the distribution of seasonal influenza vaccine across the country.

QUESTION:
An extra 26.5 per cent [indistinct] due to being able to [indistinct] after last year's horror season. But has it still taken you by surprise, given that we have now pretty much run out and we're having to produce extra doses?

ANTHONY HOBBS:
So we have not run out of vaccines. The vaccine is being very carefully distributed, so each of the Chief Health Officers across the country are managing that vaccine supply very carefully. As I said we already released an extra 10 per cent to the community. With this extra 93,000 doses, the 150,000 doses coming through in the next week or so, that will go up to just under 20 per cent. With this extra 500, 000 doses being manufactured locally by Seqirus that will meet that 26.5 per cent. And that will then meet the demand that each Chief Health Officers are telling us that they're seeing this year, somewhere between 25 to 30 per cent increase in demand over last year. So we're confident we will meet that demand. But as I said if we need to secure further vaccine then we will continue to work with manufacturers to make sure that we can do that.

QUESTION:
Dr Hobbs, it's Matt Doran in the ABC Parliament House bureau. I apologise if the question's already been answered, I keep dropping out a tiny bit. [Indistinct] reports of some doctors having to turn some patients away because supply has been redirected to [indistinct] most vulnerable. You mentioned that last year was a horror flu season and we are now seeing a rush on vaccines this year. You praised the Australian public for the greater uptake in getting vaccinated. Does it mean that authorities really weren't prepared about that significant of an increase in people wanting to get vaccinated?

ANTHONY HOBBS:
We certainly work with the Chief Health Officers of each of the states and territories who are responsible for predicting the demand in each of their jurisdictions. They predicted given last year's season that around a 10 per cent increase this year would be sufficient. Clearly there has been demand above that, of the order of 25 to 30 per cent. As I said by sourcing extra vaccine both from overseas countries - that extra 300,000 doses which were already flowing through to the system - and the extra 500,000 doses are going to be manufactured locally here in Melbourne, we will fully meet that demand and it's about 26.5 per cent higher than last year. As I said if there is increasing demand moving forward, then we will continue to work to schools extra vaccine to meet that demand.

QUESTION:
Can you actually say how much it's costing to get these extra supplies into the system?

ANTHONY HOBBS:
No. So that's a commercial in confidence arrangement with the manufacturers of the vaccine.

QUESTION:
Yeah, hello Tony, it's Candice Wyatt in Melbourne again. Can you elaborate on the kind of flu season we're expecting this year? You mentioned the peak years [indistinct] Melbourne, we're obviously a long way from that and people are clearly very worried that it's going to be as bad as last year. Is that what you're forecasting?

ANTHONY HOBBS:
It's too early in the season yet to have any firm numbers. They won't come through for the next couple of weeks or so, but indications to date - very early in the season - is that this season is no worse than any other average season to date. But as I said it's very early in the season.

QUESTION:
Yeah, I think that's all the questions I have. Thank you so much.

QUESTION:
Thank you Tony.

ANTHONY HOBBS:
Thank you.


END


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