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Doorstop interview about the COVID vaccine rollout on 23 February 2021

Read the transcript of the press conference with Minister Hunt, in Canberra on 23 February about Pfizer COVID vaccine roll out, syringes, updates, vaccine passport, JobSeeker and Gaetjens Inquiry.

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

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General public


I’m pleased to be able to report that a second shipment of the Pfizer vaccine has arrived in Australia. It’s the first of two over the course of the next week which between them should deliver 280,000 doses this week; 166,000 doses have arrived; next week it will be approximately 120,000 doses.

We’ll average our provision across the two and that should be the equivalent of 140,000 doses arriving per week or thereabouts.

What that means is we’ll make 80,000 doses available over the coming week – 50,000 to the states; 30,000 to aged care through the Commonwealth, and we’ll do the same in week three of the program.

It’s important that we have consistency, we’re always provisioning for the second doses which is the recommendation of our medical advisors and making sure that we have contingency if, at any stage, there were an issue with the supply chain. But I have to say, the consistency of supply has been strong and heartening.

I have spoken with the CEO of Pfizer overnight, for Australia, and thanked Anne Harris for her work and her team, and they’ve given us good, strong confidence and forward guidance of their continued deliveries.

And that just gives Australian’s confidence –gives us confidence in terms of the effectiveness of the vaccines and confidence in terms of the reliability of supply which is very important.

At the same time, we have been working with AstraZeneca, and our guidance remains that we are on track for early March and that’s, again, very heartening that we’ll see us be in a position where we will be able to double doses per week.

And then by the end of March, as we move to the next phase with the CSL Australian made doses, we should have approximately one million doses per week that are available.

Finally, I just acknowledge the reports which are coming out of the UK Health Authorities – they’ve been conducting a real world overview of the efficacy of the vaccines that have been distributed.

They have very good results for both Pfizer and AstraZeneca – slightly higher in terms of the outcomes for the AstraZeneca vaccine.

But both are world class, and I’ve spoken to the Chief Medical Officer of Australia this morning, Professor Paul Kelly, who has told me that he is delighted and that, indeed, the results of both vaccines are exceeding expectations.

Happy to take any questions.


Minister, how many aged care homes got the vaccines today?

GREG HUNT:         

We’ll have final figures later today. And so what we're doing is over the course of the week, looking to have approximately 240 homes addressed. And my advice is that we're on track and on schedule, and in fact, we may be able to beat that.


Minister, have there been any hiccups over the last couple of days in terms of the rollout?

GREG HUNT:         

None that I'm aware of. Inevitably, over the course of a mass vaccination programme, at some point there will be a truck that has an engine problem or somebody may drop a vial, and I think we need to, to be aware of this sort of thing.

But just this morning, for example, when we had the news about the second shipping of a shipment of vaccines, they were able to report that the temperature monitoring was all in place, that the safeguards that they put in place.

So there'll be the normal course of human events, things which in a flu season would happen every day and which would be unremarked upon. But because of the focus on this, it's understandable.

So we have probably the strongest control programme Australia's ever put in place for a health programme. And we have a vaccine operation centre at the Department of Health, which is overseeing this, and they're monitoring, and so far the reports have been good.


You're saying we're seeing about 100,000 Pfizer doses arriving per week – around that much. Do you have any advice on what the timetable schedule is for the AstraZeneca? Would you expect that we’ll be seeing, you know, regular weekly doses of around that number? What’s your advice on that?

GREG HUNT:         

So we'll provide that detail once shipments are in country. I do apologise for this, but because of the precious nature of the cargo, because of the security around the international shipping, we provide details on flights and arrivals after the fact – that’s our strong security advice.

But we're in a strong position, and the news from both providers and companies overnight has been heartening and strong. And we're on track for AstraZeneca to begin in early March and that, as I say, should lead to an early doubling of doses per week for Australians. And then from late March, once the Australian made CSL doses are produced, then that will lead to a very significant growth.


On low dead space syringes. Has the government managed to secure any more stocks of those syringes?

GREG HUNT:         

Look, the first thing is that we have an enormous number of syringes; secondly, there are orders for the further in the future for that. And that came about because the number of doses that were able to be extracted from the Pfizer vials was approved to the higher level, which was a happy challenge.

And so what we're seeing is a high volumes and high results. My advice is that our medical professionals performed an extraordinary job yesterday, but we're also covering the, the additional consumables on top of everything else.


Is that the low dead space syringes?

GREG HUNT:         

Yes, I understand. So, my understanding is that that's on track for supply, the particular dates of supply similarly, like other items, will acknowledge that once that's arrived.


Do you support the trial of the vaccine passport between New Zealand and Australia?

GREG HUNT:         

Look, I think this is another positive development, Australia's been working with the international community on ensuring that we have the capacity for our Australian immunisation register, which is the individual certificate that each of us has access to already for our vaccinations to be made available under all of the different options that are proposed internationally.

So every Australian will have access to their own digital vaccination record, that's already the case with the Australian Immunisation Register, but we're in a position to be able to ensure that if there is an international standard, that we're able to participate in that.


Do you have the detail yet of how many people have been vaccinated?


We'll get that later today and we'll make that comment.


Follow up on that. Forgive me if I missed this information somewhere else, but will the government be sort of releases of rolling totals of vaccinations done? I guess in a similar way to the snapshots that you’ve released about cases and deaths and that sort of thing?


Yes. Yes. Yes, we will. So what we do is, my understanding is that the daily results, which have to be uploaded, uploaded onto the immunisation register, are then collated over the course of an evening - I haven't received it yet - and then during the course of the day we’ll receive it, and then there will be regular updates going forward.

It will start slowly. It will build itself up.

In particular, what we've asked our medical professionals to do is to focus on the technique and the craft to make sure that they feel comfortable with the processes.

But the early signs are that they're doing a tremendous job.


Will there, on another matter, will there be a permanent increase to JobSeeker announced today?


Well, I think I'll leave those matters to the Prime Minister. I think there's a fair case to ensure that there's greater equity going forwards.

This has been a difficult economic period for Australians, but because of our health success we've been able to mitigate the economic challenges for Australians.

But nevertheless, there are ongoing challenges. I will leave that, as you’ll understand, for the Prime Minister.


Yesterday, the Prime Minister wouldn’t indicate the Gaetjens Inquiry into Miss Higgins affair to be made public. Is it fair on Miss Higgins to keep those inquiries secret?


Look, firstly of course, there's a police investigation, so I'll let that proceed. In terms of the particular inquiries, I will let those that are responsible for them set them out.

But I think what we're seeing here is a multiple set of actions, including particular reviews, to which you've just referred - the culture review led by the Party itself; the independent cross-party review; and then of course, Prime Minister and Cabinet are also looking at the parliamentary process.

But the deep change in all of this is the combination of culture and stronger systems. So, we always have to continue to improve and that's our duty as a particular workplace, but that's our duty as the Parliament of Australia where we have to set a national example. And so I think there will be very clear change and they will be improved systems, and I think that that's an important thing.

I'll just take two more questions.


Thank you, Minister. Is a $50 a fortnight increase in JobSeeker enough?


Look, I will leave any issues on that front for possible discussions by others later today. But I think there's a case to be able to help more Australians.

And we've seen through the course of the pandemic the support that the Government has given, that's helped keep unemployment lower than it might otherwise have been - one of the strongest results in the OECD.

But it's still borne out in human challenges, people who are feeling the challenges that they face. And so we want to make sure that we're supporting Australians, but also supporting them by giving them the opportunity to work.

And then last question? I think we're all good. Thank you very much, everybody.

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