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Doorstop interview on the arrival of AstraZeneca vaccines in Australia and with an update on COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Read the transcript of the press conference with Minister Hunt, in Victoria on 28 February with an update on the COVID vaccine rollout and arrival of AstraZeneca vaccines in Australia.

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

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Let me begin by saying I am delighted to announce that the first shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines has arrived in Australia.

300,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines touched down this morning. I understand they have been safely transported to the warehouse. Temperature checking is underway, but preliminary advice is that temperature has been maintained throughout the course of the flight.

This is the first part of the process. So this is another important milestone. In one shipment, we have more than doubled the total amount of vaccines that have arrived in Australia.

It’s the first of 53.8 million units of the AstraZeneca vaccine to be made available in Australia. Other shipments will follow, and then in late March, the first of the CSL Australian-made, Australian-produced AstraZeneca vaccines are expected to arrive on the basis of 1 million doses per week, with approximately 2 million expected before the end of March.

So that will represent the next major step. So then, in terms of distribution, I’ve been advised that 50,000 Pfizer doses are being distributed to the states today and tomorrow and over the coming days. That’s part of a broad distribution plan prior to today.

The CEO of DHL, the principal logistics company for that particular vaccine has indicated that there have been 420 shipments totalling over 486,000 kilometres of distance travelled.

The AstraZeneca vaccines will be batch tested by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, and the advice that I have is that we will then be able to release them by next Monday, if not earlier.

We will release 200,000 doses to the states, which will more than double that which they will have already received by this week, and what that means is that they will be in a position to rapidly upscale the rollout to quarantine workers, to all of the 1A participants, in particular they have lead responsibility for quarantine and frontline healthcare workers.

So it’s an important step, always subject to the quality testing, always subject to the TGA, but at this stage all of the safety protocols are strong, and that first shipment of AstraZeneca has now arrived in Australia, another point of hope, another point of protection.


In addition to that, I’ll give an update in relation to cases and rollout. With regards to the cases, shortly before joining you I was advised by the National Incident Centre that there have been zero cases in Australia in the last 24 hours within the community. That now makes 30 days during the course of 2021, and no lives lost, thankfully, in Australia.

At the global level, to put everything in perspective, we have now reached over 113 million registered and diagnosed cases, and 370,000 cases globally in the last 24 hours, zero in Australia.

We’ve now, very sadly, lost over 2.5 million lives globally and over 8400 lives lost in the last 24 hours. Not only zero lives lost in Australia, but zero lives lost in 2021 so far.

With regards to the rollout, this continues over the course of the weekend, we are now at over 129 aged care facilities. We have over 9,500 aged care residents, and they are part of a broader cohort of over 31,800 participants so far who have been vaccinated as part of Phase 1A.

So the rollout continues, the capacity to upscale is on its way and being developed by the states and territories in conjunction with the Commonwealth providers. So we’re seeing progressive increases.

Obviously during the weekend, when aged care facilities are set aside very significantly for families, there is a more cautious approach. But all up, what we’re seeing is excellent results, and I want to thank all of our healthcare providers so far.

Now, with regards to New Zealand, I was briefed by the Chief Medical Officer shortly before joining you. New Zealand has, due to the Auckland outbreak of cases, imposed what are known as Level 3 restrictions in the Auckland area, Level 2 across the country.

The Chief Medical Officer had already put in place what’s called a hot spot definition for the Auckland region. That will continue to be extended and will be reviewed every 72 hours.

It means that there is no green zone for people who have been within Auckland and the surrounding area and as the Chief Medical Officer indicated to me, that is an ongoing review with formal process every 72 hours.

We do wish our New Zealand friends all of the best. They have done a great job, a great job so far, and we know that there will be outbreaks whether it’s in Australia or in New Zealand, in other countries that have been fortunate to do well through the course of the pandemic. This is part of the course of a global pandemic.

But then finally, in relation to public information, we move today to the next phase of our public information campaign. Whilst we've been focusing very much on safety and the approvals process, an important part of providing public confidence, now is about making sure that each Australian is aware of where they fit in the programme.

We're focussing in particular on Phase 1A, our aged care and disability residents, our aged care and disability workers, our frontline health workers, and our quarantine and border protection workers. But we are launching the vaccine checker, so your vaccine eligibility checker: You can see where you sit in the course of the process.

Australians have been magnificent in understanding that we're primarily following risk and then age base. Next, we'll move to the over 80s, the over 70s, then in time to the over 60s, the over 50s, and then the general population with indigenous Australians over 55 are in Phase 1B and under 55 in 2A and our healthcare workers in 1B as well.

So all of this is about a nation that is rising to the task. On the negative side, there are those that are peddling, frankly, false myths. Those that are peddling false myths. And so there has been a myth busting unit that was, actually, quietly set up within Home Affairs during the course of 2020 in cooperation with the Health Department. Where information is found that's just plainly ridiculous, whether it's 5G theories or other things, we put out the information. We’ll do it directly to the media, but we'll also make sure that information is available publicly.

We don't want to give too much air to, you know, some of the silliest ideas. But we do want to provide public reassurance to combat in the marketplace those ideas which would in any way falsely have some impact on public confidence. It's part of our job. It's what we're doing.

All up, we're committed to the rollout, and we're amazed at the response of Australians. And again, delighted 300,000 AstraZeneca doses arriving today on a day when there are zero cases of community transmission.



We’ve also have had Government confirm that a joint task force possibly involving the AFP will be established to target the anti-vaccination movement. Why was that step taken?


So, that’s a matter for the police, I apologise. But in terms of myths and public information, Home Affairs has been working with Health. If there are any issues of criminality, I would respectfully leave that to the police.


How many overseas doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will we have before we start to make it locally?


Well, all up, we’ve been advised that we’re likely to receive about 1.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine over the coming weeks. It’s part of a broader consignment of 3.8 million international and 50 million domestic.


Are you concerned that radical anti-vaxxers could potentially disrupting the rollout of the vaccine?


Look, I don't see that as a likely issue. There are two questions here. Some of these anti-vaxxers are peddling, frankly, false and clearly irresponsible views, whether, as I say, it’s about 5G or Bill Gates and mind control. Just ludicrous, ludicrous things.

Our job is to combat the information. We’ve seen no signs, but it is absolutely, as raised, a matter for the police if, in some way, shape, or form, there were likely to be protests aimed at the actual vaccination centres, which is, by the way, why we are respectful about the privacy of individual aged care centres and leave it to them if they wish to publicise.

I’ll now turn to those on the phone. Tamsin?


Thanks, Minister. I’ve got a question about the Aged Care Royal Commission, but first I have a question about hotel quarantine. How quickly would you like to see all hotel quarantine workers vaccinated, and when do you hope to see Victoria resume international flights?


Look, firstly in terms of the hotel quarantine workers, I think the additional doses that are being distributed to the states and territories today and tomorrow will assist them.

The extra 50,000 that’s being distributed now, the extra 200,000 that should be distributed by Monday of next week. That will give them sufficient doses to be able to ensure that all of their hotel quarantine workers and, indeed, their Phase 1A workers will be in a strong place. I’ll leave it to individual states and territories, but they’re doing a great job.

As I say, we have 9,500 aged care residents out of 31,800, so the balance of just over 20,000 has been done by the states and territories.

They have all started methodically and building up and what this will do though, I think, is give states and territories the ability to conduct their hotel quarantine in the most secure and safe way, provide reassurance to Australians, it provides protections to Australians. So I’ll let them speak to that, I think. Josh?


Sorry, could I just ask a question about the Aged Care Royal Commission?


Sorry, I apologise, Tamsin first.


Sorry. The final report’s being released tomorrow, and obviously the interim report was quite shocking. What should Australians be bracing for when they get ready to (inaudible) tomorrow?


The final report will be a monumental contribution both in terms of scope and vision for the future of stronger, better aged care, focused on respect and care. Respect and care.

We will be releasing this very shortly. It runs to eight volumes, and it is a monumental work, and we thank the commissioners.

We’re just working through it, and we will very shortly have an interim response, as we did once we received the interim report. And we’ll provide that to the public, along with the full report, which will be released as soon as we've had a chance to work through the eight volumes, but that will be in the very, very, very near future. Josh?


