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Press conference in Brisbane with an update on COVID-19 and the vaccination rollout

Read the transcript of the press conference with Minister Hunt in Brisbane with an update on COVID-19 and the vaccination rollout on 19 May 2021.

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

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Hello. Wonderful to be here at Ronald McDonald House. And I’m joined by the CEO, John. And I’m also here with the Federal Minister Greg Hunt, and what an outstanding day it is today.

$2.57 million in Federal funding for the new floor, floor eight, here at Ronald McDonald House. It’s a game changer and there’s 73 families here tonight. It’s outstanding. And a lot of them have come from north Queensland.

So John, without any further ado, thank you very much for the wonderful job that you are doing here today. Congratulations.


Appreciate it. And thank you to the Minister as well, and we’ll get the Minister a chance to talk. I just wanted a little bit of your time, I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners on the land which we are in. But most importantly, it is a real thank you to the Federal Government and the Minister.

That $2.57 million enabled us to respond to the demand that families were identifying. And also the floor is really special. It is an Australian first.

We’ve got special needs room for sensory needs children, we’ve got a day stay area. They are really responding to the needs of the families, and we can’t say thank you enough to the Federal Government for covering the entire cost of this.

This is now the fifth largest house in the world, with 377. And it is a global charity. And I have to say, there are two things: COVID did affect us last year, but gee, we are in a great place because the hospitals are busy. And as we’ve said, 73 families staying with us here tonight.

A little aside, I was just chatting with the Minister. I would like to acknowledge too, we lost 7 per cent of our fundraising last year because of COVID. And if it was not for JobKeeper, we actually would’ve lost staff and would’ve had to close our doors for significant periods.

We’ve bounced back. We’re treating more children and looking after more families than ever. And it’s a real credit to the Government in supporting the charities and other businesses like us included.

So thank you again, Minister. The Federal Government is supporting us. It is a game changer. And I’d really like to thank the Minister to take the time now to chat to some of the families who are now enjoying and- well let’s not say they’re enjoying their wait.

And most of our families on level eight are long stay families, immunosuppressed. Many of these families do stay with us for eight to 10 months without going home. So thank you for that, and I really do appreciate the support of the Government.



Look, thanks very much to John, to you, to Barbara, to your more than 40 staff and more than 100 volunteers that run the Ronald McDonald House. To Ross Vasta, the Member for Bonner, he’s been on his own health journey and was able to talk with beautiful little Ava about hope and recovery, and pathways.

And John, that’s what Ronald McDonald House is about. It is about hope, and recovery, and pathways for people to go through the journey and to come out the other side.

And it can be harder for families but this house is, as you say, part of a global movement. And it takes care of families and it’s our absolute privilege to be able to support Ronald McDonald House and see level eight open with eight long-stay places.

Yes, we provided $2.5 million, but that’s been our privilege to support the work of the volunteers, work of the staff, the needs of the families, the workers, the incredible Queensland Children’s Hospital and we’ve made it together.

So that’s just wonderful to be able to see and to talk with Ava, Andy, Dominica. They’re doing it tough, but they’ve been supported as well as anybody could be supported with medical care, but also the human support themselves and their families.

And we hope that every one of these stories turns out to be a positive story. And it’s worth reflecting on that journey and that challenge. But it’s just great to see, I think, the best of humanity, the best of Australia here in Queensland today.

More broadly there's some very positive news in Australia. Another day of zero cases of community transmission. That's 89 days this year.

Almost no other country in the world is in that position, and we see countries that have done so well and jurisdictions that have done so well. Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, all battling new outbreaks. Taiwan, which has been one of the standout jurisdictions, having to deal with its own challenges.

So we are, by a global comparison, by any analysis, in one of the most fortunate positions in the world because, John, of our health professionals and because of the way the Australian public has worked together.

Against that background, we know that globally over 587,000 cases in the last 24 hours, and incredibly and agonisingly 13,900 lives lost. And they're the official figures. Inevitably, the real global figures are higher. So, we remain an island in the midst of a global pandemic storm.

Against that, I am just very pleased to be able to say 58,000 tests in the last 24 hours. And very significantly, for the first time, we’ve passed 90,000 vaccines in a day. In fact, 95,530 vaccinations, a record by 10,000 vaccines in a day. So that ramp-up is really taking form. Our general practices and the Commonwealth have delivered over 60,000 of the vaccines and our states have delivered 35,000 vaccinations, and all up, we're now at 3.278 million vaccinations in the Australian rollout and those numbers are increasing by record amounts.

I think that's very important and heartening, and it reminds us that I think we arguably have the best health system in the world and the best support system, but we're also having some of the best results in terms of COVID.

We have to be on our watch and that's why vaccination is so important. But to see record numbers of people coming forward to be vaccinated, I think that's a great Australian story.

Now I'll start with those who are on the phone and then come to those in the room.



Thank you, Minister. I wanted to about the domestic vaccine passport. Could you explain how that might work in practice? Do you believe we'd have to have a national system and could it be rolled out using the Australian Immunisation Register?

Just secondly on vaccine hesitancy, would over-50s concerned about the AstraZeneca jab be able to get access to Pfizer or Moderna vaccines later in the year to try and allay some of their concerns?


Sure. Look, in terms of movement and travel, the point which the Prime Minister and myself have been making is the more people that are vaccinated, the less risk there is of domestic lockdowns.

The more people that are vaccinated, if there were a breakout and a border lockdown, then it's very possible that states and territories working through the National Cabinet might waive that lockdown for them, that they may be able to pass across state borders. So that's the point.

We have free movement. Right now, we have free movement right around Australia, but we know we're always at risk, as we're seeing from Singapore and Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan that there can be a breakout.

We're doing better than virtually anybody, but in that situation, A, the likelihood of a lockdown is reduced and we've seen those changed patterns this year. And, B, the capacity for somebody to travel across borders, if there were a lockdown or a lockout, is also increased, and that's something that we're supporting and encouraging and we'll work through that constructively with all of the states.

So, our basic position is free movement of all peoples, but where there have to be public health orders, if you have been vaccinated, then the capacity to move without restriction is improved and enhanced. On the mechanisms, we would look at that with the states and territories.

Then in terms of hesitancy, we've just had a record number of vaccinations today. So I think that's a really important thing. During the course of the year, we have said repeatedly that as there are larger numbers, over 20 million doses of Pfizer and now the Moderna supplies that could be available in the last quarter, then there is more than enough to vaccinate every Australian.

But right now – and I was just speaking with Professor Brendan Murphy before coming to this – right now, we want to encourage everybody over 50 to be vaccinated as early as possible.

But we've been very clear that as supply increases later on in the year, there will be enough vaccine of mRNA vaccines for every Australian.



Thanks, Minister. Just based on this week's data, looking at the utilisation of doses allocated, on average Australian jurisdictions are giving out about 75 per cent of what they have.

Is the Government aware of whether that shortfall is more due to logistical issues of not having the capacity in delivery to get those jabs into arms, or is it more of a hesitancy issue?

And are you concerned, what would you consider an acceptable utilisation rate? Would you like to see that lifted given it's about one in four available jabs in Australia are not currently in people's arms, even though they're there to be used.


Well, look, I think it's important to acknowledge two things. Firstly, I think all of the states and territories, all of the states and territories, are doing an excellent job. So all up we've had 2.1 million Commonwealth vaccinations and over 1.1 million state vaccinations. Everybody is pitching in. It's all hands on deck, to quote Commodore Young.

The second thing, though, is utilisation simply represents the ramp up. What we see is that as we prepare to build supply and build demand, we make sure that doses are pre-positioned and then the states are able to draw on them and the territories are able to draw on them as that demand is met.

And so what we're seeing is demand growing. And we would much rather make sure that the vaccines are put in place, the states are able to draw on them, and where the states need more they can order more. Where they wanted to redistribute to general practice, for which we've been very thankful, we've been able to do that, and as a result we've been able to triple the doses for the small general practices and double the doses for the medium-volume general practices.

So what does utilisation represent? It means simply the different between what's been supplied and what's been used in any one week. But that supply is often deliberately running ahead of the expected demand so as they have that, they have the flexibility to increase and to continue to ramp up.



Yeah thank you, Minister. I wanted to ask about vaccine hesitancy also. What more could the Government be doing to address this? For example, specific advertising beyond what you're already doing maybe around the AstraZeneca vaccine especially?

And considering there is some segment of the population that is hesitant to get a jab, obviously mindful that you've said we've just had a record day, would you consider up to opening up vaccine eligibility even wider if people currently eligible decide not to take up a jab they are eligible to get right now?


Sure, so just in terms of confidence, the biggest source of confidence is Australians seeing other Australians have the vaccine, and today we have record numbers of Australians, over 95,000 who, in a 24-hour period, have been vaccinated.

That’s the single biggest source of confidence that any Australian can have looking at their friends and their family, their mum and their dad, their grandma and their grandpa being vaccinated. The fact that we're seeing that take up I think is extremely important.

The second thing is we do have a role in terms of our own support, the advice of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation following the medical advice. Why is it that Australia has zero cases? We've followed the medical advice.

What's the medical advice of some of the finest medical leaders in the world? That we should be vaccinated, that it's safe, that it's effective and that it protects each of us but it also helps protect every one of us.

