Media event date: 
12 April 2021
Date published: 
13 April 2021
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

LAURA TINGLE:

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt joins me now from Canberra.

GREG HUNT:

Good evening.

LAURA TINGLE:

Thanks for your time, Minister.

GREG HUNT:

Pleasure.

LAURA TINGLE:

Based on what the Chief Medical Officer has said this afternoon, it sounds like the Government is as in the dark as the general public about the supply and rollout of COVID vaccines. Why can't you tell us how many doses of vaccine you have, and when they'll be available?

GREG HUNT:

Well, I can tell you exactly that. We've delivered approximately 1.2 million vaccinations. We will have passed that during the course of the afternoon. It was 1,178,000 before today started and, by tomorrow we'll have the updated figures for today.

We've published this afternoon, the distribution figures for the country. So far, we have received 3.7 million vaccines. They then have to go through what is called a clearance process and a release process, and the TGA releases those on a daily basis.

Most significantly, the message for all Australians is we've accelerated and quadrupled vaccinations over the course of the last three weeks. We have enough vaccines for every Australian. Yes, there was a change last week, but what that means is we have vaccines to vaccinate everybody over the age of 50 as quickly as possible.

We have Pfizer, 40 million doses, up from 20 million doses, to make sure that we have the under 50 population vaccinated. 170 million vaccines, enough for every Australian more than six times over.

LAURA TINGLE:

Well, if you have got all of those figures, what's so hard about having a target?

I mean, the UK and the US, which have been in much more trouble than we have on COVID, have managed to set targets and go to meet them. Why can't we do that?

GREG HUNT:

Well, in fact, we set the target of commencing Pfizer for the 1As in late February and met that. We set the target of commencing AstraZeneca for 1As in early March and met that.

We just recently set the target of commencing the Australian made CSL production in late March, and met that. We're setting and meeting those.

Our next goal is to ensure that we have as many Australians vaccinated in the 1B or the over 70s category, and I want to urge as many Australians to come forward for that by the middle of the year.

LAURA TINGLE:

Minister, with respect, in that 1A group there are a lot of those front-line workers. We've heard in Norman Swan's package tonight there are still a lot of people who haven't been vaccinated who are in that group.

GREG HUNT:

Within that group, you have the quarantine workers, probably in terms of preventing incursion, the number one priority. That is overwhelmingly done, almost all done, with some states and territories to complete some residual workers who might have been on leave or otherwise. They've done a brilliant job.

Secondly, you have within that group, the front-line health workers. Again, the states and territories are doing that. The front-line health workers, that first 100,000, overwhelmingly done.

Thirdly, you have the aged care residents. We have 145,000 residents across 1,650 visits to aged care facilities so far.

LAURA TINGLE:

That's about half of the aged care residents?

GREG HUNT:

All up, we have 180,000 aged care residents. Some of those are second doses, which have been completed. Others are first doses.

What we also have now is, of course, the next focus on disability and on aged care workers. As you rightly highlighted, we do have to make a change in that. We do have to move to ensure that those under 50 are given the opportunity of Pfizer. That is a change which came about from not just Australian, but global medical advice last week.

So we have a strong vaccine for over 50s. We have a strong vaccine for under 50s. But that's an honest change in the same way that every day during the pandemic, where the medical advice has indicated there needs to be a change, we've made that plan, but we've moved quickly.

The important thing is, on a day with 700,000 cases worldwide, zero in Australia, but vaccines are heading well past the 1.2 million mark.

LAURA TINGLE:

And the Chief Medical Officer wasn't able to tell us about that today.

GREG HUNT:

With respect, he was asked a particular question about a particular element, and I think it's very important that we respect the immense work of our medical leaders.

Their leadership has kept Australia safe. 700,000 cases worldwide, over 10,000 lives lost, zero cases in Australia. That is an unimaginable comparison.

LAURA TINGLE:

With respect, Minister, state governments and GP networks aren't sure what sort of levels of vaccines they're going to get. They're not confident about whether they're going to get vaccines from week to week.

GREG HUNT:

We have a 12-week plan which every state has had for some weeks now. Doses have been delivered against that plan in the quantities that have been set out. That plan will again be updated.

But importantly, we're only part way through that with those doses in terms of Pfizer first doses, Pfizer second doses, AstraZeneca first doses, the AstraZeneca second doses are outside of that because of the 12-week period.

Every general practice receives an allocation, and that allocation represents their 12 week amount, and then they put in an order each week if they need additional. So that allocation gives them certainty on that front.

LAURA TINGLE:

So why did the Prime Minister choose to announce that he was dropping the target on a Facebook post instead of putting out a media release or even having a press conference?

GREG HUNT:

I've got to say, I think the Prime Minister has probably had as many press conferences on this issue.

LAURA TINGLE:

This is a pretty important issue, I would have thought.

GREG HUNT:

Over the course of the year and, indeed, he stood up on Thursday and Friday of last week. He said, "I need to announce these changes because it's important to show confidence in the vaccine, but honesty in being up-front."

There are many ways to communicate. It was in response to some particular questions. But I have to say, one of the approaches of the Prime Minister from early February last year, when he was the one that stood up to announce the immensely difficult but profoundly important border closures with China, has been to put out the medical advice and the information and the response in real-time.

That's what we've sought to do with the Australian people.

LAURA TINGLE:

He did say that we shouldn't get our information from Facebook, I think, at the Press Club earlier this year.

GREG HUNT:

I think that that was a channel of formal communication with formal advice, as opposed to the sort of rumours that some people might have. I think we're all better than that.

LAURA TINGLE:

Why has Australia not done a deal yet with Moderna?

GREG HUNT:

In fact, we've followed the medical advice on all of our agreements. We've ultimately struck five different agreements. We've done that across four vaccines in an international facility and three different platforms.

mRNA, Pfizer, 40 million units. The viral vector, AstraZeneca, 53.8 million units. The Novavax, where we have the 51 million units. We have COVAX for 25.5 million and of course we did have the University of Queensland.

And what we've done is follow the medical advice. And I know some might give views outside the medical advice, that's their right and their freedom, but the people that have kept Australia safe have been our medical advisers.

When you think of 170 million vaccines for 25 million people, that's an extraordinary quantity which we've been able to secure, and which we're delivering, as I say, a quadrupling of vaccinations to more than 1.2 million in the last three weeks.

LAURA TINGLE:

We're out of time, Minister, but thanks for your observations tonight.

GREG HUNT:

That's alright. I would ask Australians to keep coming forwards. This is the thing where you can protect yourselves, but every Australian has the capacity to protect every other Australian.

Thank you for everything you've done.

LAURA TINGLE:

Thanks, Minister.

Ministers: