Media event date: 
27 May 2021
Date published: 
28 May 2021
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

LEIGH SALES:

The Health Minister Greg Hunt joins me now live from Canberra. Thanks for your time Minister.

GREG HUNT:

Pleasure.

LEIGH SALES:

How many Australians are fully vaccinated? That is have had two doses of the COVID vaccine?

GREG HUNT:

At this point, we have had about 500,000. That's out of a vaccination population of 3.9 million and the reason is very simple. The AstraZeneca vaccine is a 12 week period between first and second doses and that's been the primary vaccine in Australia and as one of your predecessors or one of the previous speakers, Mark Butler said, we follow the medical advice on that.

That's similar to what's been in place in the United Kingdom. That's allowed more people to be vaccinated earlier, but it is also the optimal dosing time for the principle vaccine in Australia.

LEIGH SALES:

But 500,000 Australians who are fully vaccinated out of a population of 26 million, the US announced they have got 50% of their population completely done. Australia's performance is under whelming on any measure.

GREG HUNT:

Well with great respect, today was a record day of 111,000 Australians who stepped forward to be vaccinated. 3.9 million Australians who have been vaccinated.

LEIGH SALES:

Come on Minister, half a million in total. That's nowhere near the population like the US has.

GREG HUNT:

I would respectfully make the point that to indicate that a first vaccination is not a fundamental and critically important protection would be a very unfortunate impression to leave.

LEIGH SALES:

True, but if it was full vaccination, it would be full vaccination right?

GREG HUNT:

No, with great respect, what we see is that we very have significant protection from the first vaccination.

The principle vaccine in Australia that is being used is the AstraZeneca. That works on a 12 week turn around. The Pfizer vaccine has a three week second dose. Approximately half a million

Australians have been vaccinated with that and next week is the first week after the AstraZeneca vaccine reaches the second dosing point.

So what you will see from next week is a progressive increase in the number of Australians that have had second doses entirely in line with the medical advice and entirely in line with the fact that the more Australians you can vaccinate earlier, the optimal outcome for Australians.

So, Australians are stepping forward and I want to thank them. There were record numbers in each of the last three weeks. This week we have had two record days in a row, it is likely we will have a record week, but we want to encourage more to come forward for safe and effective vaccination.

LEIGH SALES:

Alright Minister, let’s talk about the protection of Australians in aged care. Let me read to you from a press release you issued on the 16 February. "It is anticipated the rollout to aged care facilities will take approximately six weeks,” so by 30 March.

Today we learn only because of the COVID outbreak, but that there were this week, 29 aged care facilities in Victoria that had not been vaccinated. Whose head is going to roll for that? Yours or the Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck?

GREG HUNT:

With great respect, we have 98% of facilities around Australia in a program that's protecting Australians. For example, there was a case amongst a contractor in the Tri-care facility in Mermaid Beach and the residents had all been done.

LEIGH SALES:

Minister, can you just address what I am talking to you about. Minister, you had said 98%, in actual numbers how many facilities does that mean around the country, in Australia, aged care facilities, have not had vaccination yet? An actual number.

GREG HUNT:

In Victoria, we have nine to complete tomorrow. Victoria is actually at 99%.

LEIGH SALES:

What about nationally?

GREG HUNT:

Around Australia, prior to today, because we haven't had today's figures come in. We had 74 still to go.

LEIGH SALES:

74 still to go. You said on 16 February that it would take six weeks. We know these are the most vulnerable people in the country based on the deaths data that we saw last year. How can 74 places not have been vaccinated yet?

GREG HUNT:

Well, with great respect, we have had 98% around Australia. Almost 99% in Victoria and in some cases they had had issues, such as whether it was a gastro outbreak or they had the flu vaccine, as you noted in your discussion with Dr Chris Moy.

Given the epidemiological situation in Victoria, the Chief Medical Officer, after consulting with the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation has been able to bring forward the period in between the flu vaccine and the doses which are now to be given tomorrow.

