Date published: 
24 February 2021
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

GREG HUNT:

We want to give you an update on the vaccine rollout, on a number of fronts. Firstly, in relation to general practice approvals. Secondly in relation to the status of health cases.

We also want to address one case, which has been raised in Queensland, and the Chief Medical Officer who has been involved in that is in the fortunate position of being able to indicate that all are well and that there have been no adverse outcomes.

And then finally, the Chief Medical Officer’s going to give an update on some of the international research with regards to outcomes which have been very positive in response to particular vaccines.

The first thing I want to indicate is that the department, after working with general practices, has now approved over 4600 general practices to participate in the rollout.

We had initially hoped that we might be able to get 1000 practices and that was lifted to over 2000 and subsequently giving guidance to 3000.

But with the high uptake from these general practices and the fact that they have been assessed, they have been approved and they are now being notified, over 4600 general practices will be participating in the rollout.

They will come on in phases and those phases will now be worked through with the general practices as we begin in Phase 1B and during the course of the second phase, Phase 2 of the rollout.

And so I do want to thank Australia's doctors, Australia’s general practices for stepping up to the plate in numbers greater than we had ever hoped. And that's, I think, a really important sign.

The second thing is that with regards to the rollout, as we've been monitoring around the country, the advice that we have and that the Chief Medical Officer has had from his counterparts in other states and through our own outreach is that so far, there have been no adverse reactions other than ordinarily expected things, such as sore shoulders from the administration of the vaccines.

But the vaccine operation centre continues to monitor and will continue to monitor throughout the rollout.

This is consistent with international guidance and practice, and Paul will give you more of an update on the international outcomes as well.

The third thing is to acknowledge that there has been one case, following all the safeguards we have in place, of what has been defined as an adverse administration - basically a doctor gave an incorrect dose to two patients yesterday.

I think it's very important that we're up-front. The safeguards that were put in place immediately kicked into action. A nurse on the scene identified the fact that a higher than the prescribed amount of the dose was given to two patients - an 88-year-old male and an 84-year-old female in a Queensland aged care facility. In particular, Holy Spirit Carseldine in Queensland. I think it's important that we just provide the information as we have it.

The important thing is that the advice that we have - and I've spoken with the Queensland Health Minister this morning; Paul has been working with his counterpart in Queensland - is that both patients are being monitored and both patients are showing no signs at all of an adverse reaction. But it is a reminder of the importance of the safeguards.

A number of things have occurred. Firstly, the nurse on the scene stepped in and I want to thank her for her strength of character and her professionalism. Secondly, the contractor has stood down the doctor in question, from the program. Thirdly, the monitoring of the patients - which is the most important thing - has been ongoing, the partnership between the Commonwealth facility and Queensland Health.

And I want to thank Queensland Health and in particular the Queensland Chief Health Officer as well as the Queensland Minister, Yvette D’Ath. She and I were in contact late last night and early again this morning.

And in addition to that, the Chief Medical Officer has engaged in the early incident work and the Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Australia, Professor Paul Kidd, who’s an esteemed general practitioner, will review the events, make any recommendations.

But every participant can only participate in providing vaccinations so long as they have had the training and so we will examine what were the circumstances. That will be ongoing and we’ll provide public guidance.

But the most important thing is that we engage in the transparency. When we know, we provide that information.

And significantly that the patients themselves are showing, at this point, on the latest advice that I have, five minutes before joining you, absolutely no adverse reaction.

It is in line with the fact that significantly higher doses than have finally been chosen were used as parts of some of the early clinical trials around the world.

So, the rollout continues. There will be cases. There will be challenges. This has happened in other jurisdictions overseas. And I think Professor Kelly will fill you in on that but I'm pleased to invite Paul and then, after that we'll take questions.

PAUL KELLY:

Thank you, Minister. So just, firstly, on the incident in Queensland. So just to be clear, this was a maladministration of the dose. So two patients received higher than the prescribed dose of the vaccine.

A couple of points there. Firstly, in the early clinical trials of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine, they did actually experiment with different doses of the product, including one three or four times higher than what they’ve eventually been the prescribed doses. During those trials, the side effect data was not a higher problem, and so there's that element.

Second of all, as has been mentioned by the Minister, we are aware of several cases like this happening early in the phased rollout through residential aged care facility equivalents in both Germany and the UK. Again, the side effect profile was minimal, particularly in the older people, so that gives us hope.

However, when we were notified of this yesterday evening by the company concerned that’s doing the rollout in those facilities, we took immediate action.

I was in touch with the CEO of Healthcare Australia as well as their clinical lead. I was assured that everything that had been done on the site was what we would have expected and that a full incident reporting system had been actioned.

And so I received that report at half past midnight last night. We've checked again on the patient welfare this morning and as the Minister said, they're both doing fine.

