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Doorstop interview about the vaccine rollout and vaccine safety

Read the transcript of the doorstop interview given by Minister Hunt in Melbourne on 7 March 2021 about the vaccine rollout and vaccine safety.

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

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Good morning, everyone. I’m Vanessa Haller, one of the doctors here at the Carrum Downs Medical Centre, and I’d like to welcome you all.

This is the official launch of the AstraZeneca vaccination. I’d particularly like to welcome Mr Greg Hunt, Julia Gillard, and Brendan Murphy.

We’re a clinic that has- able to do all the vaccinations, and we are to start within the next two weeks, and we’re very excited about it.

We’ve had the vaccination today – didn’t hurt at all, and welcome to our clinic.


Thank you very much. Thanks very much to Vanessa, in particular, of course, to Julia Gillard and Brendan and everybody who’s here. The message is very simple: vaccinations save lives and protect lives.

Whether it’s smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, influenza, and now COVID-19, vaccinations can save lives and protect lives.

And we know in a world of over 116 million COVID cases, a world of, sadly, agonizingly, almost 2.6 million lives lost officially to COVID and inevitably higher numbers, that vaccinations are fundamental to the world being able to progress safely.

There’s an interesting experience I had as Australia opens up on Friday. I had the privilege of opening the Sorrento Art Show in my electorate. And the judge there, Ivan, was talking beautifully about all of the paintings and the beauty of life.

And he stopped partway through, and he said: one of the most extraordinary gifts that any of us can give is to help save somebody’s life or protect somebody’s life, and the vaccination program – and this was unprompted – Ivan said the vaccination program gives each Australian the gift of being able to protect somebody else’s life.

The gift of being able to save somebody else’s life as well as to protect our own. And I can guarantee that virtually every person who was at that moment of Australia reopening is going to go and get the vaccine, because of the way he framed it, that this is about saving other people’s lives, particularly protecting our elderly.

And that’s why I’m delighted that former Prime Minister Julia Gillard is here today. She’s a role model to so many Australians, especially younger women, and we want to talk about vaccine hesitancy and, I think, be open about some of the concerns and the confidence that today brings.

Obviously, Professor Brendan Murphy, former chief medical officer, now the head of the Vaccines Taskforce and the Secretary of the Health Department. And then our amazing aged care workers: Tracy, Thirza, Rebecca, and Derek, who helps oversee the cleaning here at the Carrum Downs GP Respiratory Clinic. So, these people are putting themselves forward.

And how we’re travelling as a country, we know that yesterday was the 36th day this year where Australia has had zero cases. We haven’t got all of the figures in yet from the different states and territories, but assuming today is another zero day, we’re on track for today being the 37th day with zero cases of community transmission. So that’s an incredible result. No lives lost in 2021, and at the same time, 10,000 lives were lost in one day alone yesterday.

And that’s why these vaccinations are so important. And then in terms of our own vaccination program, we’re now at over 270 residential aged care facilities which have been vaccinated. Over 23,000 residents in these aged care facilities, our elders, our seniors, who’ve been vaccinated, and over 81,000 Australians and each day more and more.

And this week, with the commencement of the AstraZeneca vaccine, those numbers will grow significantly. And in just over two weeks’ time, as the general practice rollout and the respiratory clinic rollout and the state vaccination clinic rollout commences, those numbers will grow even more.

We will soon be delivering well over 500,000 vaccinations a week whilst making sure we have the contingency for second vaccinations, and that will continue to grow. And that’s a wonderful outcome for Australians. I want to thank everybody who’s put themselves forward.

I do want to say this: we are blessed to have two of the great vaccines in the world as our early vaccines. Both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccine – and Professor Murphy will address this – have had outstanding results.

We've got strong data from the United Kingdom, for example. And The Lancet journal recently said that- in their February paper that there had been 100 per cent protection in clinical trials against serious illness, hospitalisation or death from AstraZeneca. And the results from the UK have been spectacular and heartening and wonderful for the world.

So there's a long journey to go. There will be days when there are cases in Australia. There will be challenges as we've seen in every country. But Australia has been magnificent, and Australians have been magnificent, and they're rising to the occasion.

I just want to add this, that this week, obviously the states and territories will bring forward their AstraZeneca rollout to their healthcare workers. Some, in fact, will be bringing forward the start of what's known as Phase 1B for healthcare workers ahead of schedule, which is great news.

The aged care workers will shortly begin to be vaccinated, as we saw the first of them vaccinated here, and the aged care residents will continue. And then in the week of the 22 to the 29 March, the first of our general practices will begin. And then over the course of the next month, we'll grow to over 4000 general practices around the country, over 100 of these respiratory clinics, the indigenous Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations will have over 300 points of presence at different times around the country.

And our magnificent state clinics will have over 100 points of presence developed by the states and territories. So the program’s large, and it's challenging, but it's immensely important.

The one thing I do want to address, and this is in particular why we've asked Julia to join us, is that many people want to ensure that there's confidence in the vaccine. It is safe. It is effective. It is incredibly important.

It's a miracle of medical science. But there is some hesitancy. In particular, younger women, 25 to 45. Julia speaks to that group, and she's trusted and respected, and we trust and respect her.

Her work with Beyond Blue has been extraordinary. And we want, in particular, to encourage that group of younger women to feel safe, to feel confident and to come forward. With that, I'm delighted to invite Julia Gillard.


Thank you. Thank you very much. Can I say a big thank you to Vanessa and the whole team who's made us feel so welcome here, thank you. And to the others who got vaccinated with me today, it's been a pleasure to share your company for that.

I was delighted when Minister Hunt invited me to join him here today to be vaccinated with him. I want to say a few things in response, apart from my thanks.

Number one, obviously, Minister Hunt and I are from different sides of politics, and whilst we work together today on matters associated with Beyond Blue and mental health, I do remember back in the day the occasional cross word on things like climate change and carbon policy and all the rest of it.

So me being here today is a visible representation that no matter what side of politics you barrack for, no matter who you intend to vote for, there is a united message. And that united message is, please get the vaccine. And then particularly to Australian women, can I say please get the vaccine.

I can understand that people might feel a little bit anxious. I would recommend to them that they get information from reliable sources, and by that I mean the Australian Government sources or from their local health practitioner. And what they will find when they go to those credentialed sources I think is very clear.

They will find the overwhelming evidence that this vaccine is safe and it's effective, and here in Australia it is free. So when your turn comes to get the vaccine, please step forward and take it. It's the right decision for your own health. It's the right decision for your family's health. It's the right decision for the community's health. And ultimately, it's the right decision for our nation and our world. So please do make sure that you get the vaccine.


Being a little bit worried about getting in a needle in your arm is a human response, but the evidence is very clear. And I can tell you firsthand, it did not hurt a bit. Thank you very much.


Thank you. Well said. Brendan?


Thank you, Minister, and thank you, Julia.

What a wonderful day this is. It was a fantastic day two weeks ago when the Prime Minister and some other frontline healthcare workers got vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine. And today is the official launch of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

A year ago, I remember saying to the media we might get a vaccine by the end of 2021. We might get one or more of the four or five vaccines that were looking okay, that work as well as the flu vaccine.

We now have two vaccines that are much, much, much better than our annual flu vaccines. They are both incredibly effective at the task at hand at the moment, which is protecting our population against clinical COVID disease.

And all of the data now, as Minister Hunt has said, is that both of these vaccines are really, really good. They're in fact, indistinguishable in the real time data from the UK at the moment. They're both top notch vaccines.

This AstraZeneca vaccine that we've all had today – and it didn't hurt me either – this is going to be our workhorse, because this is the vaccine that we're making here in Australia. And we'll be rolling out a lot of this vaccine in coming weeks. And most of the Australian population will get this.

Some have got Pfizer, and many will continue to get Pfizer, but there's nothing to distinguish between the two of them. They're both really, really good vaccines.

The challenge for us is to get the vaccine uptake as great as possible and as quickly as possible. And this today marks the beginning of our big, population-wide approach with this vaccine.

I'm really excited to be here to receive this vaccine. I know that people listened to me a lot in the early stages of the pandemic, and I want you to listen to me again when I say that I really, really trust these vaccines – both of them. They both work, and you need to go out there when it's your turn and get them.

Thank you.


Thank you. I'll take the questions, I think, from the phone first. Thank you very much, Mat. So I've got three from the telephone and then start with those in the room. So I think first we have Tamsin.


Thanks, Minister. I was just wondering if I might be able to ask the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard a question.




Hi, Tamsin.


Thank you. Hi, Julia. I was just wondering, obviously we’ve seen some pretty shocking allegations over the past three weeks about sexual abuse and harassment in Parliament.

From your experience, is this the culture that you saw in your time in Canberra and how do you respond to these allegations?


Look, Tamsin, I thank you for your question. I'd have to say taking them on the phone is an innovation since my day: we didn't do phone questions back then.

And I have made some public statements about the matters you refer to, and I may do so again in the future.

But today is not the day for that. Today is simply about bipartisan support, a united front to encourage people to get the vaccine.


Correct. Anything else, Tamsin, on vaccinations?


I do have a question for you, sorry, Minister. If I could, I do have a question about some comments that Kate Jenkins made earlier-


Okay. I haven’t heard them, I apologise, but go ahead.


Well, regardless of whether you’ve heard it, she said that the Government had not acted as quickly as she would have liked on the report that she authored into workplace harassment and handed to the Government a year ago. Why hasn’t the Government moved more quickly on this given the issue we knew it was then and definitely know it is now?


Sure. So, look, I apologise because I haven't heard the comments firsthand. The important thing is that Kate Jenkins has been appointed specifically to lead a review on Parliament to make recommendations, and there's an absolute determination to implement them.

So we all have a responsibility every stage, every day, to continue to try to improve and to do better. And I think that that's extremely important, and that's a passion and a focus, and it's something to which we are deeply committed.

I might ask Adeshola.


Thanks, Minister. I just wanted to ask in terms of, on Friday France said it may follow Italy in blocking the COVID-19 vaccine shipment.

The Government has said that this move by Italy will not Australia’s vaccine timetable, but how serious is the Government treating this? And is this being considered a contract breach?


Look, our guidance from the company is that their commitment to Australia hasn't changed. We have 53.8 million units of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which are contracted.

We have 300,000 units that have already arrived. So we've already had a shipment. Myself, Julia, Brendan, Tracy, Thirza, Rebecca, Derek, we've all been vaccinated today with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has arrived in the country, and more will come. I'm very confident of that. Very, very, very confident.

But then within just a few short weeks, commencing in the week of the 22nd to the 29th of March, we're due to receive approximately a million units of Australian-made, CSL-produced AstraZeneca vaccine.

And that will continue to go forwards with the potential as they examine their processes, that they may, in fact, be able over time to increase that volume. So we're still expecting continued supplies. We're continuing to receive supplies.

And so we're actually in a very strong position already. Just over 745,000 vaccines have arrived in Australia, and this week the program will step up. And so the advice from the company – and indeed I spoke with the global head only yesterday – is that the international and the domestic supplies are continuing.

And so we’d not factored that one shipment in. We had our questions as to whether it would arrive, but we do take it seriously. The Trade Minister has spoken with the World Trade Organisation and his counterpart within the European Commission. I've spoken with my counterpart within the European Commission.

Our diplomats have been working both at country level. And I think you'll find very shortly that the continuity of supply is it doesn't just continue but is slightly better than we'd hoped. We never project forwards on individual shipments, but I'm very, very happy with the things that I've heard over the weekend.



Thanks, Minister. Early before the rollout started, you indicated that our timeline for vaccinating people was much more dependent on supply in the early weeks. But in fact, the amount of vaccines being delivered has been below that of supply in the last two weeks.

Are you able to give an indication of how many vaccines were- have been given out in the past week and what the plan is to get to that four million doses given out?

