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Minister Hunt's Press Conference in Canberra with Sonya Bennett with an update on additional vaccines and the First Things First campaign

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's Press Conference with Sonya Bennett with an update on additional vaccines and the First Things First campaign.

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

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And good afternoon, everybody. I’m delighted to be joined in Canberra by the Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Sonya Bennett and the Head of Operation COVID Shield Lieutenant General Frewen.

The Prime Minister has already spoken today, and we’re very pleased that we’ve been able to secure an additional million vaccines, an additional million Moderna, that are due to arrive from Europe at the end of this week. They will join the other Moderna doses and be made available to pharmacies immediately.

What this does is it helps us move to the next phase of the national vaccination campaign. So as we move to that next phase, a number of things happen. Firstly, and Sonya will directly address this, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation has approved the availability of Moderna for 12 to 17-year olds who will now have access to both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Secondly, the Pfizer vaccination program for children will begin tomorrow, so children ages 12 to 15 will be able to join the 16 to 59 category. And in addition to that, 800 pharmacies will come on board at the end of this week, at the commencement of the week of the 20th.

And so that’s a very important thing that’s occurring, and that will grow to approximately 3600 pharmacies in the week of 27 September.

So we’ve been able to bring forward the next phase, significantly ahead of expectations and schedule, and that’s on the combination of vaccination achievements to date, as well as the vaccines that have been secured, the 3 million brought forward earlier from Pfizer, the million from Poland, the half million from Singapore, the 4 million very helpfully from the United Kingdom and additional Moderna from the European Union, and we thank them very much for that.

Going forwards, what that allows us to do in particular is to move to allow and support and encourage a Victorian vaccination blitz. So I am very pleased, both with my national role but as a Victorian, that we’ve been able to respond to and exceed the Victorian Government’s request.

We will be providing in a stretch over the coming three weeks, 417,219 vaccines for Victoria, so over 400,000 [inaudible] vaccines for Victoria.

That comes across three different categories. Firstly, there’ll be 127,680 Pfizer doses to be delivered over the coming weeks to Victorian GPs, and that’s 532 Victorian GP’s that will have additional doses over and above what they would have received in this period of time. There’ll be an additional 180,786 Moderna doses over and above what would have been received by Victorian pharmacies.

This blitz, GPs, pharmacies, and state will focus in particular on the north and west of Melbourne, where we are seeing similar challenges to those faced in Sydney. But, very importantly, when we surged in Sydney, they were at 51 per cent first vaccinations. Now in Melbourne, thankfully to the work of many, they are at approximately 66 per cent first vaccinations.

And then finally, 108,000 vaccines being provided over and above allocation to the Victorian Government and through the work of General Frewen and his team, they’ll be made available this week.

So those are the important steps for Victoria. We know it’s a challenging time. As a Victorian, I understand this, and I see this, and, you know. So this is our hope and support and protection for Victorians.

Finally, I just note in terms of the rollout, as the Prime Minister mentioned, 195,000 vaccinations yesterday. We’ve had an update since the PM’s press conference, and so now the total number of vaccines delivered nationwide is 22.69 million.

And very importantly, at the national level, we have 67.4 per cent first doses and 42.3 per cent second doses. And perhaps as importantly as anything, 90.8 per cent of over 70s have already had their vaccinations, and that increases every day.

So I want to thank everybody. Today is another important day forward. [inaudible] burden of our vaccination program has come forward from October and November to August and September. I especially want to thank General Frewen for his work and all of those involved in securing these extra doses.

And I'll ask Sonya Bennett, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, to refer to cases, then Moderna. General Frewen to discuss both the rollout, but also the really important First Things First campaign is commencing this evening and which does represent the commencement of the next phase of the vaccine roll.


Thank you, Minister, and good afternoon, everybody. So over the last week, we have seen peak case numbers in both the New South Wales and the Victoria outbreak, both occurring yesterday, with New South Wales having 1599 cases and Victoria 450 respectively, and continuing to see incursions into other states and territories, which largely at this stage remain contained.

However, as today's numbers illustrate, with 1669 locally acquired cases overall, but with New South Wales recording 1262 cases and Victoria 392 cases, these increases really over the week are marginal and the numbers are fluctuating up and down, really illustrating that the current test, trace, isolate, quarantine strategy and the public health social measures in place are largely containing the outbreaks.

However, the numbers, as I said, do continue to edge up over time. And what we really all want to see is those are consistent downward trend in those case numbers, and that's really where the vaccination program is critical.

And as we've just heard the Minister say, there is some good progress in the vaccination program, particularly with respect to 12 to 15 year olds. So following the TGA, provisionally approving Moderna for 12 to 15 year olds, ATAGI, the national body that provides advice on immunisation, has also recommended Moderna for 12 to 15 year olds.

So that, combined with the movement in the vaccination program, which we'll hear about from Lieutenant General Frewen shortly means that everybody from 12 years old upwards should now be able to have access to a vaccine.

The opportunities to be vaccinated are increasing, and that's really good news for the vaccination program because that's really going to help us start to see those numbers trend down over time.

So we've seen individuals in the community and organisations all come forward with testing, so individuals are coming forward to be tested. People are wearing their masks when they're asked to, industries implementing COVID safe plans. People are using the QR code to check in and co-operating with a range of other measures.

But now what we really would like to see to take the vaccination program to the next level is for people to think about how they not only get their own vaccination, but how do they support family and friends as well to get their vaccination as opportunities to vaccinate really open up.

And that's through supporting people to know where to go for evidence based information about vaccination. And if you've got a clinic close by that you found easy, share that information with your family, friends and let them know where to look to find a clinic that they can book into.

So I'll hand over to Lieutenant General Frewen to provide more detail.


Thanks, Doctor. Thanks, Minister.

Well, good afternoon, everybody. This is fantastic news about the additional million Moderna that we are about to receive from Europe. This is in addition to what we were anticipating in the rollout, and this now means that we will have more than 11 million doses of mRNA available in September, and this will be followed by 12 million doses in October and then 12 million doses in November. This means many additional appointments.

You've heard that we've got many additional points of presence coming online. Soon we'll have more than 10,000 places where people can go to get vaccinated.

I'm particularly excited about Moderna rolling out in the pharmacies over the next couple of weeks. This is a great opportunity for parents and guardians now to get in, particularly with their 12 to 15 year olds to get them vaccinated as well and to get it done together if that's what suits.

And I just want to remind people that Moderna and Pfizer are essentially the same type of vaccine. Moderna, four to six week dosing duration. But if you've been waiting to make a decision about the type of vaccine and you've had trouble getting access to Pfizer, then Moderna is the next best pathway for you now, and we'll have ample supplies in the very near weeks ahead.

I think it's also great news about the availability for bookings for 12 to 15 year olds. They will be open from tomorrow. The eligibility checker has already been translated into more than 30 languages. So again, bookings will be up tomorrow. Please get onto the system and get booked in as quickly as you can.

The Minister’s mentioned the support to Victoria, we are working closely with Victoria. We're monitoring events there and I will stay engaged with the authorities there. The Minister has, I think, detailed the sorts of immediate support that we're providing to Victoria, but we will remain closely focussed on that over the weeks ahead.

And the final thing is, which the Minister also touched on, today we're launching the next phase of the advertising campaign around the rollout. It's the First Things First campaign.

The focus of this campaign really is to stress that there are many things that we would like to be able to do. There are many things, many freedoms that we would like to get back to. We all share that. But what we have to do first is to get vaccinated.

And now that we have got these large amounts of additional vaccines flowing through September and then into October and November, really, now there is a greater increasing amount of convenience around the ability to get vaccinated. So please, for anyone who hasn't done so yet, please get booked in. Please get out there, get your first dose and then follow up with your second dose. Thank you.


Great. Thanks very much, JJ. I'll start with Clare and then we'll work across the room. So, Clare, please?


You've put me on the spot.

Minister, in five days when all aged care workers must have at least one dose of the vaccine, what’s the plan to cover expected shortfalls if they don’t?

And if I may, a question for my Melbourne counterpart at the Herald Sun, the idea of an MCG vaccine hub has the support of both the Federal Government and the state, though neither seem to be putting their hand up to set it up and run it. The states say it’s a good idea but they’re too focused on other things at the moment.

Would the Federal Government step up and run a facility like that?


This would have to be something given the nature of it that would be done at state level. We’d be very happy to support, but we’re very supportive of any proposals to give people more opportunity to vaccinate.

There are very large numbers of vaccines, over 400,000 vaccines being surged into Victoria now. So the opportunity is there, and it’s a way to kick a goal for Victoria.

In terms of aged care, we’re now at 90.8 per cent of aged care workers. We’re expecting that there will be a significant uptick over the coming days.

Two things are happening. The facilities are now identifying those that have medical exemptions, those are on long service leave, those that might be on maternity leave. And then at the same time, there are additional vaccines and we’re finding very significant additional reporting.

So we’re working closely with the facilities, so we are very focused on this. But we think that it will be in a very strong position by the end of the week, and we’ll provide an update at National Cabinet on that.

Now, behind Clare please?


Minister, the Prime Minister emphasised today that all Australians would have an opportunity to be vaccinated by October. There’s still reports circulating around the community that some people are finding it hard to get an appointment for a vaccination.

I’d just like response to that, given the PM also indicated that vaccination was your best pathway back to your job, and there wouldn’t necessarily be financial support once everyone has had the opportunity to be vaccinate?


Look, I’ll start and then turn to JJ Firstly, what [inaudible] bookings open up in both in the GP and the pharmacy system.

As JJ mentioned, 11 million vaccines available this month, a similar number next month. And so, general practices and others will open up their booking as they are confident that they’ve got the supply. JJ can run through that process, but it’s very clear that these vaccines will mean that there will be enough to ensure that everyone has that opportunity.

And we’ll just keeping going though. That is the important thing, because there’ll be second doses, people who change their mind, people whose circumstances change, people who come of age, people who may have been ill. And so, we’re just going to continue going, but the important thing is that we will have that capacity.

JJ, perhaps on both the volume and the process?


Yeah, look. There are same day appointments available around the country at the moment. I heard the Victorian Premier just this morning say that they’ve got 7000 Pfizer bookings available at the moment. I know some people are still experiencing some frustrations but, as you’ve heard this morning, we’ve got many, many, many more points of presence coming on board.

There are vast more quantities of mRNA vaccine coming through now. So I really think these delays that are being experienced are about to become a thing of the past. So I'd really encourage people just to keep chipping away. If they can't get a booking immediately, just try again.

And I think very soon there'll be, as I said, not only greater convenience, but greater speed of access.


Great. And it is a seven-week process, so I think it's very important to understand that not everybody will be done in one week, but there is sufficient vaccines to do everybody who seeks to have a vaccination over the course of the next seven weeks and very much in terms of first doses earlier.



To either you, Minister, or to General Frewen, as we get to the sharp end of the vaccine program now, has your behavioural analysis changed? Are you confident we'll get over 80 per cent?

And regardless, are you still reserving the options of incentives? Do you still think they may be necessary at some stage just to sort of get us over the hump? Is it something you haven't ruled out yet or have ruled out?


I'll speak very briefly, and then JJ. In terms of the 80 per cent, we've become more and more confident that that number will be achieved nationwide. I can't speak for every community, but I can say we’ll keep pushing to give everybody the opportunity and we want to achieve more than the 80 per cent.

We want every Australian to step forward who doesn't have a medical exemption, and we encourage every Australian to do that.

In terms of incentives, the first incentive is your health and safety. The second incentive is the health and safety of everybody around you. And then the third, exactly as the First Things First campaign sets out, is that it charts a pathway back to our ordinary lives.

So in terms of the $6 billion cash payment? No, we're not doing that. JJ?


Yeah. Look, the sentiment surveys we've got remain extremely encouraging. More than 80 per cent of Australians are indicating they intend to get vaccinated.

What appears to be people's greatest motivators to get vaccinated, not from the self-evident protecting themselves and their families and loved ones. Things that people are most keen on are choice, are convenience, and freedoms, and we've got plans in place around all of those now.

You've just heard there is now greater choice for mRNA vaccines. There will be absolutely greater convenience for getting vaccinated, and the national plan lays out just how we get to those freedoms now.

