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Doorstop interview about the Astra-Zeneca vaccine rollout

Read the transcript of the doorstop interview given by Minister Hunt in Melbourne on 5 March 2021 about the Astra-Zeneca vaccine rollout.

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

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I’m delighted that the first AstraZeneca doses have been delivered today in South Australia, in regional Australia. In Murray Bridge to a doctor, it’s symbolic in so many ways that Australia is part of the global vaccination program,

We’ve been supported with so far, approximately 735,000 vaccines that have arrived in Australia from overseas that are being distributed, but with appropriate volumes being reserved for second doses.

The states and territories are contributing to the vaccine rollout, and so this is a very, very important milestone today. The first AstraZeneca vaccination occurring in Murray Bridge in regional Australia, in South Australia in particular.

So I want to thank all of those who've been involved in this process so far. But this is the start of the next stage, the next step as we begin to expand the rollout and ramp up the rollout.

And in particular, I want to acknowledge the work of our doctors and nurses, our immunisers and everybody involved, both in the Commonwealth and state systems for assisting.

I would note there are reports today of one particular shipment from one particular country, which has not been given- authorised to proceed from the particular country. And the European Commission accepted that advice from Italy.

We are very clear that this does not affect the pace of the roll out. That shipment had not been factored in to our distribution, to the states and territories. And in fact, we received the first shipment of AstraZeneca this week of 300,000 doses.

And AstraZeneca has a deep, broad global supply chain. And we have indeed been reassured that they will continue to draw on that deep, broad global supply chain. So I think that's important reassurance for every Australian. It is a reminder, it's a very, very, very competitive world.

And that is precisely why we ensured that we had sovereign vaccine manufacturing capability with 50 million AstraZeneca vaccines to be made by Australia's extraordinary CSL to be made, in fact, here in Melbourne. And that is expected to ensure doses to be made available from late March.

I've had reaffirmation overnight that that remains on track in the order of 1 million doses per week, which will be made available. Obviously, contingency is then taken from that for second doses. But that will allow a dramatic scaling up and the commencement of the Phase 1B program.

To provide an update and before I get to the Phase 1B program in particular, I should note that we have, on the advice I've just received from the National Incident Centre, had zero cases in Australia. There are still a couple of jurisdictions to provide a final report.

Assuming that remains the case, and we believe it is, that will be 35 days this year with zero cases of community transmission nationwide. And sadly, there have been over 440,000 cases worldwide in the last 24 hours and over 9000 lives lost in that period.

With regards to the vaccination program, by the end of today, we expect that there will be over 260 aged care facilities which will have had vaccinations carried out. And we thank all of those older Australians, our elders, who have put their shoulders forward, as have so many others and everyone involved in that process.

That will mean over 20,000 aged care residents that were vaccinated to last night and more obviously today. And as of yesterday evening, with final numbers to be confirmed by some jurisdictions, over 71,000 Australians vaccinated.

I would note in particular that today we are writing out to over 4000 accredited general practices that have applied for participation in Phase 1B, confirming that they have been accepted, confirming the progressive roll out dates so as to make sure that we bring them on in a safe and cautious way, beginning in late March.

And they will then respond and acknowledge, and so by mid-next week, we'll have confirmation from all of those as to their willingness to participate.

But all of them applied and so we have been focussing on what are called accredited practices with the strong, deep support of the Royal Australian College of General Practices, the Australian Medical Association, and the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine.

The medical leaders have been real leaders during this process, and they were very keen to ensure that we had the highest standards and the broadest participation. And the participation is broader than our best expectations. And so I think that's great news. It means as many Australians as possible, as broadly across Australia, will be able to be vaccinated by their own GP.

But there'll be a variety of options. The states will have their vaccination clinics. There will also be the Commonwealth vaccination clinics, where currently people are able to be tested; what are known as the GP respiratory clinics.

The Indigenous-Aboriginal community controlled health organisations, and the Pfizer hubs which the states are running, will all continue. And in time, we will have the pharmacies also join us. And so I think that's very important.

So that indicates that Phase 1B, which is due to start in late March, is on track. And indeed, we have indicated to the states and territories that if they so wish, they are able to bring forward the health worker component of Phase 1B.

That would be slightly ahead of schedule, and I understand a number of states and territories are considering that and it will be up to them to make their own announcements. But there is the capacity for Phase 1B to start early with some states and territories actively considering that.

So all up, I think these are very positive developments. The first AstraZeneca vaccination today. The rollout to the general practices of information regarding their participation, and next week, they will respond. And the continued increase in the number of aged care facilities, aged care residents, and Australians overall that have been vaccinated.

I might start firstly with those that are online and then come to those in the room, if that's right.



Thanks, Minister. So on the delayed shipment, you detailed earlier this week how many doses of the vaccines each state and territory was getting. I think it was 86,000 to New South Wales, 76,000 to Victoria over 10 days.

Does this shipment delay affect that number? Will the states be still getting the same amount of vaccine doses?


No, it doesn't delay. This shipment was not included. We only include those doses that are actually in hand.

And one of the things we've learnt, whether it's through the import of masks or test kits, whether it was through the construction process of ventilators, where obviously parts were required from overseas – although the construction was done in Australia – and through the vaccination program, is to be very cautious in terms of international arrivals. It is an intense global environment, and having the sovereign vaccine manufacturing capability is immensely important.

But those distributions, which were announced, and indeed the first of the actual deliveries of AstraZeneca has occurred, as we can see in South Australia today, are unaffected by this and were based on vaccines in hand in Australia.

And our forward projections did not involve this particular shipment of one set of doses from one country, from a firm which has a deep, broad global supply chain. And that was reaffirmed to me only this morning by the country head.

