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Press Conference in Canberra about COVID-19 cases and vaccination rollout in Australia

Read the transcript of the press conference with Minister Hunt, Professor Michael Kidd in Canberra on 18 March with an update on COVID-19 cases and vaccination rollout in Australia.

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

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Hello everybody. I’m joined by Professor Michael Kidd, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, and we’re providing a brief update in relation to COVID-19 cases and vaccine rollout in Australia.

So, very briefly, I’m pleased to be able to report that there have been zero cases of community transmission in Australia in the last 24 hours. That makes 46 days over the course of 2021 without any cases.

Particularly important is the fact of two things. One, on the weekend, as we know, there were individual cases in each of Queensland and New South Wales. Since that time, there has been only one connected case. And so, that’s an incredibly important sign about the strength of containment. Equally important is something that didn't happen.

Two cases, two states, no border closures. Very interesting development for Australia and a very heartening development that not only are we containing in the cases, there’s increasing trust in the ability of other states to contain the cases. So two cases, two states, no border closures.

I think that’s a very significant moment for Australia, and that is, I believe, linked to the progressive rollout of the vaccines. We’re having increasing confidence in our containment but, where we’re at now is we’ve seen 22,500 vaccinations in the last 24 hours.

By the end of today, we’re expecting to have over 240,000 vaccinations – over 570 aged care clinics with first doses and over 50 aged care clinics with second doses and over 50,000 aged care residents who will have been vaccinated. So I think that’s very important.

In addition, we were pleased to see that Queensland was quickly able to adjust their advice after the TGA did their rapid review and provided their conclusions that the AstraZeneca vaccine was safe and that there were no adverse events that were out of line with that, which was ordinarily expected, and I think that was an important sign of confidence, both in terms of action by one jurisdiction, response by the Commonwealth, and then calm in that jurisdiction again.

As the rollout continues, firstly I want to thank our GPs. They are standing up. And to have Michael Kidd here, who has been not only the president of the RACGP, but has been a world leader as well as a practicing GP for many years himself.

It’s important to understand that we have more than three times the vaccine required for every Australian, so there’s more than enough vaccines for every Australian. And as we begin phase 1B, which involves 6 million people, next week, we’ll see approximately 250,000 vaccines available next week.

So it’s a marathon, not a sprint. But as we’ve seen, we’ve been heartened by the early response of the public. In terms of the eligibility checker, 381,000 people visited the eligibility checker yesterday at I’m informed that over 98 per cent were able to immediately connect, and the vast majority of others who attempted on subsequent occasions were then able to connect.

So an over 98 per cent immediate connection rate. Twenty-eight thousand registered for Phase 2, well beyond phase 1B already, which I think is great and they’ll all be provided with automated notice.

In terms of our general practices, today, we are releasing today the list of what are called GP respiratory clinics or Commonwealth vaccination clinics. There’s over 100 of those clinics, and they are larger clinics.

They will take patients in the order they arrive, and you don’t have to be a member of that practice. And they’ll have doses of up to 2000 with an average of just under a thousand per week per clinic. And they are available on the website.

Bookings commence tomorrow. So today is a pre-release. Bookings commence tomorrow. Please don’t try to do those bookings today. And that’s an important step forward. That adds very significantly to our capability.

In terms of the doses, I would say this, that our dose rollout to the general practice clinics, I’m advised that we started early yesterday. We were intending to start today. We actually started deliveries a day early. So by the end of today, 870 clinics will have received their vaccines on the current advice.

And then over the course of tomorrow, over 300 more clinics will receive their vaccines, and that’s a combination of the GP clinics and the Commonwealth vaccination clinics.

So we are ahead of schedule in that dose delivery. It wasn't intended to start today but we actually got ahead and started it early yesterday.

And finally, I do want to say that- a special thanks to our GPs. As we know, they’ve been with us the whole of the way. Michael was one of the co-designers of the telehealth system which has transformed, not just temporarily, but transformed the delivery of medicine and Medicare services in Australia on a permanent basis.

This is a marathon, not a sprint. But I’m very pleased that we’ve had high public interest, which has always been the case with every phase of the pandemic, that when something is announced, there’s very high public interest that then normalises. We’re already seeing that today.

Bookings have been occurring around the country. We’ve got numerous examples of bookings that are in place. And as these vaccines are arriving, the practices are feeling more and more comfortable.

