Doorstop interview about the vaccine rollout
Read the transcript of the press conference with Minister Hunt in Melbourne on 4 April the with an update on COVID-19 and the vaccine rollout.
The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Former Minister for Health and Aged Care
Thanks very much everybody, and I’m pleased to able to join you here today. It’s a day where I can say Happy Easter, both to the country, but also in terms of some of the progress we’re making with regards to cases and the rapid acceleration of the vaccine rollout program.
Firstly, with regard to cases, there are no new cases in Australia today. That’s two out of the last three days with no new cases, and that’s 54 days for the year with no new cases and 57 per cent of days in 2021 with no new cases.
And we did face a potential mass two-state breakout, and yet by working together, by the actions of Australians, by all the actions that have been taken, whilst we’re not completely out of the woods yet, I think the results from New South Wales and Queensland are very, very heartening.
We know how to do this. We know when there are cases what we have to do. And some of these decisions are difficult, but they are lifesaving. We see this particularly when we look around the world in terms of cases in the last 24 hours, over 540,000 cases.
In terms of the year to date, an almost unimaginable 48 million cases globally and a seven-day average, sadly, of 585,000, as we’ve seen a rapid increase in global cases whilst at the same time, zero cases in two out of the last three days in Australia.
In terms of lives lost, it’s even more troubling globally, we’ve seen 8,500 lives lost in the last 24 hours. We've seen over 1,042,000 lives lost globally this year alone in 2021. Over 1,042,000 lives lost globally in 2021; zero to COVID in Australia in that same time. And in the last seven days, unfortunately and tragically, the rolling average has increased in the past 10,000 lives lost a day again after having decreased.
Our testing throughout all of this has been strong and has now passed 15.8 million tests done in Australia. And I want to thank everybody who has come forward. We've seen some huge testing numbers across the country, over 80,000 on some days, including over 30,000 in Queensland. And that has protected people. It has helped find cases. It is an immensely important part of the process of borders, testing, tracing and distancing.
So, all that leads to the next step, which is the vaccination program. As we see, supply determines the rollout, and as the CSL supply has come on board, we have been able to rapidly accelerate the rollout.
On Monday of this week, there were 55,764 vaccinations completed across the nation for COVID. On Tuesday, that increased to 72,826 vaccinations. Wednesday was 73,979, and I'm delighted to be able to inform you that with Thursday's figures now having come through, a national record of 79,283 vaccinations on Thursday, a national record. More than we had expected at that moment. And that’s continued over the weekend, so we’re now at 841,885 vaccinations across Australia, 841,885 vaccinations as of yesterday evening.
And when we look at the states, I think all states for their work. New South Wales has 126,000 vaccinations, Victoria, 116,000, Queensland, 87,000 almost, WA, over 56,500, Tasmania, 17,500, South Australia, 28,700, the ACT, over 12,500 and the Northern Territory, over 8,600. And we’ll put those figures out formally during the course of the afternoon.
At the Commonwealth level there have been 387,605 vaccinations, and that includes aged care rollout of 111,873 vaccinations across 925 aged care facilities that have had first doses and 345 facilities that have had second doses. And our GPs have delivered an extraordinary 275,732 vaccinations.
So as the supply, which determines the rollout, has come on board, given the great, enormous, global competition, the fact that we have this domestic supply is fundamental, and the CSL supply has now come online and that’s seen our GPs deliver over 275,000 vaccinations. And that’s set to increase again significantly during the course of this week.
And as part of that, we’ll be going from over 1,500 general practices and respiratory clinics, Commonwealth respiratory clinics led by GPs and Indigenous health organisations or Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations, to over 3,000 by the end of this coming week. And by the end of April, we will have over 4,000 general practices and related programs around the country.
And that means multiple points of presence to give as many people as possible the access to their own doctor, and where that’s not been the choice of that practice, then there are the respiratory clinics and the state clinics.
And I want to acknowledge, and we are very pleased, that the states have moved to take up the offer which was embedded in the initial partnerships with them of expanding their work. They play a very important role through their large vaccination clinics which, in addition to the work which is being done by the GPs, is the backbone of the Australian program.
But again, it’s supply that determines the rollout. As the supply has increased with the sovereign vaccine manufacturing, so has the rollout.
