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Doorstop interview about Australia COVID cases and vaccine rollout

Read the transcript of the press conference with Minister Hunt in Melbourne on 7 April the with an update on Australia COVID cases and vaccine rollout.

The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Former Minister for Health and Aged Care

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I’m Jill Grogan. I’m a GP here at Albert Park Medical Centre and I’ve been a GP here for about 12 or 14 years.

Absolutely delighted to welcome Minister Hunt here today and to see how the vaccination program’s going. We’re really pleased to be involved in the vaccination program.

I was just saying a minute or two ago, how relieved I personally was to get my vaccine because I work in aged care as well and knowing my patients are protected is so important for me.

So, we’re delighted to let you know that things are rolling along very nicely here but very busy. Thank you very much for coming.

Thank you very much.


Great. Look, thanks very much to Dr Jill Grogan, to Mandeep who is the practice manager here, to Yuri who was our nurse administering the vaccine today, and of course to Anne, our patient who put herself forward, as have so many Australians, almost a million Australians to this point in time.

So in particular, what I'd like to do is just to give you a brief update with regards to cases in Australia and then the program, then take any questions from those who are on the phone and then those who are present here.

Now, with regards to cases, we are fortunate. This is another day with zero cases of community transmission in Australia. We know that we faced a potential two state breakout but the collective actions of Australians in coming forward has been immensely important in helping to isolate cases, to ensure that we have people in quarantine, and to ensure that the testing levels are high.

That makes 57 days, I'm advised, this year, so 57 days of zero cases of community transmission in Australia. At the same time, almost extraordinarily, we’ve seen 579,000 cases around the world in the last 24 hours and 11,500 lives lost.

Another way to look at it is, across the world, we’ve now seen over 49.5 million cases this year already around the world and over 1.068 million lives lost, so over a million and 68,000 lives lost around the world, or more than 500,000 cases a day on average during 2021 and 10,000 live lost a day on average during 2021.

So we are in an extraordinarily fortunate position by comparison. Nevertheless, vaccination remains a fundamental part of our approach and the general practices are right at the heart of what we are doing as a nation.

And I want to thank you, Jill, and Mandeep, and all of your team here at the Albert Park Medical Centre, one of the first practices, a week one practice, but we're now in week three. And having gone from 1000 practices in week one to by the end of this week, approximately 3000 general practices, Commonwealth respiratory clinics and Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations that will be supporting Australians.

And so that process is continuing, and as part of that, the Easter Tuesday numbers were 65,351 vaccinations around the country. That takes us to 920,334 vaccinations. The states have done 485,000 vaccinations or 23,800 in the last 24 hours. The Commonwealth, through the GPs and the aged care, have now done 435,000 vaccinations and in particular, 41,500 vaccinations in the last 24 hours between them.

Significantly, we see with our aged care, we're now at 969 clinics which have been conducted in residential aged care facilities for first doses and another 390 for second doses, with significant numbers being carried out today and during the course of the rest of the week.

And so, that's a little bit of a summary. I'm happy to take questions. I think I might start, Tom McIlroy from the Fin Review.


Thanks, Minister. Appreciate you taking our questions. Do you expect today is the day for 1 million jabs to be completed? And when do you think we'd get to the 2 million mark as a national rollout?


Sure. So that's a figure that we'll reach soon. It will depend on post-Easter just the rate at which people are returning in practices and some of the larger vaccination clinics are scaling up.

But the answer is very soon. We'll reach that mark and then we'll just continue to roll the vaccines out.

And as we move over the course of the coming weeks to more than 4000 practices, what we'll see is that continued acceleration, and all these milestones will be progressively reached.

And I'm very heartened that today was a higher figure than I was expecting for Easter Tuesday because people are returning from break. Many are still on break. And some practises may be vaccinating later in the week depending on their particular needs.

Tomm Mineer.


Hi Minister, thanks for taking our questions. Two quick ones if I may. Firstly, what’s your response to reports that aged care workers are being denied their second Pfizer doses because their first jabs weren't recorded properly?

And secondly, early this year, Brendan Murphy said that the Government were still exploring signing further vaccine supply deals. Is that still in the works or will the rollout between now and October be reliant on what we’ve secured from Pfizer and AstraZeneca?


Sure. Look, in relation firstly to the aged care workers, there was one report that we've had of one facility where there was some additional dosage required. We've taken steps to make sure that that will be made available to the workers.

And that's one of the things we do. Every day in a rollout of this size, there are reports and actions that are taken to immediately respond. So it's appropriate to ask, absolutely. And it's appropriate that we've been able to respond.

Now in terms of vaccines, we continue to take the advice of the vaccines task force on the selection of vaccines. And if they recommend more, we’ll procure more. So that's very much a medical decision and medical advice.

But we've always been clear that we'll follow their advice and we'll continue to do that. And if more is needed, then we'll follow their advice and procure more. Noting, of course, that the Covax facility, which is something we've signed up to with a potential dosage rate of up to 25 million for Australia is also an option.

And we'll find out more in the near future about what's available. And it's likely that that will broaden the portfolio and add to opportunities as well.

And Olivia.


Thanks, Minister. Could you please provide an update about how many Pfizer doses we’ve received from Europe?


So the Pfizer doses, I think, approximately 870,000. They've been very regular. They oscillate in a band between sort of just over 110,000 to a little bit above 150,000. But they've been giving us good guidance in advance and that's been continuing and continuing on time.

And that's allowed us to be able to provide a strong secure supplies with regards to aged care and the states.

All right. So then Liam.


Minister, on the CSL issue, this is a press release from the company in February. They said that they expected to release 2 million doses of the vaccine by the end of March. It’s obviously April and we've had less than 1 million actually released. What's gone wrong?


So actually, we've had 1.3 million released of CSL. It comes through in batches. So it's what we call a continuous release program.

The TGA, on my advice from John Skerritt, I spoke with John Skerritt yesterday, has received and processed those doses on the very same day that they've received the advice on all occasions so far. And then the distribution begins.

So it’s 1.3 million so far, and then we're expecting at least three more batches over the next eight or so days. The days might change depending on their safety protocols and their assessments. But what we're expecting- because I know there have been some questions, so I thought I would prepare for that.

We've received the 1.3 million that have been cleared. And then we're expecting later this week over 470,000. Early next week, approximately 480,000. And then late next week or early the following week, 670,000. If that third batch were to arrive late next week, that would mean we'd passed the million mark for that week. If it were to pass over into the following week, then we'd pass it in that following week.


Why has that two million doses deadline by the end of March been missed?


So what we do is we follow a very simple process here. They provide what their batches are delivering.

And as we see in the next three batches, which are continuous rather than just in weekly amounts, we've got those figures of just over 470,000, 480,000, 670,000. And those are the batches that are being produced through their yields.

And they're scaling up to pass them in, but it's an extraordinary achievement that they've already had a release of 830,000, then an additional amount, which is taken us above 1.3 million.


So this is a manufacturing problem, not TGA approval problem?


No, and I don’t think there’s any question about that. The approvals have been done on the same day that the data’s been received that was provided yesterday.

And so, there are a series of steps. I think it might be valuable to talk people through these steps. There is the production, or some might call it the brewing. Then there is the bottling, which is the fill and finish process. Then there is the external safety assessment. And that does involve working with AstraZeneca, that’s part of their international contracts which have been done around the world with AstraZeneca. And then once that is done, that’s provided to the TGA. And then the TGA assesses it.

So far, they have assessed and released on exactly the same day that they have been provided the data. That’s, as I say, reaffirmed. Then that's distributed, and the release for distribution has again occurred on the same day that the TGA has been provided the information. And then that is distributed around the country. And then what we see is we're in constant, continuous distribution.

So, for example, that we have doses that have been in place, which have allowed us to get to the 920,000. We then have from that, doses that have now been delivered for this week, over half a million for this week. And then doses that are being distributed over the coming days for next week, again, over half a million and then doses for contingencies.

So that's a longish answer, and I apologise for that. But I've noticed that there have been some questions which are entirely legitimate. So I thought I would take everybody through the full pipeline, if I may.

And then that first and second.




So that's something that we've taken up with them and they're making sure that they're rectifying that. I have to say that the registration process overall has been excellent.

And what we're doing is we have multiple ways of protecting and checking. There was a particular facility that was drawn to our attention. We were able to adapt and to ensure that the workers were covered.

And I think that that's a positive thing.

And then just here?


Minister, what's the most recent figure, and I know you touched on Pfizer, but in terms of how many doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been imported to Australia?


So we've had 700, just over 700,000. And as we said, and the Prime Minister reaffirmed this morning, we recognised in January that they had a global supply chain challenge and that that was likely to mean two things. A, they had a small volume. B, there were going to be pressures in exporting out of Europe.

And so from that point onwards, we didn't include anything above the 700,000 we felt confident we could receive in our forward projections. That's what changed the projections back in January.

So every day, every day, there are challenges. And every day in a pandemic, we adapt. I think it is important to keep in mind that, you know, so many people that I speak with, say, our friends in Europe or North America, our friends in developing parts of the world, look at Australia and say, how have you done it? And we wish we were you.

And that doesn't mean that we are back to where we were. There's a vaccination rollout. There will inevitably be from day to day new things that emerge in that. And I think it's you know, before this vaccination programme started, I set out that it could be a truck, it could be a fridge, it could be advice on different things. We adapt to all of those.

And that's our challenge. I've got to say, you know, Jill, Mandeep, to you, to everyone involved in your practise, you're the example of Australians putting themselves forward. It won't have been easy. It will have been inconvenient.

But our GPs are ultimately just Australians we should all be proud of. And I want to thank everybody and we'll just keep going forward.

Thank you.


Minister, what’s the total number of doses that are currently available to Australians?


So I think there is an important thing here that, as the doses have been cleared, they're released. And so, as I say, there's the 1.3 million, which is the same figure for two things, actually. It's the 1.3 million that were delivered and made available for last week, from which the 900,000 has been done. And that's a mixture of AstraZeneca and Pfizer.

And then there's, as I say for this week, we've got 500,000 that's been distributed. And in the next week there's 500,000 that is in transit, in trucks as we speak, travelling around the country.

So we try to keep a week ahead and our doctors are doing a great job. And our states - let me reaffirm this. Our states and territories are doing a fantastic job. And that's been my view all along. And they've done that right through the pandemic.

And there's a national partnership. And it's the public. It's the medical profession. It's the states and territories and the Commonwealth.

And then, of course, the CSL figure also happens to be 1.3 of those cleared. But some of those are the ones that have been delivered for this week. And some of the next batches will be the ones that are delivered for next week.

All right. Thank you very much.

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