So, we are expecting practices to have the vaccines, as was always the case, by the middle of the weekend, but it does look as if we are going to be ahead of schedule with that delivery, with the vast majority, if not all, receiving them today and tomorrow.

Over to you, Michael.


Thank you, Minister. The rollout of the vaccine through general practices right across Australia from next week is a very exciting development in our nation’s vaccination program.

And I would like to thank everyone involved in the nation's general practices who will be providing these vaccines as a service to members of their local communities.

So, thank you to my fellow GPs, to our nation's practice nurses, our receptionists and practice managers, our cleaners, everyone who’s involved in our general practices who’s going to be involved in the rollout of these vaccines.

As the Minister has said, the Australian Government has been working steadily and consistently throughout the pandemic with our nation's general practices.

I've been having discussions over the past couple of weeks with colleagues right around the country, discussing their plans for their rollout of the vaccine and their prioritisation, in many cases, of the most senior members of their practice populations, making sure that the most elderly people in Australia are receiving protection first.

We have, as the Minister has said, over 1000 general practices which will be rolling out the vaccines next week and in addition, those over 100 Commonwealth-funded GP-led respiratory clinics, clinics which were initially set up to do COVID-19 testing and are now pivoting to roll out the vaccines in communities right across the country.

My message to everyone is please do not panic. There is plenty of vaccine. Everyone who wishes to get vaccinated in Australia will be able to be vaccinated.

We’re only starting Phase 1B next week and this will be running for several weeks to come. And please, be polite and calm when you’re talking to the receptionists in your local general practice. These are wonderful, committed people who are supporting the vaccine effort, and of course, support us every day in making sure we can get the appointments we need, when we need them, with our chosen GPs. This is Australia's largest mass immunisation program. It brings with it many challenges, but we have a strong health system, and we have excellent healthcare professionals who are working together to deliver this vaccine for us all.

Thanks, Minister.


Minister Hunt, the New South Wales Premier says they’ve got 100 state-based vaccination clinics ready to go to do vaccines. In January, you said that state vaccination clinics would be used as part of the vaccination rollout when we got AstraZeneca. Why then aren’t these other state clinics coming online in the next week? Are they being used?


No. The states are receiving significant amounts of vaccine, and it’s entirely a matter for the state.

So when you think of it this way, we have, over the course of the next week, the states and territories will be receiving over 150,000 vaccines; the general practices, 200,000 vaccines. The Commonwealth clinics will have over 50,000 vaccines, and then there’s 100,000 that are reserved for frontline workers and for aged care.

And so there are 150,000 vaccines that are provided to the states, so they are free to set up as soon as they feel comfortable. The combination of the Pfizer hubs, for the Pfizer vaccines, and most have been doing that. In fact all have been doing that.

And then they are ready to do that, the AstraZeneca, we know for example, many states are vaccinating with AstraZeneca now. So there are no barriers and there are vaccines.


Minister Hunt, when do you expect the TGA to approve the local manufactured doses of AstraZeneca?


So I understand that’s on track. The TGA does operate as an independent body, so we’re expecting that over the course of the coming days. But the vaccines for next week are already being distributed.


Who is staffing the Commonwealth clinics where the vaccinations, is it being contracted out? And then also, is it possible to book, weeks, months in advance if people want to get an appointment?


So the staffing of the Commonwealth GP led respiratory clinics, so the people who’ve been staffing these clinics throughout the pandemic, and this is local general practitioners who’ve established the clinics, working with the practice nurses.

In some cases, they’ve employed additional nurses and doctors to work with them to support them.


As an example, we went to Carrum Downs to have our vaccinations, myself and Julia Gillard, and Brendan Murphy, and some of our wonderful health workers.

We have an existing general practice clinic and then we have established side-by-side with a testing clinic, and now, 106 of those are commencing this week and we are expecting that will grow to over 125 those, will also become Commonwealth vaccination clinics.

So they’re taking their existing staff, they’re supplemented if they need it. So it is general practice-led. They’re technically called general practice respiratory clinics, but to simplify it, Commonwealth vaccination clinics.

Then the period over which they book will be up to each clinic, but some clinics will choose to do longer periods, but there are no barriers from the Commonwealth perspective for clinics booking at any time over the next 12 weeks.


Minister Hunt, will the 100 Commonwealth clinics provide non-Medicare visa holders access to the COVID-19 vaccines?