The last thing that I want to acknowledge is, of course, there is one case which has been under investigation with regards to potential side effects and clotting. That will be determined through the medical processes, but I want to thank our medical experts.
We will continue following their advice as we have done through the pandemic.
It is perhaps one of the hallmarks of Australia's approach, and we have had the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, or TGA, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Australia, the medical expert panel or Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, and we have also had the Thrombosis and Haematosis Society, the absolute experts in this field, all review the program and all recommend that there’s continued investigation but reaffirm their commitment to the safety and the belief in the ongoing and unchanged nature of the program, but providing appropriate health advice.
And so we’ll just continue to review, as we do, but these weeks’ results, I think, are very heartening and I want to thank all of the Australians who have come forward, our GPs, our states and territories, and all of those involved in the vaccinations.
I’ll start in the room, and then I’ll go to those on the telephone.
What are the latest targets for the vaccine rollout? And when do you expect our priority groups 1A and 1B to actually be vaccinated?
Well, what we can see is that with over 111,000 of our seniors in residential aged care, we're making enormous progress on that. So that progress is, I think, very, very heartening.
That has accelerated as the vaccine supplies have come on board. So our targets are very simple. We want to see all Australians who wish to be vaccinated given a first dose by the end of October.
We had three initial targets, which was to commence the Pfizer 1A in late February, which we were able to do to; to commence the AstraZeneca 1A in early March, which we were able to do; and finally, we were able to commence on the 22 March in late March, the 1B program.
And so as we see the 1B program and as we see the other programs being completed, or the vast majority of people having taken it up, then we’ll commence each phase. But that will be based on the demand.
So the principal three targets in terms of those commencement dates started exactly as we intended. And then the other major goal for Australia is the end of October for first doses.
So you don’t have targets for when you think the priority groups 1A and 1B will be completed?
Well, what we do is we work very carefully to look at the rollout. And in terms of where we are on that, we're heading towards our objectives. So then I'll start with Tamsin. Tamsin?
Thanks, Minister. Just two questions. You say we're still expecting to have everyone receive their first dose by October. What was the expectation that everyone would have received their second dose by?
And second question, just on blood clotting, what’s the advice for people who may be potentially more susceptible to blood clotting? Should they still be receiving AstraZeneca, or potentially should they receive Pfizer instead?
Sure. So firstly, in terms of the target, second doses by nature are three weeks after the Pfizer doses. The first dose, the second dose is given, and 12 weeks after the AstraZeneca dose. Those are sort of medical facts, which are well established.
As to the rate, in October and September of completing the programme, that will depend simply on the supply. The supply at this stage is looking strong. We are in a very fortunate position given the global circumstances with our CSL production, but that's a simple medical fact. And those elements were well determined.
With regards to clotting, all of the organisations that I've mentioned have made statements. Probably be the most significant is the ATAGI advice. The ATAGI advice has been very clear, and I'll just read it: ATAGI has not changed its advice on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine at this time. ATAGI and the TGA are currently investigating this particular case and working with international experts and regulators to provide advice on the optimal use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
They haven't changed it. They have made sure that if anybody is susceptible, that they ought to consult their general practitioner. And so that advice is there. And it's similar to the advice, which is more technical in nature, from the Thrombosis and Haematosis Society of Australia and New Zealand that have set out the simple advice that somebody who is susceptible ought to consult their GP.
But, you know, this very considered medical process reaffirms exactly why, even though some, you know, and I understand this took a counterview, why Australia sought to have a full, thorough and absolute safety process in assessing the vaccines.
And I think the course of events reaffirms that this is the right approach, it was the right approach, and that full and thorough approach to safety and medical advice is the pathway forward. Josh?
Yeah, thank you, Minister. Could you please tell us the timeline by which you think all people in Phase 1A will receive at least their first dose of vaccine?
And second one, considering that a number of those high-risk people still haven't got their first dose yet, why is it that some health services in rural or remote areas are giving out vaccines for everyone 18 and over without that phased approach?
I'm not aware of that. I'd be happy to receive advice if you have any cases. There may be some Indigenous services which are appropriately the Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations if they are doing a small town. But if there were others, then I'm not aware of that. The phases are well understood around the country, so we'd be pleased to receive any examples.
But then in terms of the approach here, what is important, because we are dealing with cold chain, we're working through vulnerable populations. As I say, we're already at well over 925 facilities, another 345 that have had second doses.
And so when you when you look at that 1,270 facility visits, and that will continue, that's actually accelerating as we speak with the additional vaccine and the additional capacity. And these programmes are designed to accelerate. So that's a program over the coming weeks.
But there will also be, and if we think back to when we set out the phases, we presented each of the phases as ongoing because there will be late entrants into those categories. It might be people who are graduating of age, people who are entering aged care facilities, people who are recovering from illness, or people who may have themselves or their families changed their mind with consent. So we'll provide that ongoing capacity.
But in terms of that progress, we're very happy with that. Chris, Channel 9?
Minister, Happy Easter to you and your family. Firstly, I just wanted to ask what your view is on the New South Wales proposal to set up 36 mass vaccination hubs.
And secondly, in Brazil it’s not getting any better, in fact, it’s getting much worse, 3,000 deaths a today. How concerned are we about Brazilian P1 variant, and what are we doing in terms of our hotel quarantine systems to ensure that it doesn't sneak out?
Sure. Look, firstly, with regards to New South Wales, I had the opportunity to have a very constructive conversation with my New South Wales counterpart earlier today.
As we've said previously, we welcome all of the states and territories setting up large vaccination centres. That has always been, always been, part of the plan that was included in the National Partnership Agreements as an option.
And New South Wales is now activating it. Other states have also indicated that, and we welcome that because we have GPs, and then from the state allocation, we also have that large vaccination clinic option. That's what's happening with our GP respiratory clinics, and they complement the person's own general practice. And that combination is working incredibly well.
How we distribute flu in the National Immunisation Programme is through general practice because they know people and because there will be over 4,000, in this case, subject to supply, which dictates the pace of the rollout.
Within that supply, we are able to make sure that the states and territories have over 30 weeks a consistent large volume, and we're doing that on a 12-week-by-12-week basis. But that's going to be consistent throughout. And so they're in a strong position to complement what's happening at the GP network. So I unequivocally welcome that development.
Now, with regards to Brazil, Brazil is suffering unimaginable agonies. As you say, over 80,000 cases and on some days over 3,000 lives lost in one country. So we're intensely aware that that has been one of the drivers of the global spike in cases and lives lost.
In terms of the strain, one of the things we have is the incredible work of the Vaccine Operation Centre, the National Incident Centre, and the AHPPC or the medical expert panel. We are monitoring all of these strains and monitoring them in particular as what are called variants of concern.
And what we've shown through the response to the UK variant, where it's been transferred into the community in recent days, is that we know how to deal with these. We're always vigilant. The pandemic throws up a new challenge every day, but we're prepared.
And when you compare those global results of zero lives lost so far this year in Australia, yet over 1,042,000 lives lost globally, you can see that we're prepared now.
Any case, any case is a risk to life, but every case is something we focus on. So we're prepared, we're focussed, and I think it's important for the Australian public to know that the way we've set up the Australian system is to adapt to each new challenge. And that's what Australians have done, and that's what our system has done. Andrew, ABC.
Happy Easter, Minister.
Two questions. First on the states, both Queensland and Victoria have today asked for more transparency from the Commonwealth on vaccines, so I’ll get a response to that.
And also, you mentioned your constructive conversation today with Minister Hazzard. Did he demand an explanation or apology for the leaked figures on vaccination rates the past week?
And on your own Health Department, do you have confidence in their ability to deliver this? And are we seeing a record number of consultants now employed in the Federal Health Department to handle this rollout?
Look, it was only a very constructive conversation today with nothing other than a mutual focus on delivering the vaccine. Just completely 100 per cent positive. So I think that that's important.
My approach has always been, and the Prime Minister's approach has always been through the pandemic, we were aware of what happened with the Spanish flu and the fact that the country was nearly torn asunder 100 years ago. And this frame, the Prime Minister's establishment of the National Cabinet, and I think you'll find throughout, our approach has been a deep belief in the partnership across the country.
In terms of the vaccination rates, we published those vaccination rates. That's what I'm presenting today. But if there are any other proposals, we're always happy to work with them. And that's the approach. You know, every day we're adapting and adopting, and I think that that's a very important thing.
Then we had one other question. I apologise.
On the Health Department, anecdotally a huge number of consultants.