Presumably the middle of April is no longer the goal. And I also had a question about vaccines for the former prime minister as well after, if possible.


Sure, sure. So just in terms of supply, in each of the first two weeks, we've supplied 50,000 vaccines to the states. We've completed 23,000 Commonwealth vaccinations. The states have done a great job. I was just in exchange with the Victorian Health Minister this morning. They were talking about their plans to commence this week.

They're on track and doing very, very well. And other states and territories are doing very, very well. So all of those things are occurring, and those numbers will continue to grow, particularly as we bring on respiratory clinics such as this, as we bring on thousands of general practices around the country, as the states set up their clinics.

I know that new Pfizer hubs are being set up around the country this week, new AstraZeneca clinics for health workers. And in fact, we are on track to bring forward, slightly, some of what's called the 1B, the next phase, health workers; that will be state to state dependant. So, I'll just ask Julia. That's Clare.


Hi, Clare.


Hi, Ms Gillard. Thanks for taking the time. We know from surveys that Australian women are among the higher group of vaccine hesitants. Why do you think that that is, beyond the obvious with the age group of people that are worried about being pregnant or how the vaccine interacts with that.

Do you think there are any other factors in why women might be more hesitant? And what exactly are you hoping that people will take from you getting the vaccine today? What do you think that that might change, that they might not have otherwise considered doing it?


Thank you for your question. I do understand that women who are pregnant or women who are trying to fall pregnant might have a set of questions about the vaccine. And the advice from Brendan and the experts is to talk to their GP about that.

Generally, I think women are more careful about their health than men. Obviously, you've got to be careful of stereotyping here.


No, no, I agree.


But many a long year ago, when I was Shadow Minister for Health, the evidence then very clearly showed that women were far more likely to regularly visit their GP.

They were far more likely to stay on schedule for routine diagnostics than men were, which is why Australian governments across a long period of years now have had specific men's health strategies to encourage men to keep up to date with their diagnostics.

I think that caution might mean that women are a bit more hesitant about what they put in their bodies by way of medicine or vaccine. And being thoughtful and cautious is not a bad thing when it comes to your health. But the best way of answering that caution is to make sure you're getting advice from credentialed sources.

And I think one of the things that could be happening here is many women who are trying to keep themselves fit and well probably follow a lot of people online through social media. They might look for diet and exercise advice, and all of that's fine. But those people on social media are not the ones to look to when you're trying to work out what to do about the vaccine.

You do need to be looking at the health lines like the Australian government information and make sure that what you're getting is from scientists, not social media influencers. And if you do get that advice from scientists, then the decision will become crystal clear.

The vaccine is safe, it's effective, it's free. It will prevent you from getting seriously ill. So it is in your interests to take it as soon as you have the opportunity to do so in accordance with the Australian Government rollout.


I just might ask Brendan to add something on that.


Certainly, I absolutely agree with what Ms Gillard said. There is a very good set of advice on the website. There's trusted advice. There's information that is being sent out to all general practitioners about the vaccine. Trust the advice that's official.

There is a lot of misinformation out there. It is simply untrue. Many of the anti-vaxxer conspiracy theories that are out there, you just need to ignore them and get the best advice that you can find. So go to the trusted sources.

Just in terms of pregnancy, I think, as Ms Gillard said, there is no evidence that these vaccines are harmful in pregnancy. So if someone has a vaccine and turns out to be pregnant, we don't need to worry.

But we also don't know for sure. We don't have enough data to say that they're absolutely safe in pregnancy. There's no reason why they wouldn't be safe in pregnancy, but we're recommending that people who are pregnant should discuss vaccination with their doctor before they consider it. Just look at the risks versus the benefits.

Thanks, Minister.


Now, I’ll start with those in the room.


Minister, obviously with social media, the anti-vax conspiracy theories are getting a lot of traction at the moment. Just how are you working to combat that? And also, can you believe that we're having these discussions in the 21st Century?