Yeah, thank you, Minister. On delivery of the vaccines, we heard on Friday that a large number of doses had been thrown away in Victoria because they were left in the wrong fridge, some sort of mix up in delivery, doses turning up at the wrong place at the wrong time.

What’s your understanding of what went wrong there? And what sort of action will you take to ensure that these vaccine doses are not wasted in the future?


Well, so far, as I say, we’ve had over 420 consignments covering 486,000 kilometres.

The situation here is that there was surplus, and the worker in question absolutely did everything right. This is one where I’m respectfully not accepting that there was something incorrect.

The worker made sure that they were refrigerated, ensured that there was a subsequent collection, and the advice that we have is that it is highly likely that the vaccines' integrity had been maintained, but because of the refrigeration it was unable to determine absolutely that the temperatures had been maintained, and so the decision to put safety ahead of all else, I think it represented 0.1 per cent of the first week's vaccines, vastly below that which had been presumed would be not delivered during the course of that week.

So in fact, the level of doses that have suffered some form of inability to be delivered is vastly below what we were anticipating at this stage.

So I think far from anything in this case being other than appropriate procedures, the worker in question should be commended.

Basically, as we’ve said in many interviews beforehand, unless we have absolute certainty about the integrity of doses, we will put safety ahead of all else, and that’s exactly what happened here. Shuba?


Thanks, Minister. Just on the historical rape allegation, do you think there should be an independent investigation into this, and should the Minister in question stand aside, given that the New South Wales Police investigation has been suspended?

And if I may, do you concede that given the events in the last fortnight, you know, transparency and independent investigation is crucial in terms of maintaining public confidence in the Cabinet right now?


Well, firstly I don’t have any detail on the particular incident to which you refer.

Secondly though, the AFP Commissioner was very, very clear that these are matters for police and strongly discouraged commentary on those matters, indicated that the police always have been, currently are and always will be the appropriate body to investigate matters of alleged criminality.

And that's the advice which was reaffirmed by the Police Commissioner, and I would hope that everybody in public life heard the Police Commissioner, respects the views of the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police and follows the advice of the Australian Federal Police about the appropriateness of ensuring that it is the police that conduct investigations and the very strong advice of the Police Commissioner that commentary upon such investigations is not an appropriate pathway.

Estelle. No, I apologise. Adeshola?


Thanks, Minister. The Queensland Government has today announced that it’s issued a (inaudible) notice to Healthcare Australia after the doctor working for the company wrongly dosed two elderly residents in an aged care facility with the COVID vaccine last week.

Are there going to be repercussions for companies that are responsible for making mistakes like this during the vaccine rollout?

And secondly, how do you respond to the Queensland Health Minister's call that there should be an external assessment mechanism to assess the Federal Government vaccine rollout?


Firstly, let me say good in relation to the actions. It was the Chief Medical Officer that referred the particular individual.

Secondly, the Commonwealth programme has seen 9,500 individuals vaccinated in aged care facilities in the most challenging of circumstances, in the most extraordinarily capable way.

One issue dealt with, indeed, the CEO has been stood aside after the Secretary of the department frankly threw the book at them.

And secondly, what we're seeing is a very clear process of transparency at a Commonwealth level. And I think it's important for everybody, for everybody, to focus on legitimately providing confidence.

I have seen a couple of comments from the individual in question tearing up contracts with New South Wales, making wild allegations about New South Wales. I would respectfully say now is the moment where we all have a higher duty to make the point that in this role, in this time, at this moment in history, all of the partisan elements have to fall away, and we have to be one single country focused on COVID protection and vaccine confidence.

And that's my gentle reminder to the particular state official who unfortunately has something of a history of extravagant comments focused on trying to provoke outrage, such as ripping up contracts on the floor of the parliament with another state.

But let me say this to finish up, Australians have put their shoulders to the cause this week.

Our older Australians are being protected. Our healthcare workers and our quarantine workers are being protected. And the arrival of new vaccines, the distribution of other vaccines and the enthusiasm with which it's being taken up is a tribute to Australians. They've shone through COVID; now they're shining through the vaccination programme.

Thank you very much.

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