Advertising plays a role and we're always reviewing that to respond to the needs but also there is appropriate advertising for different cultural and linguistic groups. I was with the Greek community yesterday. They've said, we want to be part of this. And the Greek community leaders were committed to encouraging their community, as are others. So we work through multiple different channels.

And then the medical community, the media, we all have a role, to keep that picture that this is part of a you know, a once in a century national task. And to be able to do that, it's a rare privilege for all of us in media, in government, in medicine, in community, where each of us can roll up our sleeve and each of us can encourage others to roll up their sleeves.

And Krishani


Thanks, Minister. What is the Government specifically doing with migrant and linguistically diverse communities, particularly for those over 50 who may be hesitant to get the vaccine, what is the Government doing to reach them?


So we have a series of different programmes. We have work which is being done with SBS in over 30 languages. We have fact sheets in over 60 languages. We have, the next wave of advertising will specifically focus on different communities, and then we have exactly what you're talking about, the community outreach program.

One example yesterday was the Greek community. So using multiple channels, broad scale. The more directly focused for particular linguistic groups and then building community confidence.

So these community leaders have enormous trust in their communities and they are stepping up and we're working directly with them through the different ministries.

That's one thing that Jason Wood has been focused on. And so all of these things together, whether it's Government or Opposition, whether it's Federal or State, whether it's community leaders, whether it's media, we all have that capacity to play a positive role

So I’ll pass to those in the room.


Thanks Minister. Just back to that poll by Nine, obviously Aussies are saying they’re unlikely to get vaccinated, has the Australian Government set aside funds for a major vaccine awareness programme, and is this going to be enough?


So, we’re always able to review and extend. What we’ve done is work in states, so we’ve had a major vaccine programme. It started two weeks ago on the next wave on vaccination advertising as we move to commencement only this week of the broad scale overview programme from 17 May. And if more is needed, more will be delivered.

So we review it constantly as we go through this. And I think I’ve just blocked them off, so if Ross you could figure that out. But so we review it constantly, but if we get new information, we adapt to that new information. And that’s been the rule since day one of the pandemic.

1 February last year, we responded to new information and made the difficult decision to close the borders. And every day, we’re looking at trends, patterns, needs and that includes information.


[Indistinct question]


So, there will be a series of waves, already we have Commonwealth GP respiratory clinics which are going to be progressively transitioning to Pfizer. So, over a 130 of those clinics around the country.

State clinics, and they’re doing a mixture of larger and smaller. So some will be called mass, such as some of the New South Wales and Victorian ones. Some are much smaller in the scope, or tailored to individual areas. And then progressively, there will be general practices and pharmacies as well.

So, literally, to give you the honest explanation of what is a day in the life of the Health Minister at the moment – we’re doing things such as this, and doing work with Kids Helpline today. But also, just spent an hour with the Prime Minister and Brendan Murphy and the teams from different departments focusing on that rollout for the rest of the year. Which includes the capacity for GPs and for pharmacies to play a greater role in the Pfizer part of the rollout.

So we want to make sure that it’s spread around the country at points of presence. Why is there this mass take up now of vaccination? Because people want to be vaccinated. But also because they have access.

There is a very important development, and that important development is, we’ve seen originally, the very challenging Pfizer distribution requirement with regards to cold temperatures. Now we’re an interim phase, and we’re then examining the capacity to store Pfizer at refrigerator levels has been approved by the European jurisdiction for the Australian context.

And that will open up General Practice and pharmacy options with Pfizer. So that’s a very important development. TGA will assess it, but they work very closely with their European and North American counterparts.

Alright, one more.


Thank you. I just wanted to ask you about the Toowoomba, Wellcamp quarantine report. You mentioned on Monday that a critical thing is to have full details and plan, particularly around federal government oversight.

We’ve had the Premier talk about it again today. Have we seen the Government ever provide information to you or your Department on oversight?


So the materials has been provided, Commonwealth is seeking more. But the fundamental thing here is, the Victorian model and why we’re looking at very closely, is Victorians have asked for significant Commonwealth contribution on the capital side, but with Victoria overseeing and running the programme.

Northern Territory is in fact in the process of seeing the AUSMAT lead clinical governance transfer to the NT for the Howard Springs programme.

So the critical thing here is that Australian model of looking at whether or not there’s Commonwealth contributions, and the PM has said that we’re open to do that in the Victorian case if the proposal stacks up. But where they are leading the actual operation, and at this stage we’re not seeing a sign that is the case.

We’re very happy to work for people in good faith. But there are a series of things that are required.

One, it has to have access to hospital and staff treatment at the highest level. So the staff have to be available and easily accessible.

We don’t want to be bussing people over staff or positive patients in and out long distances, having people flying in and out long distances. And you also have to make sure that there is adequate clinical governance and state operational control. So, that’s the summary.

I’ll leave it at that, and just say thank you very much.

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