Again, I’d like to really express my thanks to Dr Jeannette Young, the Chief Health Officer in Queensland, who immediately supported us in this, on the ground. I think that’s very important that we have that wraparound of all of the vaccine rollout so that we are working hand in glove with the local jurisdiction as well as the companies and the aged care facilities that are involved.

The final thing, just to say, very pleasing information in the last 24 hours or so. We've talked before about the real-world data that we're waiting for to see how vaccine rollouts are going.

So a really interesting study. It's pre-print. It needs to go through the peer-review process, but very encouraging results from Scotland.

So this is where they’ve had a very large rollout - 5.4 million people in Scotland and they've had over a million doses of vaccine, a little bit more of the Pfizer but a large amount of the AstraZeneca vaccine and most of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been going to the elderly population in Scotland.

And so they've been looking very closely at the severe end of the spectrum, particularly hospitalisation, and they found that very quickly, within a month, three to four weeks, both the AstraZeneca and the Pfizer - and I would stress that this is similar for both of those vaccines - showed an enormous decrease in hospitalisations.

So, for Pfizer, that was 85 per cent and AstraZeneca, even better at 94 per cent.

So, these are very encouraging early results. We'll need to see how that shows later in larger populations but very encouraging so when we’ve talked about two fantastic vaccines that work against that severe end of the spectrum, that's further evidence that it's working in a real-world setting.

So, I'll open up for questions now.

JOURNALIST:        

Minister Hunt, how it is possible that this doctor could have got the dosage wrong twice? And does this suggest that the training of medical practitioners is getting for the vaccine rollout, to be insufficient?

GREG HUNT:         

Well look, the first thing is, on the training, we have highly developed modules. It's a requirement that anybody who participates has completed those modules.

So, in relation to the individual doctor, we'll leave that to the investigation as to whether or not they either did not understand or did not complete but it was a very serious breach in terms of following the protocol.

Our advice is that both doses were administered consecutively and, as a consequence of that, the nurse - and we say thank you for her strength of character and alertness - stepped in immediately.       

Chris?

JOURNALIST:        

Minister, just in terms of service delivery, there are quite often complaints about the Commonwealth not being able to do things at scale, we’ve seen that in the past. So this hardly inspires confidence that the Commonwealth can do the scale of the job necessary

GREG HUNT:         

Well, no, this is the case where I think it's very important for us to be open about these things. And this is an individual practitioner who has clearly made an error and around the country - and you will remember from multiple press conferences, I've indicated that whether it's the flu, whether it's other things, during the course of any one year, there would be challenges and issues or errors.

Ordinarily, they wouldn't necessarily be focused upon, they'd be dealt with through the ordinary medical processes.

Because of the national focus on this, it's natural and understandable that those things which would ordinarily occur are given greater prominence. And I absolutely understand that.

Indeed, I've made the decision that I thought we should address this up-front to show that the safeguards that were put in place did actually work.

There was an initial error, there's no getting around that, but a series of different actions, three safeguards, immediately kicked into place.      

Firstly, the nurse on scene responded. Secondly, the company responded, and thirdly, the healthcare agencies, the cooperation between the Commonwealth and Queensland responded.

JOURNALIST:        

We know that the nurses are – I think the college of nursing, they put together a training module that nurses were doing.

Are doctors doing the exact same module? Like how does that work? Were they doing the same thing?

PAUL KELLY:       

Because we wanted to obviously get on with the giving of this vaccination quickly, we went for a single one-size fits all model. So, it’s the same training.

There may be a need for us to modify that going forward, but we looked at the same training for nurses, for allied health workers – sorry, Aboriginal health workers as well as doctors, anyone who is involved with this vaccine rollout.          

So, there’s some very clear things right up front. These are multi-dose vials and to be sure that the right prescribed dose is given as a clear indication right up front.

So, we’ll be looking at why that didn’t take place. Obviously, as part of the incident management but at the meantime, as the Minister has said, that doctor is not going to be delivering further vaccines for the moment and we’ll be looking at those things and if we need to modify the training modules, of course, we’ll look at that.

But we’re very confident that they are good and comprehensive.

GREG HUNT:         

I will actually add something there. We have had a couple of general practices that have made the point that they felt it was too comprehensive, that it was tailored to the specific skill sets of the nurses and that perhaps it wasn't too comprehensive for some of the doctors.

I think the point is, in fact, it is comprehensive. What it does mean is that everybody has to follow the protocols.

JOURNALIST:        

Minister Hunt, just while you’ve been speaking, we’ve got an alert that your colleague Linda Reynolds has been admitted to hospital for a pre-existing condition and she’s now on medical leave.

Can you shed any light as to what has gone on and did you know about this before hearing the news?

GREG HUNT:

Look, obviously, I’ll be deeply respectful of anybody's individual circumstances. The Minister for Defence has put out a statement and so, I’m happy to - I believe I have the statement here.

So, the Minister for Defence, Senator, the Honourable Linda Reynolds will take a period of medical leave. This follows advice from her cardiologist relating to a pre-existing medical condition.

As a precautionary measure Minister Reynolds has this morning been admitted to a Canberra hospital.

The Prime Minister, the Honourable Scott Morrison, this morning, phoned Minister Reynolds to express his concern and sympathy and to wish her a quick recovery.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs Senator, the Honourable Marise Payne, will be acting Minister for Defence until Minister Reynolds returns from leave.          

So, I had some prior notification that she may have had an illness. I was not aware of the nature of it and, honestly, I think in this situation, we have to remind ourselves that this is the most intense, arguably, environment in Australia.

There are many intense environments and all of us need to be aware of the pressures and pains, the impact of each of us on each other.

And so, reaching out, she’s a good person and so she needs our support as she has our support.

JOURNALIST:        

It looks like she’s been under a lot of stress lately and a lot of scrutiny. Do you know if that, I guess, exacerbated her condition?

GREG HUNT:         

No. Look, I respectfully don’t have any details of that and nor would it be inappropriate even if I did. I hope you understand that.

JOURNALIST:        

What do you say to people who would think that she’s shirking responsibility?

GREG HUNT:         

I would very gently counsel anybody who might reflect other than on somebody's medical condition.

And Linda was desperate to appear before the National Press Club today. Desperate to appear. And it was only on the strongest medical advice that she took the reluctant decision not to do it.

And so, I think our compassion, our focus on the needs of others in this, the most intense, I think, the most intense environment in the country is something that all of us need to bring to the fore.

JOURNALIST:        

Just on the vaccines.

GREG HUNT:         

Yes. Of course.

JOURNALIST:        

You praised the strength of character of the nurse involved in that Queensland case. Was there some kind of pushback, is there a reason you decided to single out her character in terms of why, coming forward in her part? And just, are you still on track for 60,000 initial doses by the end of the week?

GREG HUNT:         

So, we’ll get the figures by the end of the day but my understanding is that the states are rolling out very well and so, we’ll provide that update.

But I have no reason to change that at this point in time.

But I was just going to finish on the nurse. I don’t have any specific details of the incident, per say, other than that we know that the nurse stepped in and that might be a difficult thing.

And that’s there as part of the safeguards and okay, I’m a little bit biased as the son of a nurse and the husband of a nurse. But we are very lucky to have the nurses that we do.

Claire? Oh sorry.

JOURNALIST:

On aged care, more broadly, how is the rollout going so far in these aged care homes?

How many vaccines have been distributed and when are you hoping to see all of those aged care residents vaccinated?

GREG HUNT:

So, the aged care rollout is, as we say, part of Phase 1A. It will progressively ramp up.

It’s one of the things that we have asked the providers to do is to start cautiously to make sure that they are moving progressively.

We’ll get the figures over the course of the coming day, we haven’t had the reports in from all of the states just yet.

But, I know for example one state, Victoria’s just indicated that in one day I think they had an early indication, well over 1200 doses delivered just yesterday in Victoria.

And that was a modest day for them, they wanted to slowly and then they’ll increase. So, I’m actually very happy with how this is going.

JOURNALIST:

[Indistinct] in aged care because that’s been controlled by [indistinct]… Do you have those figures there?

GREG HUNT:

I, again, will get our value reporting later today. If that’s alright, Claire.

JOURNALIST:

Minister, a couple of vaccine questions. When do you expect to receive shipping confirmations from AstraZeneca? Are you concerned that you were hoping those doses would be able to be delivered into peoples’ arms next week and they haven’t arrived onshore yet?

And also, for how long will you keep holding onto enough of the second dose for people as the shipments of Pfizer arrive? Is that a show and a lack of faith that each week more doses will arrive?

GREG HUNT:

No, no, not at all. There are two things here. If I can address Pfizer, then Astra Zeneca.

In terms of Pfizer, by definition, because it’s a three-week turnaround, you want to make sure that you provision for the second doses from that group.

Because otherwise, if you were – let’s just give an example. Let’s say you received 100,000, you implemented that 100,000. In three weeks’ time you’d have to use the second dose of all of that 100,000. So, you wouldn’t have any new first doses in that week. So, it’s been very carefully calibrated to make sure that each week you had first doses and then there’s enough when you get to the second doses, to provision for them.

And so, effectively, at week four, the number of Pfizer doses to be administered will approximately double, as you have first doses that are commensurate with second doses.

So, that’s the logistics side of it, it’s not very exciting. But, it is very important; get it wrong and you’d be rightly grumpy with us.

Then in terms of AstraZeneca, no, we’ve actually had very positive discussions. We remain on track for early March, I haven’t said which week yet because we always want to get the shipping.

But, as of last night, the latest advice that I had is that early March timeframe is on track. And we don’t pre-empt the shipping for reasons of security, reasons of the fact that the planes may be delayed or that there could be anything and we advise once the arrivals are here.

JOURNALIST:

Not an issue for shipping then. What is the timeframe that you would expect from when AstraZeneca does arrive, to being able to roll it out?

It was roughly six days for Pfizer. Would it be the same when batch testing begins for this?

GREG HUNT:

I will ask the Chief Medical Officer to address that one.

PAUL KELLY:

So, I won’t be giving a date – as you know, Claire. But, it’s days. So, the TGA has to do their final pieces, like they did with the Pfizer when it arrives.

But that’s well advanced because they’ve been doing that rolling review. So, within days, we’ll be able to do that, but the actual arrival is the key point, of course.

JOURNALIST:

Professor Kelly – thanks, Minister. It seems inconsistent that the concern about the rollout instructions could be overly descriptive for doctors, but then such an obvious mistake could happen so early in the rollout.

Is the fact that the doctor in Queensland has been stood down suggest it was something other than a simple mistake?

PAUL KELLY:

This was a mistake, whether it was simple or not, we’ll leave that to the actual investigation.

Michael Kidd, will be looking into that further over the coming days. I think the important, crucial thing is here that everyone needs to receive the training. That’s absolutely crucial.

And once that training is there, I think the other wraparounds that Minister Hunt’s talked to, of the multi-disciplinary team that goes to each of the sites is important.

I’m also married to a nurse, so I know that if she tells me to do something, I take notice. It’s a thing.

And so, that worked. And so, it happened twice, it didn’t happen again. The other people that were due to get that vaccine yesterday did not get it, but they will be getting in coming days once that’s been sorted through.

JOURNALIST:

Can you just confirm, is it four times the recommended dose the first person received, of AstraZeneca?

PAUL KELLY:

Look, that’s still under investigation. My understanding is that where was a higher than the recommended dose. But I’ll leave the details for the investigation.

GREG HUNT:

That’s been reported but it hasn’t been confirmed because it’s actually very hard to be able to tell what was in the needle, but it couldn’t have been more than that.

JOURNALIST:

Can you just confirm that the doctor actually did have the training?

GREG HUNT:

That’s under investigation now.

JOURNALIST:

So there’s a possibly that doctor hadn’t been trained in the administration of this vaccine?

GREG HUNT:

Well, no one can participate unless they have signed and completed the process that they have done that.

And so, if that were the case, then that would mean that somebody had not been honest. And so, it is mandatory and there has to be proof of participation and completion.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible question]

GREG HUNT:

Well, it’s a module which has to be completed and that’s a process that the department seeks to verify. And so, we’ll check, we’ll follow through. There is an investigation, as there should be, and there were three safeguards that immediately kicked in. One last?

JOURNALIST:

Just your reaction on Craig Kelly’s quitting the party room. Are you concerned that now he’s an Independent [Inaudible] to misinformation and undermine the Government’s coronavirus messaging?

GREG HUNT:

Firstly, we are confident in the stability and the Prime Minister has reaffirmed that.

I understand that Mr Kelly has made undertakings to be supportive of the Government. He’s certainly philosophically aligned with the Government.

He’s clearly reached a point, I think, largely in relation to a staffing matter where he couldn’t accept the Prime Minister's very clear, strong requirement for action on a stuffing matter of concern.

I believe that was the fundamental issue, although I’ve not been involved in any of those discussions. And so, obviously, it’s disappointing if somebody were to be elected and leave.

The party, the parliament, this place knows that that history occurs from time to time. Our view is that the stability is unchanged. The business line-up of the Government is unchanged. All of the things that we’ve done during the course of the pandemic we’ll continue to do.

This Government has faced down a pandemic and I think it is important to say that. I mean, this Government has faced down a pandemic, produced extraordinary results.

We’ve seen what the Treasurer was able to do in his negotiations with the global tech giants and so, we keep on with the business of running the country.

Every day there are challenges; but if you have a clear sense of what you want to achieve and a clear sense of values, that’s what allows you to keep going forward and we believe there will be clear support from Mr Kelly for the agenda, based on his statements yesterday, of the Government.

So look, I want to thank all of you and the most important thing is at this point in the rollout, all of the medical advice that we have, including the two individuals who’ve been subject of the discussion this morning.

All of the individuals who’ve been vaccinated so far, have shown no adverse reaction which is a wonderful result.

Australians are stepping up. We’ve got a fair way to travel still, but we’ve begun that process and there will be.

As I’ve always said, positives and negatives. But the overall direction for the country is incredibly positive.

Thank you, everybody.

 

Ministers: