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Minister Hunt's Press Conference in Melbourne on 30 September 2021 with an update on the vaccinations in Indigenous communities, opening of borders and anti-vaccine content on social media

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's Press Conference Melbourne on 30 September 2021 with an update on vaccinations in Indigenous communities, opening of borders and anti-vaccine content on social media.

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

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The opportunity is there for mRNA vaccines. Pfizer from your GPs, Moderna from your pharmacy. And that will mean that for those remaining, they are in a position to access, whether it’s AstraZeneca, whether it’s Pfizer, whether it’s Moderna.

And we’ve worked this through with Victoria, an agreement which I've reached collaboratively with Minister Foley. We've worked it through with the RACGP, the College of General Practitioners, and with the Pharmacy Guild. So I think this is a really important step forward.

It means that if you're 12 and over, doesn't matter what age you are, you can access an mRNA vaccine in Australia. And that just gives more options for more Australians. But for older Australians, there should be no barrier to any older Australian stepping forward to receive a vaccination.

In particular, I also want to acknowledge that here in Victoria, we'll be providing an additional 88,900 Moderna vaccines to the Victorian Government to assist them with their state-based rollout. And the agreement that we've struck with Victoria is we'd be supporting them with these additional vaccines, and they will focus on the under-60s.

And the GP and pharmacy networks will be available for people of all ages, but with a particular capacity for the 60 plus to come forward if they were not of the group that have had their first vaccinations.

The other thing that's occurred is that Victoria has decreased the interval for second doses and we welcome that. It's something that we supported and encouraged, and suppliers obviously meant that that that's available.

More broadly with the rollout in Australia, we have had 308,000 vaccinations in the last 24 hours, and that now takes it to 27,750,000 vaccinations. So 27 and three-quarter million vaccinations, and this is continuing at almost 2 million doses a week on a rolling seven-day basis.

That means Australians are coming forward in extraordinary numbers, even after 27 and three-quarter million vaccinations.

Now, we're at 77.9 per cent of Australians 16 plus who have received first doses, and that's over 16 million Australians have now received first doses.

Significantly, it's less than 450,000 people to achieve the 80 per cent mark, and that's a fundamental milestone for Australians. So if you haven't been vaccinated, please keep coming forward.

11.17 million Australians have now had second doses, or 54.2 per cent. These numbers are growing and providing additional protection every single day.

I would say that importantly, we're already at 94.6 per cent for the over-70s, and we're already at 35.4 per cent for the 12 to 15 year olds. Over a third of 12- to 15- year olds have now had the vaccine in just over two weeks, and that shows intention and access and just a great spirit to protect themselves and to protect their friends and families from our young Australians.

As we go forwards, there are two other things that I particularly want to mention. We know that at the start of the pandemic with the lockdowns which were unprecedented, it was a great fear that we might say a terrible wave of suicide.

We've avoided that wave through our actions as a nation, collectively and individually. Although, any case of suicide is an individual and a community and a national tragedy. What we have seen is a more than five per cent drop in the rate of suicide in 2020 through the height of the pandemic.

This has defied all of the expectations and the predictions, and it's a combination of investment in things such as telehealth, Beyondblue, Headspace, Lifeline, all of the different services, the creation of Head to Health around Australia, and the pop up clinics and support that's been put in place.

But it's the way Australians have cared for each other. So 179 lives were saved last year compared with the previous year through the height of the pandemic, and that's an immensely important national achievement.

But we still have a long way to go. Still, over 3000 Australians took their lives, and that's 3000 too many. Our only goal is towards zero with suicide prevention.

But the fact that we have not only avoided a massive wave of people taking their own lives, but reduced the national level of suicide by 5.4 per cent, is something for which I want to thank all of our health, and in particular mental health professionals, and frankly, everybody who's taken care of somebody else. That's your doing. You've saved a lot of lives.

And then finally, in terms of saving lives, improving lives, I'm delighted that as of tomorrow, 1 October, the same day on which the over 60s can access the Moderna and Pfizer through general practises and pharmacies around Australia, new medicines are coming onto the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

I particularly want to highlight one. That's Kesimpta for the very debilitating MS or multiple sclerosis. This new medicine will help with mobility, it will help with symptoms, it will help with giving people a better quality of life. It’s going to help 500 Australians and they’ll save $28,000 a year. And a new medicine for MS on the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme from tomorrow.

Better options for treatment, better quality of life and saving $28,000 for over 500 Australians.

So with that, I’ll take questions. If I may I’ll start with Rachel.


Thanks Minister. The Senate COVID Committee has just been hearing about the vaccine certificate and it sounds like the Federal Government has done all the work needed to be able to integrate those certificates into state-based check-in apps.

Would you like to see states and territories start integrating vaccination certificates into those check-in apps? Do you expect all states to do that?


We’re making excellent progress in partnership with the states on ensuring that vaccine certificates are simple, easy to access and easy to use.

Our job is to ensure that they’re available, whether it’s in hard copy or on your phone. And they are working to ensure that they’re integrated into the state-based system. So people can just go about their daily business.

I would say we’ve had excellent cooperation from all of the states and territories. Minister Robert is leading that program but frankly, he’s getting very good responses and has worked very hard to get those responses in working with every jurisdiction around the country.



Thanks, Minister. I'm just wondering if Pfizer has now confirmed its supply for the final week of October?

And can you also talk us through a decision to give additional Moderna supplies to state clinics in Victoria? Does it follow a request from the state government made a few weeks ago?


So firstly, we'll be providing 88,900 Moderna to the Victorian Government. We’re always working with different states and territories on opportunities to assist them.

This is a programme which has been ongoing through the course of the vaccination rollout. Wherever in one place, there's any additional capacity, we look to make sure that that's not wasted, but that that is reallocated at the earliest possible time.

And so COVID Shield under General Frewen does that on an ongoing basis each and every week. So it's something we do with every state and territory.

Then in terms of the five weeks, the period out to the end of October was published last week, it's never been in doubt. And it's certain and I've reaffirmed that in my dealings with the Victorian minister earlier on in the week.

And so I'm delighted that Victoria has seen fit to reduce the second dose waiting time from six weeks to three weeks. That's in line with the TGA and ATAGI advice. And so I think this is a very positive step. So we'll keep working with everybody.

And just at 6:30 this morning, Martin Foley and I were working on the plan to ensure that GP's and pharmacies could support state clinics in Victoria and around Australia by opening up to over 60s.



Thanks for taking our questions, Minister. The retail sector, including supermarkets, have been speaking out in the last day or so about post reopening, how things are going to work once we're increasingly fully vaccinated.

Are you interested in seeing nationally consistent standards for things like contact tracing, isolation, close contact so businesses can stay open when there's a positive infection? New South Wales seems to be going ahead. Do you think other states will ever really work together?


The national plan provides a roadmap to nationally consistent standards.

It is a national plan. It focuses on the 70 per cent double dose rate and focuses on the 80 per cent double dose rate. I think it's now clear that we're going to achieve well past the 80 per cent double dose rate.

New South Wales, ACT and now Victoria have all crossed the 80 per cent figure, and they all seem to be heading well above 80 per cent. And indeed, the ACT and New South Wales are within reach of 90 per cent, so that provides extra protection.

But it also means that there's a strong basis for nationally consistent standards and that's what the national plan is about. And so I would strongly support that approach.

But I'm also confident that that's the direction we're heading. People may have to get there at slightly different paces, depending upon their own state or territory circumstances.

But even though there are difficult figures in Victoria today, as a country, the vaccination trends are so positive that that gives us real cause for hope. Real cause for hope.



Thanks Minister. Just in terms of vaccination rates which you just mentioned, the vaccination rates for the general population are going up really, really well. But in the indigenous community, the discrepancy or the gap is pretty wide between them and the wider population.

In terms of the national plan, when we all kind of start opening up at 80 per cent isn't there then a really big risk to these Aboriginal communities and what is going to be done from a health perspective?


Sure. So our focus on indigenous vaccination is an absolute priority. At the moment, first dose rates of 46.8 per cent, and as Pat Turner, the head of the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations set out to the health ministers recently, it's a question of confidence and hesitation as opposed to one of access.

So, we're working very closely with all of the states and territories and with Indigenous community leaders. Only yesterday, Ken Wyatt, the Indigenous Affairs Minister, and myself met with Indigenous leaders. That's something we're doing on an ongoing basis.

We recently had Dawn Casey and Pat Turner, two of the great Indigenous health leaders in Australia, meet with all of the state and territories and the Commonwealth together to focus on really getting inside communities because you can get quite binary results.

Some communities where there is strong support will see very high rates. Other communities can have very low rates even though the vaccine is available.

So our task here is to work collectively on dealing with some of the myths and some of those that are peddling anti-vax messages to Indigenous communities and then to just continue to work with our great Indigenous health leadership in Australia. It's an absolute passion and focus.

If I may, Paul.


Thanks, Minister. Just following from Madura, could we please get an update on what the ADF vaccination surge into 30 Indigenous communities has achieved? Because Linda Burney was out this morning, questioning whether that had even started rolling out.

And secondly, how big an impact do you expect choice of vaccines to have for older Australians who haven't yet been vaccinated?


Sure. Look, for older Australians, we think there are over 300,000 that may have been waiting. That's a figure which is indicative. Obviously, we'll see in the coming weeks how many of those take it up.

Our view has always been that we have an outstanding world-class vaccine in AstraZeneca, which has been made available in over 170 countries and has been the backbone of the UK program. It is what has allowed us to get to over 94.6 per cent of over-70s who are vaccinated in Australia and has saved, not just hundreds, but I suspect many more lives than that.

Having said that, this is the opportunity for every person over 60 to come forward, no matter what previous hesitation they may have had.

Have confidence in these vaccines. These vaccines, whether it's AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, any one of them, can save your life and it can save and protect the lives of those around you as well.

So, please don't wait. Please don't hesitate. Please come forward. That's the message to our over-60s, but it's the message to every Australian. It's the same with Indigenous Australians.

So the ADF, in particular, has been focusing on work in western New South Wales, and that has seen Indigenous rates climb at a very fast pace. Now they focus on the 30 communities which were recently outlined, working in conjunction with state and territory-based communities.

One thing that was raised only yesterday by Dawn Casey, who works with Pat Turner – Dawn as chair and Pat as CEO of NACCHO or the head and lead group for our Aboriginal medical services.

What Dawn was saying is there's such an important role for Indigenous leadership on the ground, working in conjunction with the Royal Flying Doctor Service, working in conjunction with state-based services, the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services, and the ADF.

So each community has a community-led plan.



Thanks Minister. Although the reopening of state borders was not explicitly mentioned in the national plan, we've now seen states start to put hard numbers on when they plan to reopen, like Tasmania saying that they won't be opening to the country- the majority of the country until they're 90 per cent vaccination, saying that when they apply the Doherty modelling of 70 and 80 per cent to their state, it's too high of a risk.

Does that mean that there is now no national consensus on the acceptable level of risk to the community by reopening at 80 per cent.?

And will there be any consequences for states or territories that decide to remain closed beyond reaching that 80 per cent vaccination target?


Sure. Look, all of the states and territories committed to the national plan, and as the Prime Minister has said, that was a partnership not with the Commonwealth, but with the Australian people.

What we are seeing is the fact that states and territories, in many cases, will far exceed the national plan. And that capacity to get to 90 per cent does exist in, I think, many of the jurisdictions.

And so we're about to see Tasmania join New South Wales, the ACT and Victoria at having achieved the 80 per cent rate. But I hope all of those and the others will reach the 80 per cent and continue to go beyond it.

In terms of the thresholds set out within the national plan, they're public, and we'd urge everybody to continue to fulfil the partnership with the Australian people. That's part and parcel of the national plan.

I'll let individual states and territories comment on their particular measures, but that's the focus. And again, the Prime Minister is meeting with the premiers tomorrow and I'm catching up with the health ministers this evening.

And if I may, Chloe.


Thank you, Minister. We've heard from YouTube that it is blocking all anti-vaccine content, not just surrounding COVID jabs, but all vaccines.

Is this something you'd like to see others [inaudible] such as Facebook and Twitter? Do you have any information surrounding how many anti-vaxxers or vaccine hesitancy people make up the cases in the [inaudible]?


So I would say good on you, YouTube. Good on you, YouTube.

For the simple reason that when we talked about Indigenous Australia, we know that the biggest issue is different forms of hesitancy that can be very specific to particular communities. And other media organisations that are watching on, I think YouTube has provided a very important signal, as to how we can deal with anti-vaxxers.

We'll continue to fight it. Our indigenous community leaders are continuing to fight anti-vax messages, but this is something we're all Australians can do that. The figures in terms of vaccinated and unvaccinated in hospital are very, very clear and published, and what they show is that there is an overwhelming number of people who have COVID cases who are unvaccinated.

As to their particular views, I'll leave that to the states to set out if they have figures on that. But more generally, it's quite clear. Vaccination saves your life, can protect your life, can protect the lives of others and helps us get our way of life back.

And I think that's the positive point that I want to finish on, if I may, that as now we have less than 450,000 Australians, less than 450,000 Australians, to reach the 80 per cent mark as our second dose rate continues to soar.

As a nation, we're offering additional protection. And with the news that our over-60s can visit any GP or any pharmacy that has the Pfizer or Moderna to get their vaccination, the opportunity is there.

Please come forward. Please be vaccinated. Please protect yourself, your friends and your family.

Take care everybody. Thank you.

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