So, by tomorrow, we expect that all of those facilities, subject to no incidents occurring, but all of those facilities in Victoria. So quibbling about a 99 or 98% success rate so far.

LEIGH SALES:

I'm not quibbling. I'm speaking on behalf of the families and the residents of the 74 facilities that you have just revealed.

GREG HUNT:

100% within the city of Whittlesea, which is the epicentre and they have all had not only first and second doses.

LEIGH SALES:

As we know COVID can spread. That's why states have locked the borders.

Let me read from the same press release. The Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck said the Australian Government would be responsible for leading the implementation of the COVID-19 vaccine program in the aged care sector.

So if COVID now rips through an unvaccinated aged care facility, that's on you or Minister Colbeck right?

GREG HUNT:

It is 99% completed. 100% tomorrow. 98% around Australia.

LEIGH SALES:

Who is responsible? Who is responsible if that happens?

GREG HUNT:

This is absolutely the Australian Government and the fact that we have achieved across Australia well over 300,000 vaccinations in an incredibly difficult situation where care and attention needs to be given to each resident, where there is an in-reach team that comes in, where all of those elements have been negotiated and achieved a 99% outcome in Victoria and 98% outcome around Australia with the others to be completed tomorrow.

In Victoria, I think is an immensely important protection for Australians, that is what we are doing, we are protecting Australians. I would say this Leigh, in a world of 500,000, 600,000 cases a day, we've had 94 days of zero cases in Australia. So, we know how to get through this. We'll get through it again. It is a very difficult time, but we will keep fighting to protect people.

LEIGH SALES:

Minister speaking of getting through it, what we need to get through this is quarantine. Every recent COVID outbreak we’ve seen recently has come from an urban quarantine facility. None have come from the facility at Howard Springs.

GREG HUNT:

That is an urban facility.

LEIGH SALES:

Isn't it a no brainer to increase capacity there or to build another like it?

GREG HUNT:

And we have done that.

LEIGH SALES:

Yes, but increase capacity further?

GREG HUNT:

The Howard Springs capacity has been increased to 2,000 which is on all the medical advice is the maximum of its ability.

LEIGH SALES:

What about building another like it?

GREG HUNT:

Well, how long would you expect that would take?

LEIGH SALES:

Well, when are you going to make an announcement that you're doing that?

GREG HUNT:

We have to bring Australians home now and prepare for the median term, as was mentioned

By Chris Moy. We're doing both those things. We have already put in place Howard Springs and expanded that to 2,000. It is an urban facility. Sometimes it is presented by some as if it is not. I have been there on two occasions.

LEIGH SALES:

It is not downtown city Sydney or Melbourne.

GREG HUNT:

I would be respectful to the people of Darwin.

LEIGH SALES:

The people of Darwin know that they don’t have the population size of Sydney and Melbourne Minister.

GREG HUNT:

We met with the people, Brendan Murphy and I when we were bringing Australians home to Howard Springs in February of last year. They had just the same concerns as people of Melbourne or Sydney. They have just the same rights as people of Melbourne or Sydney and there is also an Indigenous population which is a vulnerable population.

So, that facility, which has been Commonwealth run has produced 100% protection, but the Northern Territory has now taken it over.

Around the country, what we see is the states and territories have done an outstanding job by any global comparison. That's what has protected us. That's our first line, but it is not our last line.

This notion there will never be a case from overseas, I think is one which we always have to test.

We've done better than anybody else in keeping cases out. We have seen Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, outstanding countries that are all dealing with outbreaks in a global pandemic.

We're keeping it out better than almost anybody else, but we're always fighting to do more. We are always looking to expand on those protections. We'll get through it. It is difficult days for Victoria, but we'll get through it.

LEIGH SALES:

Minister thank you for your time this evening.

GREG HUNT:

Thanks Leigh.

Former ministers: