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Minister Hunt's Press Conference in Canberra on 17 September 2021 with an update on the vaccination rollout, aged care vaccination and new Australian Medical Research Advisory Board

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's Press Conference with an update on the vaccination rollout, aged care vaccination and new Australian Medical Research Advisory Board.

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

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Good afternoon, everybody. And I’m pleased to be joined by Professor Alison McMillan, the Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer for Australia.

Australia has passed the 70 per cent first dose mark nationally. It’s a significant and important milestone in protecting Australians and in keeping Australians safe.

At the same time, we’ve also passed 24 million doses today, and that includes 50 per cent double vaxxed in New South Wales and 70 per cent with first vaccinations in Victoria. So these are really important steps, always measured in terms of two things: the lives protected and the capacity for Australians to return to their normal lives.

The first thing I want to address today is supply. Tonight, at the first shipment of Moderna arrives in Australia. Over this weekend, the second shipment will arrive and that will be over a million doses arriving in Australia over the weekend. It will then be followed consistently over the course of the coming weeks, with doses going forwards.

The significant outcome of that is that that means over 1800 pharmacies will commence distribution of Moderna next week. They’ll start progressively during the week as they are ready and as supplies are provided to them. Once the TGA has finished their batch testing, these supplies will be distributed around the country, and that will provide more points of presence.

There will be 4500 general practices next week, up from 3000 this week. So these are very important because they simply provide not only more vaccines but more points of access for Australians everywhere.

Around Australia, we’ll have over 9000 points of presence next week. And my hope is that everybody, everybody who has not yet taken the vaccine, will come forward over the coming days and weeks, and there’s sufficient vaccine for every Australian before the end of October, if not significantly earlier.

The next thing that I want to mention it in terms of the rollout milestones. 70.5 per cent first doses. We’ve now passed 14.5 million Australians who come forward for first doses. That also means less than 2 million Australians to come forward to achieve the 80 per cent rate.

And so, we’re on track to do that. We obviously have to work hard over the coming weeks to encourage people to come forward. But points of presence are there, the supply is there, and the opportunity is there.

And so, if you haven't been vaccinated, please come forward. But if it’s a friend or a family member, please keep encouraging people to come forward to protect themselves and to protect all of us.

Very significantly, we have had 302,000 vaccinations in the last 24 hours, and we’re now at 24,054,000 vaccinations across Australia, and our over-70s are at 91.9 per cent.

Today, the Department of Health has released some OECD comparative data. And every life lost is a tragedy. Every life lost is an agony for any affected family. But the key finding is that of the 38 OECD countries for 2021, Australia has the second lowest per capita loss of life.

And as I say, every life matters, but the fact that we have achieved that outcome through borders, testing, tracing, distancing and vaccination is just a tribute to all of our health professionals and the nation as a whole. To put it in comparative perspective, Canada, Switzerland, Israel, really fine countries that have done absolutely everything they could, they have had between 25 and 50 times the loss per capita of Australia.

Sweden, Italy, Greece, the United States, the United Kingdom have had between 50 and 90 times the per capita loss of Australia in 2021. And the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, between 150 and 200 times of the per capita loss of life of Australia.

So, we’ve not been spared pain and sadness, but we have been mercifully spared, through our collective actions as a nation, the degree and nature and the scope of loss in 2021 as well as what we all know about the differences in 2020. So, I think that is an important point of perspective. Although each life lost is an agony for everybody who’s connected.

In terms of aged care, we will, as of today, have 96.9 per cent of aged care workers who have had at least one vaccination, and those numbers are climbing every day.

Next Wednesday, we’ll have our figures from this week as the final reports are due, and the advice that I have from the Department of Health is that they’ve been working with all facilities, and they are not expecting any workforce shortages. They’re working with a small number to make sure that there are additional capacities available.

But that 96.9 per cent is an incredible national achievement. We believe, although the international figures are not readily available, that this is likely to be one of the highest rates of aged care worker vaccination in the world.

The last thing I want to do, as part of that, is acknowledge the incredible work of the Health Services Union, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, and particularly call out Annie Butler for her leadership, and the ACTU. They’ve all worked very well, along with providers, along with the states. So that puts us in a very strong situation going forwards to protect elderly residents.

Finally, outside of COVID, I’m really pleased to be able to announce that a new board for the

Australian Medical Research Advisory Board or the advisory board that oversees the Medical Research Future Fund has been approved. It will be led by Professor Ian Frazer and the Deputy President of the board is Professor Caroline Homer from the Burnet Institute, a former head of the Australian College of Nursing. And so, to bring that midwifery capacity – her particular specialisation is midwifery – and the primary care capacity into the leadership of the body that oversees the Medical Research Future Fund I think is outstanding; joined by the great Professor Tom Calma, people such as Anne Kelso, the head of the National Health and Medical Research Council, to build links between those two bodies and others, that’s just a privilege.

And as part of that, we’re announcing $4 million in competitive grant rounds for traumatic brain injury as part of the Traumatic Brain Injury Mission. The structure of the MRFF are four key pillars: patients, researchers, commercialisation, and the great national missions. And so, to have that calibre of people helping to oversee and lead and drive the Medical Research Future Fund as well as the $4 million for traumatic brain injury research, I think, is a real privilege.

Anyway, thank you very much, and over to Professor McMillan.


Thank you, Minister. And again, just to reiterate, today is of course the deadline when all aged care workers needed to have had their first Pfizer vaccine. It is a landmark day, as the minister has said, 97 per cent of the staff have completed that first dose and we are incredibly grateful for that, to all of our hard working aged care staff.

They haven't always been put in a positive light, and yet the work that they do is incredibly important to looking after our most vulnerable. So now we have that double protection. We have high numbers of residents now vaccinated, and now we have the workers supporting them vaccinated as well.

The credit goes to the workers for doing this, of course. And as the minister has said, though, this came by work from many parties. But again, I too would particularly like to express my gratitude to Lauren Hutchins from the Health Services Union and Annie Butler from the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, it was their support that helped us work with the staff to identify ways in which they could get vaccinated.

I think we can see now the evidence of this, the comparison of the outbreak from last year and the number of deaths we sadly saw in aged care. And as the minister said, every death, of course, is very sad. But we're simply not seeing that level of death despite the community transmission that we're seeing in New South Wales.

So that's a credit to vaccinations. It's a credit to the work that everyone has done and what we learnt from last year to this year.

But importantly, to all of those aged care workers out there who now are leading Australia, leading our population in the percentage of people who've been vaccinated, and I particularly would like to thank all of them for that effort and for the work that they do every day in supporting our most vulnerable.

So thank you, Minister.


Thanks, Alison. And I might start with Rachel, if that's okay. Please.


Thanks, Minister. We’ve seen from overseas that people don’t necessarily get the second dose after they’ve had their first, whether it’s because of adverse events or laziness or those sorts of things.

What work is being done to ensure people come back for dose two after they’ve had their first shot?


Look, this is a very important thing, and what we're seeing is that the overdue rates for doses is actually dropping quite significantly. It's something I monitor every day. And Pfizer is down around the one per cent overdue, and that may be because somebody was ill, they missed an appointment, there was an event in their life, or they haven't chosen to go back.

And AstraZeneca has dropped from approximately three per cent to below two per cent, and we're seeing those numbers continuously drop. So people are coming forward to complete.

And we're seeing very, very high completion rates. But we have been working with all of the different state and territory bodies. I'm raising it again today with the health ministers meeting, which follows national cabinet. And in addition to that, I've been working this week with the AMA, GPs, the College of Rural Remote Medicine and the Rural Doctors Association of Australia.

So those results are actually better than we'd expected, but we'll keep driving to bring everybody up to that second dose. And if you haven't had your second dose yet and you are due, please come forward.



Minister, on hospital capacity, what level of concern is there regarding hospitals around the nation being able to cope? Are they going to be stretched beyond capacity? Andrew Barr was saying today it’s looking scary.


Look, we have confidence in all of the states and territories. This is one of the items which Professor Murphy has been working on across the country.

Last year through February and March, we prepared both to flatten the curve, but also to build that capacity. So we have the ventilation capacity and the ICU capacity. The thing which in particular that Professor Murphy has been coordinating with all of the states is to make sure that workforce is in place.

And so the states are themselves considering whether they follow the Commonwealth lead on aged care workforce. That's a matter for them with regards to hospital and nursing staff. But in addition to that, they're looking at their furloughing policies once people are double vaccinated and they are working to make sure that they have full and adequate resources.

But we have strong confidence in all of the states and territories to meet the surges as they come. And New South Wales has shown, it's not been easy, but it's been very important.

All of this is backed up, I would add by the Private Hospitals Viability Guarantee, and what that is really about is the partnership between public and private hospitals. 30,000 beds, 57,000 nurses, over 100,000 staff that can be called into duty in the event of a surge, which puts capacity constraints on the system.

So we have a second workforce which is available to partner with the existing state system in even the most difficult of conditions.



When are you expecting the surge? When are you expecting the surge? Is it Christmas?


Well, no, we'll leave that to each of the states and territories to talk about their modelling.

In New South Wales, the Premier has set that out very clearly that they are expecting the pressure during October. Victoria is well prepared. The ACT is well prepared. And these are, of course, contingencies which we focus on every single day.

I remember during February and March of last year. Apart from the protective measures to flatten the curve, the principal focus of the Prime Minister during that time was building the capacity for all of those capacity elements, the ventilators, of taking our ventilator capacity from 2 to 7500, of bringing more nurses in - and Alison might speak to this in a minute - and upskilling the existing nurses were put in place then, and they're ready to be drawn upon now, as well as the private hospitals capacity.

Alison, did you want to mention the upskilling of nurses and the bringing back and retraining of those that might have left the workforce?


Yeah. Thank you, Minister. There’s a whole raft of workforce efforts we’re making: making sure that everyone can work to their full scope of practice; that we’ve got our staff working where they’re needed most; that we can bring back people, potentially who may have retired; that we’ve trained additional nurses to work in intensive care, supported of course by critical care trained nurses.

A whole range of options about how we can surge, and if necessary, mechanisms to share staff across the country if we were needed to do that through emergency management arrangements.

So again, working very closely with the jurisdictions and, of course, the peak agencies that are partners in meeting the demand, wherever it may emerge in the coming months.


Thanks. Jade?


Minister if I could ask two questions please? First, following on from New South Wales’ announcement today about a trial of home quarantine for some international travellers, when would you like to see other states put in similar arrangements in place?

And secondly, you’re a senior Minister in the Government, would you accept money if you didn’t know where it was coming from?


So look, firstly, in terms of the home quarantine, we're very, very supportive of home quarantine, and it's been trialled for domestic returns. I've been through it on three occasions now, myself. Today's the last day of the third or my sixth week of home quarantine.

The ACT has an outstanding national model. I'll let others who have lived through speak to the experience of different states and territories. But the ACT model is a model for all of Australia with regards to home quarantine.

They have daily welfare checks, they have random police checks. There is also the South Australian app, which is a potentially national app. So home quarantine, as soon as possible, as a means of ensuring that people who are vaccinated and returning to Australia can be allowed back, brought back, brought home as quickly as possible.

In terms of the other matter, the duty is to ensure that we all follow the Parliamentary rules. I don't have any details on the specific question to which you're referring, but always, always to be following the Parliamentary rules.


Thanks Minister. Do we have any details on the 3% of aged care staff who haven’t yet received a vaccine, why that’s the case? Is it because they didn’t want to get one, they weren’t able to, they might be allergic, or if they just weren’t able to get one as yet due to number of factors?


Yeah. So there are approximately 800 staff that have put forward for exemptions. The majority of those are temporary medical exemptions, which would relate to their personal circumstances. A small number of those had permanent medical conditions.

And then the latest figure that I had was just over 50 out of over 260,000 approximately cited access. And so we've made sure that every one of those has the access. The others, there is, of course, personal choice.

But we're working with all of them. And Alison might reference this. But at this point in time, the facilities have said they have very strong and adequate staff. The general practice says that they won't be rostering those staff at this point in time, but we will be working to encourage support, to provide confidence, often culturally appropriate and sensitive advice. And we're very confident, because we have focused on every single facility in Australia, that there's workforce there.

But this is a world leading model. You know, it has been difficult, and it did require mandating. And there are some who have differing views about vaccination, and that's a reality across the country. But it is a world-leading outcome and a world-leading model, which is contributing to lifesaving outcomes.

Alison, did you want to talk about the process to encourage those remaining three per cent? But I would say this, those numbers are also expected to increase between now and Wednesday, given that facilities have their final reporting due on Tuesday evening.


I think the Minister has mentioned the figures. I think that aged care workers are a very female-dominated workforce, often of childbearing age. And understandably, amongst some women of that age, there is some hesitancy. We acknowledge that hesitancy 100 per cent.

And so we're going to continue to work with that group that are just a little uncomfortable with making this decision, and we're going to work through using the College of Midwives, women talking to women about the important messages around their health and well-being.

And the important message, of course, is that we continue to encourage all aged care workers to get vaccinated because of their role. But also, of course, pregnant women, because we now know that COVID can significantly, particularly Delta, can impact pregnant women, but also their children.

So this gives them additional protection. But we need to make sure we do that in a trusted way. And so we'll do that with midwives talking to the aged care workers directly to help them make a decision that's best for them.


Minister, can I ask one more question, please? Given the COVID situation in the ACT and New South Wales, and Victoria, and given current vaccination numbers, is it worth keeping travel restricted between those jurisdictions at this stage? And when would you like to see those restrictions ease?


We would encourage all of the states and territories to follow the national plan. The National Cabinet is meeting in just, has just commenced meeting, I believe. And so the national plan remains the guide.

And we've seen fantastic results in all of those three jurisdictions, all of them above 70 per cent. New South Wales above 80 per cent. The ACT is very close. And Victoria has just ticked over a significant milestone today. So we'd encourage everybody to continue to vaccinate, but to continue to follow the national plan in relation to the borders.

The final thing is: well done, Australia. Seventy point five per cent of eligible Australians have now had first doses, over 24 million doses delivered around the country. And when we look at the international comparisons, the second lowest per capita loss of life in 2021.

Each of those lives is still an agony for the families concerned, but an extraordinary outcome where tens of thousands of lives have been saved in 2020 and again in 2021. Thank you and take care, everyone.

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