Well, I do have to say to some of the anti-vaxxers, I haven't developed an unfathomable love for Bill Gates in the last 20 minutes. I still think there are glitches with Microsoft Windows. But I do deeply respect what the Gates Foundation is doing on vaccination programs around the world.

The truth is vaccinations save lives. I mean, we look at smallpox, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, influenza. When we see the results out of the United Kingdom, we can see that not only do vaccinations save lives, they've transformed the health system around the world, but they are also our global pathway out of COVID-19.

So we're doing incredibly well here in Australia, but this gives Australia the chance to have that safety going forwards to the future. So we've got no time for their conspiracy theories. We don't want to elevate them. Our real focus, and this is the point of Julia's contribution today, is to give that extra reassurance to those who are just wondering.

They’re not anti-vaxxers; they’re legitimately wondering. But it will save lives, and it will help protect your life.


With a lot of people heading back to work in Melbourne, I think some businesses are sort of concerned whether there are guidelines on who should get vaccinated or what the rules are. Will you sort of work to put towards a bit of a guideline or some clarity?


Yes, yes. So I'll make a brief point on that and then obviously invite Brendan both as the immediate past chief medical officer, but the head of the Vaccines Taskforce. Firstly, the Department of Health website sets that out, but to think in terms of the phases, Phase 1A is about our frontline health workers.

It's about our elderly residents and their carers and our disability residents and their carers, and, of course, our quarantine and border protection workers.

Phase 1B, which will start in the week of the 22 to the 29 March, will involve the over-80s, who are the most at risk as a general group; the over-70s; those who are immunocompromised. We'll have our indigenous Australians over 55 as well as frontline emergency service and defence workers.

And then we go into Phase 2A, which is the over-60s, the over-50s. We are also focused in particular on the indigenous Australians under 55. And then we'll have some critical workforce groups and then the general population in Phase 2B.

And then finally, if the vaccines are approved for children, then it would be expanded. And that's subject to clinical trials. And our health workers, the beauty of it is that we're starting to bring them forward ahead of schedule from 1B, and some states and territories will include them thanks to Brendan's work with the CEOs as part of the 1A program going forwards. Brendan?


Thanks, Minister. So, our strategy is pretty simple. It's to vaccinate, first up, those who are at most at risk of severe COVID disease and those who are in frontline positions that might see them exposed to the small amounts of COVID that’s coming to this country.

So, as Minister Hunt said, frontline healthcare workers and particularly border and quarantine workers were the first group.

And now we are moving to the phase to protect people who are at risk of severe disease. And all the data around the world suggests the biggest risk of severe and indeed fatal COVID is age. So we are starting with age cohorts.

So, from that week of the 22 to 29 March, those in the over-70s and -80s cohorts will be able to come and book in for a vaccine. In about a week's time, within the next week, there'll be an eligibility tracker on the website, where people can go in and put in their age or other factors and find it when they're eligible, even register interest.

We ask people to be patient because the stand up in 1B will be progressive. There'll be more clinics, more GPS coming on every week, but then some GP practices will be contacting their own patients and people can also register through the website.

And there's also a phone number, which is on the website. So if people are not confident with the computer, they'll be able to ring up and find out when they're eligible and where they can go.

And then, as Minister Hunt said, once we've done the over-70s and -80s and some particular high risk groups like emergency workers, police, then we start moving through other age groups – the over-60s and then under-60s. And then we broaden it out, and then we'll have more sites, and we'll be vaccinating pretty much everybody who's over 18.

And as Minister Hunt says, when we know whether the vaccines are effective against children, we may then extend it to children, not because children really need protecting – they very, very rarely get even clinically apparent COVID disease – but there may be a benefit in preventing future transmission.


Minister, if I could ask, we’re hearing from some GPs that low rate of payment will leave them out of pocket. Is that accurate?


Look, all accredited general practices across the country were invited to participate. We were hoping- our best estimate was that maybe 2000 would apply and be accepted. We’re more than 4000. So we're more than double our best expectations.

So not every general practice does flu. Not every general practice does certain types of things, but we’re double our best expectations. And so we're really thankful to our general practices.

