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Interview with Danica De Giorgio on Sky News about the COVID vaccine rollout

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's interview with Danica De Giorgio on Sky News about the COVID vaccine rollout.

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

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Joining me now live to discuss the morning's top stories is the Health Minister, Greg Hunt. Minister, thank you for joining us.


Good morning.


Firstly, why now? Why are you allowing anyone aged under 60 to get AstraZeneca when the Federal Government is phasing out this particular vaccine?


Look, both of those statements I’ll correct, if I may. Firstly, there's been no change to the medical advice. The medical advice is very clear that AstraZeneca is preferred for the over 60s and Pfizer for the under 60s.

The position has always been that consent, informed consent, is available for people to make their own choices. That hasn't changed. And then what has occurred is simply that we have provided indemnity for general practitioners.

That's something we've been working on with the College of General Practitioners and we've been working on in particular with the AMA as well. So that's just the situation.

And we continue to encourage people to come forward to be vaccinated. 126,000 people on Monday; we’ll have today's figures later on. And we've passed seven and a half million vaccinations, so please keep coming forward. Each vaccination protects you and it protects everybody else.


Okay, but people aged under 60 can now go to their GP and get the AstraZeneca vaccine. Is this mixed messaging impacting public confidence, Minister? Because the advice on AstraZeneca and the age group has changed in recent months.


So we have followed ATAGI advice, and that's the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation. And their advice remains the medical advice for Australia, that AstraZeneca is preferred for over 60s and Pfizer for the under 60s.

It has always been the case that somebody under the age of that advice can nevertheless seek informed consent. The only other thing here is that given the supplies that are available, that the access to actually visit your GP in line with the indemnity means that people of all ages can do that and seek it.

But the medical advice is clear: over 60s, AstraZeneca is preferred, under 60s, Pfizer's preferred.


Almost half of the country is now in lockdown. There's about seven per cent of the population fully vaccinated. Australia is revealed this week as being ranked last in the OECD nations for its vaccine rollout.

In fact, Minister, we're making international headlines for how slow we have been. How can the federal government continue to say that this is not a race?


Well we are always focussing with urgency. But the difference here is that actually, 29 per cent of people have been vaccinated. The second vaccinations where we've had the 12-week base for AstraZeneca, they are now proceeding.

We've only just reached that 12-week point for the commencement of the over 70s population and they're now coming forward. Last week, there were 220,000 people who came forward to have second doses of AstraZeneca.

So in the same way that the UK has had AstraZeneca as the backbone of their program, with obviously about a 20 per cent gap between their first and their second doses, that's a similar figure here. And so what we're doing is making sure that as many Australians as possible are vaccinated as early as possible.

And I know that even now, the UK has had over 20,000 cases a day and each of the last two days, and 290 people on ventilation, whereas we have fortunately none at this point in time; one in ICU and we focus on that person every single day.

So when you compare the world with us, we have to start with the fact that we've had no lives lost to anybody who's caught COVID in Australia this year. The world has had over 2.1 million lives lost. Other health ministers say to me, gosh, we desperately wish we were in Australia's position.


When then can we start having a conversation about what a COVID normal looks like? The New South Wales Premier has said that we need to wait until at least 80 per cent of the population is vaccinated before that discussion. Is 80 per cent on the mark, do you think?


Well, it's always about progressive. There are multiple rings of containment. As I say, the UK actually has 84 per cent of its adult population vaccinated, but 20,000 cases a day in each of the last two days.

So there's borders as our first string of containment, testing, tracing, distancing and vaccination. And what sets Australia apart is the combination of all of those.

And so our roadmap out of this is about progressively opening up and freedoms. And the Prime Minister has put on the table the concept of greater freedom and greater movement for those that have been fully vaccinated and we're engaged in that conversation with the states, and we understand that they want to take their time and make sure that more is occurring.

But as we do this, what's absolutely critical is that right now, people come forward for testing and tracing, 126,000 thousand people for testing, 126,000 people for vaccination on Monday. And the more that can do both of those, the safer we’ll be.


Alright. Just finally, doctors say that they were completely blindsided by the National Cabinet announcement on AstraZeneca. When will the Federal Government roll out a national safety and information campaign on the vaccine rollout?


Well we've been doing that continuously. You will have seen Professor John Skerritt, Professor Alison McMillan, Dr Nick Coatsworth. So that's been going right throughout the course of the vaccination campaign.

Every day there is information and every day there'll continue to be. There's a $41 million campaign. It obviously goes through different phases.

But right from the outset, we've had that focus on safety, the provision of public information. And of course, when we've received the ATAGI advice, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on immunisation, we've always made sure that that's available to the public immediately.


Minister Greg Hunt, thank you for joining me this morning.


Thanks very much. I know these are difficult times. We've got through this before. We'll get through it again.

And to bring all this into perspective, almost a year ago, there were over 700 cases a day where I am in Melbourne, in Victoria. Yesterday, there were 25 cases in Australia. Challenging and difficult.

We have a really strong approach to making sure we get as close to possible to zero community cases a day. And that's what set Australia apart. So we'll continue to save lives. But I thank all Australians for their part in this.


Alright, Minister, we'll let you go. Thank you so much for joining me.

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