I think we're on a very strong path nationally to get to 70. International experience tells us that you do have to work hard from 70 to 80, but with the sentiment we've got, with the fact that we have got adequate vaccines to vaccinate the entire population from the middle of October, everything is in place. It's just about people now turning up.

So people have got to make that choice. We've got to encourage people and we've got to give people access to the right information. But really, now it's just about people turning up, Phil.


And in front of Phil, please.


Thank you, Minister. Minister, where is the TGA up to in deciding whether people with Chinese and Russian vaccines will be allowed into the country at the next phase of the re-opening plan?

Considering so many of our international students, so many of our tourists from Asia will have Chinese and Russian vaccines in them that are not used in this country?


Yeah. So the TGA goes through its registration process. I'm not aware that they have received registration for either of those vaccines. I'll put the question to Professor Skerritt, but I'm not aware that they've received them.

But if they do, then they'll obviously consider that and go through the ordinary processes. I don't know, Sonya, if you wanted to add anything?


Yeah, thanks, Minister. I guess first thing I would say is that the TGA's role in that will be to identify vaccines not registered here in Australia that would we would accept as equivalent for the purposes of entering the country.

So it by and of itself isn't is a means to, there's another whole set of policy and procedures that will be discussed around that. And they have a process which whereby there are mutual agreements between countries where we mutually recognise registration in other countries here in Australia, and they'll start with that and move down a list, including looking at the World Health Organisation prequalified vaccines.

I'm not aware it's complete yet, but I know that works certainly being undertaken.


Great, and to Phil’s left, please.


Thank you, Minister. I know you've explained why you didn't attend the meeting with Pfizer executives last year, but can, given the benefit of hindsight and given Pfizer has become our Plan A vaccine really, rather than our Plan C or D, as it was viewed last year, do you think you should have attended that meeting? And would it have made it made a difference if Australia had been more aggressive in pursuing a deal with Pfizer?

And just further to Clare’s question on aged care, do you have any indication as to how much of that remaining 10 per cent is because of medical exemptions and how much of that is because of hesitancy?


No, JJ’s team is working through that, and we think those numbers will increase, and I won't predict the amount of which they do that, but we're expecting that those numbers will increase during the course of this week. There'll be medical exemptions and then there will also be updated data and there's also a final push.

So we're expecting it to have exceeded all of our anticipated outcomes. So bottom line is, it will have saved lives. There was a facility in Victoria recently where there was a nurse, well, a staff member, who was double vaccinated, did everything right, developed symptoms, was tested and worked in the 48 hours before developing the symptoms. And that facility had over 92 per cent of residents and 94 per cent of staff.

So it's the difference between what occurred in Victoria last year and what's occurring now in New South Wales. And just a radically different difference, a radically different outcome in terms of lives saved for our elderly.

Just in terms of Pfizer, no, there are no scenarios under which there would have been any different outcome. The first point is Pfizer has categorically rejected the position put forward by the Labor Party. It's unusual for a company to do that, but they did that.

Secondly, I actually opened and closed the negotiations with Pfizer. On May 10 I wrote, at the end of October, 28 October, I closed them.

And in the meantime, my own office was immediate [inaudible] negotiation both before and after they were allowed to formally commence. I think on seven occasions. Let's see 26 June, 10 July, 4 August, 11 August, 27 August, 1 September, 16 September, 22 September, 30 September, 6 October, 27 October, and they also joined me on the 28th of October.

And then the real proof is that Japan signed in July. They received their doses in the same week as us and New Zealand, and all three countries received an approximate per capita equivalent.

At the same time, what Pfizer did – we recognise this very early on – was they understandably had to prioritise their countries of origin and manufacture who were facing mass death. And that's the important thing.

They recognised that, we recognised that, which is why, in addition to pursuing Pfizer at the maximum quantity available, as Pfizer themselves has said, what we also did is establish sovereign domestic vaccine manufacturing, and we doubted that we'd be able to extract AstraZeneca from Europe.

We were correct. At this stage, there have been no doses of AstraZeneca that have come from Europe, [inaudible] other countries have supported us with those international doses. But we relied on our own production and we've secured everything we could from overseas, but relied on our own production and that has saved a lot of lives.

As the PM said today, over 10.5 million AstraZeneca doses.



Minister, just so you're aware as well, there’s some real serious issues with your internet connection, so I might address this to General Frewen. Have you noticed any flattening of demand?

I know that you said between 70 and 80, you notice internationally there's a problem. You obviously have hit some of those marks around parts of the country and the LGAs at the moment. Are you seeing any flattening of demand at the moment?


So look, we were having record weeks and days very consistently. Just over the last week, there has been a bit of a levelling off. But my assessment of that is, is that we had the Polish million wash through the system and we also had the eligibility opening up for the 16 to 39 year olds. And I think that drove a lot of people to choose to shift across to Pfizer bookings.

So I think now I'm expecting to see things to start picking up again now that we've got all these additional vaccines and the additional points of presence coming online.


Great. But we have been running at about 1.8 million plus a week.

Sorry, you go. You go in the room.


Just to follow on from that, do we now have enough mRNA vaccines to be able to offer them to the over 60s, the ones that are kind of holding off because they don't want AstraZeneca?

And do we also have enough mRNA vaccines secured now that we can stop asking to beg and borrow from other countries?


So, I'll make one brief point. We have secured, we think, everything that we need at a national level. We have, as JJ said, 11 million vaccines this month, 11 million vaccines next month. [inaudible] thousand GPs this week, four and a half thousand GP’s the following week, 1800 GPs on the 20th and that will grow to over 3600, I’m sorry, pharmacies on the 20th, growing to over 3600 pharmacies on the 27th.

So we're well stocked. And at this stage, I think we're actually able to be sharing our AstraZeneca with the Pacific and with Indonesia, and we've done that with Vietnam. So we're in a very good place on that.

JJ may want to add something, and then there's one more gentleman in the in the back just behind Chris to finish it off.


Thanks, Minister. So you've heard today by the middle of October, we have enough vaccine to fully vaccinate all the eligible population. So we have the vaccines. I'll say again, it's now just about people turning up. We have just opened up to the 12 to 15 year olds. That's 1.2 million additional people. So we just want to bed that in for the next week or two.

The over 60s are the last piece of the puzzle, but I will acknowledge that our over 70s now are at 90 per cent first dose and 70 per cent fully vaccinated, and our over 60s are also up in that same sort of close to 90 per cent first dose as well.

So I mean, there is very, very good coverage in that age group already, but we will be looking at that as the next priority to open up. But right now we're just keen to get the 12 to 15 year olds through.


A question either to the Minister or to the Health Department, there is talk now of vaccine trials for five year olds. What is Australia's thinking on when that may start being looked at seriously?


Sure, I'll deal with supply, and if I can ask the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Sonya Bennett, to deal with the trials. In terms of supply, we have secured sufficient supply to cover all of the nation for next year in terms of 60 million Pfizer, 15 million Moderna, the 51 million Novavax – the first of which on our latest basis still due to arrive this year.

So we have multiple options [inaudible] relation to that supply and that covers boosters. And we'd always presume that if trials produced evidence to safely open for children of all ages that we would have first and second doses for them and a booster available later in the year.



Yeah, thank you, Minister. I support that, and I guess I’d just say it's a little too early to say how we would use it, and then that's the actual, that's exactly the reason for trials.

We need to understand not just the safety in children, which is imperative, but how effective it is at preventing infection. And also, increasingly, we're understanding the role of children in transmission and how significant that is or not.

So first and importantly, the safety and efficacy and so we'll be watching any trials with interest, and following from that would be a recommendation which is too early to say.

But as I said, the two reasons for a recommendation would be for individual protection of children and or population prevention around transmission, which is why we've always concentrated in that older age group. We know that that's where a lot of the transmission occurs and is at greatest risk, but we'll certainly be monitoring the outcomes of those trials.


And I think that's a very good place to finish. What we've seen today is additional vaccines, additional support for Victoria, and following those international clinical trials tomorrow, we have safe and effective access to vaccine, the 12 to 15 year old Australians.

And to every parent, please support your children coming forward, and to everybody who hasn't been vaccinated yet, this is your chance to step forward, to protect yourself and to protect all Australians.

Take care. Thank you very much.

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