And as I say, you might remember, I initially gave the expectation of a thousand points of presence; we will have then raised the expectation to potentially 2000, which was our best hope.

And I'm just thrilled, I'm thrilled, that we now have over 4000 practices that have applied and been approved.


So what does that mean though for their cost recovery? Will they be out of pocket?


Well, no. We've got in the release that we’re putting out today, the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, the AMA, the Royal Australian College of General Practice, all of whom have supported it, and over 4000 general practices have voted.

There are some, I did have one Toorak doctor who talked to me about how much they wanted to charge patients, and we said, sorry, this is free. This is bulk billed. This is something that we've striven for, worked for as a society. And so we're absolutely clear that this is free, universally available.

There are some who wanted to charge the patients an arm and a leg and sorry for them. But I tell you what, the overwhelming body of general practitioners like Vanessa and Deepak and Robert are standing up, and they're doing an incredible job.

We're more than triple the payments for the flu, more than triple the payments for the flu over the course of the two vaccinations. So- and more than double the number of general practices we were accepting.


So you're expecting GPs to shoulder a bit of the cost, then?


No, not at all. As I say, we have tripled the payments that we provide for the flu. So, in fact, there's a very, very large payment that the Commonwealth is making.


Minister, Brad Hazzard is saying that it’s not just to do with the low payment of GPs, but they’re not being allocated sufficient doses of the vaccine. Have you been informed of this?

And if they pull out of the program, what sort of strain is that going to put on the rollout across Australia?


No, with respect, there are some practices that- all practices were invited. We were expecting, best expectations, 2000. We're going to have over 4000.

The payments have been worked through with the College of General Practitioners, and as I say, the number of practises that have actually applied and been approved is more than double our best expectation. And at over 4000 practises, that's an incredible result.

We're standing in a practice that is delivering the vaccine. Vanessa, I'm just giving you notice, I'm going to ask you to say something in a second. And our GPs have been magnificent and heroic, as have our nurses and aged care workers, and they're doing an incredible job.

And in terms of vaccines, Phase 1B begins when the CSL AstraZeneca vaccine is available in Australia. And we've worked it through with all of the practices, and all of the practices are preparing to roll it out. So with over 4000 practises, we couldn't be more thankful.

Vanessa, did you just want to say something?


I think as a general practitioner of a big community, we're mainly here not to make money, but to actually look after our patients. And we want to look after our patients so they can actually go back into the community and enjoy life.

And so it's not a monetary thing. It's actually a service we give to our patients, and we do it on a regular basis. I think when COVID came, we do a lot of telehealth, and that was all bulk billed, and maybe practices made less money. But it got people seeing the doctor and being treated, and so having the vaccinations to get people back into the community.


Great. So we'll finish up there. And I’ll thank everybody.


Minister, just a couple of questions on Linda Reynolds. Has she asked for her sick leave to be extended?


I apologise, I don't have any extra details on that.


Will she be coming back to work?


I have no doubt about that. I will say this: although I don't know anything about the reports today, she was seen by a cardiologist for a pre-existing condition, which was exacerbated. And all of this is public, and so I'm not exceeding my remit. And the advice was to go to hospital immediately.

And so it was a serious condition. The gravity was considered to be significant, and the risk to her physical health was considered to be very significant.

And against that background, and I look at Brendan, when Brendan's given us advice, we've taken that advice. Linda Reynolds, the Defence Minister, is no different. When her cardiologist gives her advice, she's taking that advice.


Just one last one. Do you think the Government's legislative agenda could be held up if the Government doesn't yield to the crossbench call for an enquiry into Christian Porter?


Our focus is always, always to focus on doing new things that take the country to new legislative outcomes. And we work constructively.

I understand, in fact, that this matter is being considered by the Coroner. So I certainly don't want to- in South Australia. So I certainly don't want to add to that. I don’t think it's appropriate that I provide commentary. But that's the place that's been- or that’s considering the coronial process in South Australia. So it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to speculate on that.

Alright everybody, thank you very much.

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