If I may go to Chloe.


Thank you, Minister. Just following on from that. So when is our next shipment of AstraZeneca scheduled to arrive? And where from and what forthcoming shipments coming from the EU?

And do you have any concerns that there will be no more shipments delayed and that we won't have any doses of AstraZeneca in the time between now and when CSL finishes manufacturing its doses and they still have to go through and batch testing in late March?


Sure. Look, I think that’s a very important and valuable question. The important reassurance is that we have sufficient AstraZeneca to take us through to the arrival of the CSL doses.

So, we had planned the AstraZeneca rollout based solely on those 300,000 doses that had arrived in Australia, and we were very, very cautious on that front, and so there are more than enough to see that bridge through to the arrival of the Australian-made CSL AstraZeneca doses.

Secondly, for I think understandable reasons, although the question is completely reasonable, we don't foreshadow either the source or the arrival time of particular doses or particular shipments. We obviously announce after they've arrived, and that's for reasons of security, and there's very strong advice on that security in this intense environment.

But I am confident of the pipeline with regards to both vaccines. Some, you know, we always have to watch and we always have to verify, but I'm confident in relation to the pipeline of both vaccines.

Okay. Tom.


Thanks, Minister. Thanks for taking our questions.




What's to stop future shipments from Europe from having the same difficulties? Is Australia lobbying the EU countries and what fora is involved to prevent further export bans like this actually affecting the supply?

You must be concerned that you’ll wake up to more news stories about similar delay.


Well, we know that, of course, the EU Ambassador made a very strong, clear statement that Australia would be unaffected. That was nationally announced. Obviously, one country for one shipment has made an announcement.

And so, Australia has raised the issue with the European Commission through multiple channels. And in particular, we have asked the European Commission to review this decision.

But when I say that the AstraZeneca supply chain is a global supply chain, we work with the company on ensuring that we have continued supply to Australia.

And it was only a few days ago that the very first doses of AstraZeneca arrived in Australia. They have already been distributed and the first vaccinations have already been delivered.

And so, we've had no issue with the suppliers of the other company to date. That has been continuous. And I understand this is exclusively in relation to an issue between the country in question and the company in question.

And so, we do watch. We are intensely engaged. And as we saw through securing masks, test kits, ventilators supply parts and vaccine contracts and vaccines, it is arguably the most intensely competitive international environment since perhaps the Second World War.

And that is why, arguably, one of the two most important decisions we've made throughout the pandemic was to contract for the supply of 50 million doses of Australian-made, sovereign-manufactured CSL AstraZeneca product in Australia.

That's what gives us an almost unique advantage for so much of the world in terms of the security of supply going forward.



Minister, Daniel Hurst from Guardian Australia. Just two factual questions. Firstly, the reports that the European Commission was notified of this decision by Italy or objection a week ago, and AstraZeneca was informed on Tuesday this week.

So when was the Australian Government first informed that this was on the cards?


So we received a notification on Wednesday evening, but it was subject to a request from Australia for review. So we have not received the response as yet in relation to the request for review.

At the same time, we had just received a global shipment of AstraZeneca, and at the same time, we remain confident of the global shipments going forward. But it is competitive.


Just a second- just a second factual question. The second factual question on that, you mentioned the global supply chain that AstraZeneca reassured you on. So have they committed to supplying the exact same number of doses from elsewhere in the world? Is that what their assurance is and when would that be supplied by?


Sure. So at this stage, there's been no change in their guidance to us, and that was reaffirmed to me this morning. And I will respectfully not pre-empt the dates for the very reasons that I think every one of you understands about the security.

But I am confident that in the near future there may be more announcements in relation to the arrival of both vaccines.

Okay. If I may, I'll go to Maggie.


Minister, when is the Army due to arrive in Victoria and where will it start administering doses?


Sure. So, the ADF immunisers are currently doing their training, and they're currently agreeing with states through the ADF processes where and when they will commence.

They're expected to commence during the course of next week. The particular destinations will be agreed by the ADF in conjunction with what's called the Vaccine Operations Centre and the states.


Will that concentrate on aged care?


Oh, yes. Sorry. A very important question. So the ADF will initially be helping with the aged care rollout and they'll be assisting with that.

And then, in particular, I think there'll be a focus on those areas that might be a little harder to reach. But they are a team- significant number of teams that, in fact, are used to doing immunisation.

Every year, they do the flu vaccinations for the ADF. Highly skilled, highly trained, but they're going through that training now.

And Tom in the room.


Australians received 300,000 doses of AstraZeneca, I believe. How many more has to come and secured from overseas and how will you ensure that we’ll get them?


So our contracts are for 50 million doses to be produced here in Australia. All up, three million doses to be brought internationally for AstraZeneca.

At the moment, we've received the first shipment and I am quietly hopeful and quietly confident that there'll be more news on that shortly. That contract remains unchanged.


So you said 3 million?


3.8, yeah.


And when is the TGA expected to approve the domestic production of the AstraZeneca jab?


So for those that aren't aware, the way it works is that the TGA approves the vaccine, which they have already done, but they also have to approve the domestic manufacturing facilities for CSL to look at the quality and the processes.

They're engaged in that assessment now and that's expected to be done in time for the late March rollout. So I won't try to pre-empt the work of Professor Skerritt, but I know our late March supplies are based on the fact that both the production company, CSL, and the TGA and AstraZeneca are all working to a similar date to have all processes completed together.


So based on that timeline, can we expect a domestically produced AstraZeneca jab next month, in April?


We're expecting the first domestically produced CSL AstraZeneca jab to be delivered in late March to Australians.

Alright. Thank you very much, everybody. Take care.

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