I couldn't have more support and more belief in the people that have brought us through this pandemic. The fact that we have an Australian of the Year finalist in Professor Murphy, people like Caroline Edwards, who was the Acting Secretary and who almost single-handedly oversaw the supply of masks and test kits and ventilators at a time when there was a global collapse.
You’ll remember the scenes from other countries where there was no PPE, where there were no ventilators.
That team along with the now Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly and Alison McMillan, the Chief Nurse, and Michael Kidd and Celia Street, who's been running the National Incident Centre, they’re national heroes.
They are absolutely people that I believe it's just a privilege to work with, and having brought Australia through the containment and capacity strategies of flattening the curve, remember flattening the curve and building the capacity, they helped build and create the CSL contract, which only in August was impossible.
All the experts were saying we could never deliver sovereign Australian vaccine manufacturing capability within that timeframe for production in Australia. And yet they've done it, and that's what underpins our supply. I'm just honoured every day to work with that extraordinary group of people and all of those beneath them.
Hey, Minister, how are you?
Well, thank you.
A couple of questions as well. We've seen here in Queensland GPs saying they've been begging and borrowing to get COVID-19 vaccine stock from hospitals due to a no-show delivery.
And you’ve said that the Commonwealth has enough stock, and the states are being given 12 weeks forward plans. Why then is this happening? Is there a breakdown in supply chain? Is it the transporting of these vaccines?
And secondly, just to follow up on an earlier question, the states have this week called for more transparency in the vaccine rollout data, and you've told us that the doses that have been administered (INAUDIBLE) to have to have a vaccination rate would require a second measure, such as the number of doses that the Commonwealth has actually supplied. Will you be providing that data, and if not, why?
Well, I think that's exactly the point that was under discussion. That was provided, and then there was some concern about that. So that's entirely a matter for National Cabinet.
We're very, very happy to provide that. That wasn't a decision which had come to us. That's a matter for national cabinet. We're very, very happy, though, for that to be provided. But that would be a matter for all of the states and territories through that very critical National Cabinet process.
Then in terms of GPs, what we're seeing is that every one of the 1,500 GPs received their deliveries despite floods, despite the legacy of that. It was just an incredible delivery process that that was able to occur.
It did mean that there were some where it was a day or two later. We've had individual cases where perhaps an order might not have been placed. So that's fine. We've been able to backfill.
And what we're seeing is deliveries over the weekend, and by the end of this week, we'll have over 3,000 practices, Commonwealth respiratory clinics and Aboriginal-controlled community health organisations delivering.
And that's, you know, to my mind, that's an extraordinary outcome. And that's what's underpinning, underpinning the rollout. And if there are any individual cases, that's why we have a Vaccine Operation Centre, which has a rapid response, which monitors cold chain, which monitors delivery. And that's what we'll do, right throughout the coming months, right throughout that delivery programme. And that's why it exists.
It's almost unimaginable that we're delivering those 3,000 doses or 3,000 different deliveries over the course of a week. And yet that's what's occurring. And sometimes a practice may not be open on a day. Sometimes an order may go in late, but we get around that. They got around the issue of the rain and the floods. They acted safely but delivered everything. And the providers will continue to do that.
But I do want to thank our GPs. They are just extraordinary national treasures. Chloe.
Hello, Minister. I’ve two questions, if I may. The first, when is the next phase, 2A, scheduled to begin? And will we keep entering new phases before the others are complete?
And do you have any idea what percentage of 1A is complete?
Sure. So in terms of the next phase, we've said towards the middle of the year. And the judgement on that is a medical one on the basis of the number of people vaccinated across that group and then the number of people who are presenting.
So once we start to see a decrease, it was always designed, if you go back to our initial presentation of the phases in early January, they always had an overlap, because the programs will be ongoing for those who are late deciders, those who might be recovering from illness, those who may not have been in a position to have been vaccinated, they may have been returning from overseas or other circumstances. So the middle of the year for the next phase.
And then from the Commonwealth perspective, it's 111,873, and the individual states and territories will provide their figures on that.
So with that, I want to finish and thank everyone for all of their contribution. Australians through the course of this have been extraordinary. And on Easter Sunday, a very important day in our national journey, in our national celebrations, the combination of no new cases and then record numbers of vaccinations on each of the four days coming into Easter I think is a cause for hope and a cause for reflection.
Thank you and take care.