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Melbourne Press Conference on 12 December 2021, on COVID-19 Boosters and 2022 Federal Election

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt at the Melbourne Press Conference on 8 December 2021, on COVID-19 Boosters and 2022 Federal Election.

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

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Welcome to Mornington Village pharmacy. We are honoured today to have Minister Hunt have his Moderna booster shot here at the pharmacy. Minister Hunt and Brendan Murphy have just had their vaccine. So we welcome to them today.

GREG HUNT:         

Thanks very much to Grace, who is the representative of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia here in Victoria. To Dan our pharmacist and co-owner here at the Mornington Village pharmacy, and to Professor Brendan Murphy, obviously the Secretary of the Department of Health. But here in his capacity as the Chair of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Group.

Today, Brendan and I have had our Moderna boosters. What that means is that the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation has backed in the decision of the Therapeutic Goods Administration and made two significant decisions.

First, as of today, Moderna boosters will be available for everybody 18 plus in Australia. That's a broadening of the vaccines that are available. It adds to Pfizer, so if you're 18 and over, you can have the Pfizer or the Moderna, wherever you are, as a booster.

Secondly, ATAGI has recommended that the time frame for the boosters be brought forward from six months to five months. And that's in light of international evidence on efficacy and the impact of the Omicron variant. Again, two significant and important decisions to give Australia better access and earlier access to vaccines.

So as of today, Moderna will be available as a booster and anybody can come forward at five months to have their booster. And so, those two things will help Australians be even better protected.

We're now at 40.1 million vaccinations. We are at 93.3 per cent first dose vaccination in Australia and 89.2 per cent second dose vaccination. Already, 683,000 people have had their boosters in Australia, well ahead of expectations, well ahead of schedule.

But what this will do, is it will mean an extra 1.5 million people are now eligible to immediately access the boosters. It's the commencement of the process, they're not overdue, it means that on the latest advice, it's appropriate, reasonable and safe for somebody to get the booster from five months.

By the end of the month, by the start of January, 4.1 million Australians will be eligible to have the booster. And as I say, at this point in time, at 683,000, we're well ahead of schedule, well ahead of expectation.

So, we know, throughout COVID what Australians have done is they have taken the precautions to be safe, to keep each other safe, and to help protect the community.

With one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with one of the lowest rates of loss of life and one of the strongest economic recoveries, Australia is doing incredibly well. But the shorter time for boosters, the extra booster option with Moderna, which Brendan and I have had today, gives Australians more access, earlier access, and more confidence that despite all of the challenge we'll get through it.

And I'll ask Professor Murphy to give you an update on the advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation with regards to the five-month time frame and the Moderna booster. But also to give an update on the latest evidence with regards to the Omicron variant. And after that we'll take questions.


Thank you, Minister. Been a great pleasure to have my third dose with the Minister. We’ve had all our doses together. We both had our AstraZeneca doses together, and now we’ve had our Moderna boosters. We have three fantastic vaccines in Australia, we’ve had access to them, we’ve got lots and lots of vaccine supply.

So, as the Minister said, there are two important decisions. In the light of the Omicron variant where we do believe that boosters are going to be much more important, we do believe that as one gets towards six months, their waning immunity of the primary vaccination means that a booster will be very important to continue that protection against this variant. We're still learning about Omicron, but that evidence seems to be coming out of the lab.

So, on that basis, ATAGI, who are looking at this every single week, have decided that at the moment, it's best to bring forward the booster eligibility date to five months to give people that time to get their booster before they reach the six-month mark.

But as Minister Hunt said, we are still protected with our primary vaccination, people shouldn't be worried. But boosters are very important to give that extra immunity, particularly as the Omicron variant is likely to spread around the world.

It's also very exciting that we now have Moderna as an alternative booster. Moderna boosters are slightly lower dose than the original primary course because the trials showed that. And that will be now be available at all immunisation sites.

So we have two preferred boosters by ATAGI, the Pfizer and the Moderna. AstraZeneca at the moment is not registered as a booster, but it is available for people who can't have the mRNA vaccine. So, there's plenty of points of presence with Pfizer and Moderna.

And I urge everyone who's five months since their primary course of immunisation to now go online, make a booking with your GP, with your pharmacist, or go to a clinic run by the states and get those boosters so we come into this next phase of living with COVID with the maximum protection.

Thanks, Minister.


Thanks very much to Brendan. We'll start with those on the phone and then come to the room. Rachel?


Thanks Minister. Given twice as many people will be eligible for the boosters by the end of the year now, thanks to the ATAGI (INAUDBLE), w what potential measures are being done to ensure that people know that they're eligible and (INAUDIBLE)? And maybe a question to Professor Murphy, what sort of side effects can people expect with either of these booster shots?


So, two questions. One is about public messaging and the second is about side effects which Professor Murphy will answer.

In terms of public messaging, we will very shortly have a booster campaign which will be public in the lead-up to Christmas, following Christmas.

We’re in a very fortunate position. We have over 8,500 primary care points of presence that can provide boosters with the announcement about Moderna. Over 9,000 when state clinics are included in that.

I want to thank the states and territories for their work, our Indigenous medical community for their work. So, over 8,500 primary care sites, now over 9,000 when the state clinics are included as options for people, and a national booster campaign which is going to begin over the course of the next week.

On side effects?


Thank you, Minister. So, the side effects for boosters, the two mRNA vaccines, are very similar to the side effects that we see with primary course. Mainly sore arms occasionally, sometimes a bit of a fever.

But generally speaking, the evidence suggests that the side effects following a booster are actually less than the side effects following the second dose. So, people would expect to see the same relatively mild side effects we have seen with the other mRNA vaccines.


Speaking personally, so far so good. I think Dat has a very gentle hand. To Jade.


Thanks, Minister. The (INAUDIBLE) Committee last week heard that Australia is planning to send expiring mRNA doses to our neighbours in the Pacific and South-East Asia. Will the shortening of the booster interval mean fewer doses would be sent overseas because they’ll now be ending up in arms?


No. We have 151 million doses that have been set aside for boosters. There's enough for all Australians.

It makes no difference to the number of boosters that are expected to be had. It just brings that time frame forwards. And we have sufficient in the country now to meet all of the needs. And so we're well stocked in terms of AstraZeneca for the primary doses, Pfizer and Moderna and we're in a very strong place in relation to those.

And at the same time we're continuing to meet our international commitments and we're actually well ahead of schedule on our international commitments. Chris.


Minister, I’m wondering if you can expand a bit more on the number of doses in this country. I understand that by the end of January they’d be good enough to do already in the country with Pfizer and Moderna.

So can you give us a run-through of where we’re up to in terms of the doses of Moderna and Pfizer that we have in the country now? As I say, I understand that will cover us through to the end of January or if there any more imports.

So if I could get (INAUDIBLE) what’s been asked about the choice between Moderna and Pfizer. If people have an option, what should they do, given some have had AstraZeneca, some have had Pfizer?


Sure. So, to date we’ve received 7.2 million Moderna doses and approximately 40 million Pfizer doses, and in addition to that we have had over 28 million AstraZeneca doses that have been made available. We’re sharing those doses overseas and we’re also making sure that there’s enough for all Australians.

So we have enough already to deal with all of the possible demand for primary doses or boosters in Australia. And in terms of our international supply, overseas, we have now past the 10 million mark of doses provided to our Pacific and South-East Asian neighbours.



Thanks, Minister. Last week ATAGI advised that there was no evidence to bring forward boosters. I’m wondering what’s changed since last week? Have you had access to data that you didn’t have last week?

And on a related point, is this also about flattening demand for boosters once we get to that heightened increase next year around March?


No, this is based off the latest international evidence.

We tasked ATAGI with reviewing weekly, exactly as Professor Murphy has said, the emerging data and evidence and we’ve seen from Pfizer and we’ve seen from the international evidence emerging data in relation to the optimal time period.

Brendan has been in consultation with ATAGI so I’ll let him speak to the nature and scope of that data, but it follows purely on the basis of a very clear free hand and independent position of ATAGI and our advice to them has always been: Give us our frank, fearless and honest advice. You call it as you see it, and that’s what they’ve done.


Thanks, Minister. So, what has changed in the last week is that ATAGI has had access to what we call the laboratory in-vitro neutralisation assay data, which is a complicated way of saying tests in the lab to see how the immunity from the primary vaccination declines over time, particularly in relation to Omicron.

And there’s evidence that by six months there is some decline in protection to Omicron, and so ATAGI felt that there was a good reason to get people boostered, if possible before that 6-month mark. So they felt bringing it forward to five months was worth doing, and particularly based on some data out of Israel which showed that is a very good time.


Great, thank you. Stela.


Thanks, Minister. There’s one Omicron case in hospital in New South Wales. What do you know about this case, and how concerned are you about it?


Look, the first thing is that New South Wales Health will provide the updates.

The second thing is that they have very strong hospital procedures to provide protection, to provide isolation and to provide infection control.

So New South Wales Health has shown itself to be one of the world’s leading public health agencies and they have really world-class infection control. So we have high confidence in their ability to contain this within that environment.

And I understand they’ll be making further statements at a later time.


If someone’s had Pfizer for their first and second shot, should they be looking at Moderna for their third to mix vaccines? Will that give them more protection?


Look, I’ll ask Brendan to address that first.


So there really isn’t any good evidence that one is better than another for a booster. If you’ve had Pfizer or AstraZeneca or Moderna as your primary course, you can have either Pfizer or Moderna as a booster.

The evidence would suggest that there’s no clear difference. So it depends what’s available, and people sometimes might have a preference.


So, both Pfizer and Moderna are universal boosters. What that means is, as Brendan says, if you’ve had AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, you can have the Moderna or the Pfizer as your booster.

Today, the Secretary of Health and the Minister of Health have both had the Moderna booster. We had AstraZeneca, but my view is very clear: if the TGA has approved a vaccine, it doesn’t matter which one you’re taking so long as it’s appropriate.

None of us think about the brand of our flu vaccine, we shouldn’t be thinking about the brand of our COVID vaccine.


The South Korean leader arrives in Canberra today. Do you know what’s on the agenda?


The Prime Minister and the South Korean President are really dealing with three things.

One is the global response to COVID, South Korea has been another standout country in their protection.

Two is regional security and looking at a peaceful cooperative arrangement.

And third is economic opportunity: how do we work together to boost jobs and to boost income in both countries.


There is a diabetes device (INAUDIBLE).


So, we’ve been able to fund continuous glucose monitoring, the FreeStyle Libre, this is new technology. I’m very excited about this technology. My hope is that this will be brought forward for a full assessment by the medical authorities. I guarantee if they approve it, we will fund it.


WA’s toughening their border again tonight for Queensland. What should they be doing? Should they be opening up to the rest of the country?


It’s a matter for them. Around the country, we’re seeing different states and territories open up in line with the national plan. The Premier has said in WA that they support the national plan and so we trust that they will do that.


There’s been a shift in people’s votes to independents. Do you think that could change the next election (INAUDIBLE) the balance of power?


The next election is ultimately a choice. It’s a choice between Scott Morrison as Prime Minister or Anthony Albanese as Prime Minister.

There are really only two votes here. There’s Scott Morrison or there’s Anthony Albanese.

If you’re not voting for the Coalition, you’re voting for Anthony Albanese. And I think that’s something to remember. This is not a simple choice of park your vote.

This is Anthony Albanese as Prime Minister, with a huge hit to electricity prices, with no control of the budget, and with very weak international security and border credentials, versus Scott Morrison who has seen us through the pandemic, who, along with Josh Frydenberg, has outstanding economic credentials, and they know how to create jobs, they know how to create income, and they know how to give people the best chance at the life of their choice.


There’s talk of these independents (INAUDIBLE) a shopping list of demands. If there’s a hung parliament at the next election, how far is the Coalition willing to negotiate with them? 


The best way to guarantee a stable government is to support a Coalition government.

The independents are simply Green, Labor, hard-left. Many of them are to the left of not just the Labor Party, but to the left of the Greens. And what does that mean? It’s not a safe, simple park your vote choice. This is a vote for Anthony Albanese, but from the extreme left side and it’s very much a case of presenting one way, but actually representing the hard core of the hard left.

All right. Look, I just want to finish by thanking everybody for coming forward already: 683,000 Australians well ahead of expectations, planning and schedule have come forward for their boosters, but now it’s easier than ever.

There are over 8,500 primary care sites, over 9,000 sites all up with state clinics. If you’re due for your booster, whether it’s Moderna, whether it’s Pfizer, there’s an opportunity everywhere.

Thank you very much and take care.

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