Yes, they will come as a people who don't have a Medicare card are able to get their vaccines, either through the state and territory hubs, which have already been established all through one of the Commonwealth GP-led respiratory clinics.


Can I just asked about the situation in Queensland? There seems to be mixed messages about people with severe allergic reactions.

What is the official advice? Should they be holding off getting the vaccine or should they just be talking to their GPs first?


So on the official advice, I would go to Professor Michael Kidd. But in terms of the situation, Queensland had a small number of cases. I believe there were four cases where they had suspected or confirmed anaphylaxis.

On the basis of that, they put in a very temporary cautionary note, whilst the TGA made the assessment. The TGA was able to provide comfort.

I spoke along with Professor Murphy with the Queensland health Minister and her CEO, our Chief Medical Officer, and the TGA were also able to work with Queensland. The TGA advice was presented here yesterday.

Queensland changed their position back to the existing ATAGI advice, or the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation by the end of the day, that if you have anaphylaxis, please go but 30 minutes waiting time.


That's correct, so the ATAGI advice remains the same. The precaution is for those who have had anaphylaxis related to a past vaccine.

So if you’ve had anaphylaxis related to a first dose of the vaccine, obviously you need to discuss with a doctor before you get the second dose. That may need to be done in a hospital or other facility.


Every day, there are challenges, and we try to solve them in real time.

Yourself, and then Michelle.


Minister Hunt, just in regards to Queensland. Given they’d already been providing us advice, it was the existing ATAGI advice, did they panic yesterday- have they damaged vaccine confidence, and what is to be done to rebuild that vaccine confidence after we saw the position changed three times in the space of 12 hours?


So I would say there were being cautious. There’s no criticism from the Commonwealth. We are here to assist the states and territories if they have issues.

There is a vaccine operation centre which automatically assesses reports of what are called adverse events. Adverse events, so where there is a subsequent event and what they look for is whether or not there was any causation.

No causation outside of anaphylaxis, which does follow and has always been anticipated as an event associated with medicines, any other type of vaccines, and including this vaccine.

Anaphylaxis is an accepted condition. In particular though, we were able to provide the advice. And so we’ll work constructively with all the states and territories. Every day there are challenges and every day we try to solve them.


Given it was a known condition that could take place, should they have at least consulted with the TGA before making a public announcement and causing confusion about what to do?


Look, I’ll leave that to Queensland. We were able to solve it in once it was drawn to our attention within a very short number of hours and provide the comfort and confidence.

One of the things that we had been really strong on in Australia is providing confidence, I think John Skerritt was great yesterday when he told us about his own issues with rabbits.

Secondly, what he confirmed was that around the world, by definition there are events, and those events are not necessarily related to vaccines, or medicines or other things.

That a certain number of ordinary life events will inevitably occur, with or without vaccines. And his job, and the TGA's job, the medical authority’s job is to look at the link or causation.



The Prime Minister said yesterday that Australia was making urgent representations to get doses for the PNG out of Australia's stock.

Have you had any response from European authorities and from European manufacturers? And if not, are you going to push that process along, and how?


Thanks. So the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and myself have all written to our European counterparts, I have spoken last night with the global head of AstraZeneca about making sure that we proceed with a request for the European processes.

They have actually have to make a formal request. And our diplomats on the ground in Europe are working for the European Commission.

And so that process is under way, but the Prime Minister, myself, and the Foreign Minister have all written, requesting that given that this is a humanitarian disaster, potentially relating to COVID, in a developing nation, that deep humanity should see those vaccines released.

We are willing to forgo those million from Australia in order to assign them to PNG. We're not expecting an answer immediately. We know that Europe has to go through its processes.


What sort of response did you get from AstraZeneca?


AstraZeneca is contracted to Australia.


Were they sympathetic or?


They’ve been doing their best to provide vaccines to Australia, and we’ve received 700,000 vaccines to Australia.

I’ll let them speak for themselves, but they’ve been very sympathetic about the fact that this is one way to assist not only fulfil their Australian contract, but also to provide humanitarian relief which they believe in.


Turning attentions, surprisingly, to WA, two people have honestly suffered severe allergic reactions in WA as well. Contrasting it to Queensland though, it wasn’t just from one batch of AstraZeneca, it was from a Pfizer jab and an AstraZeneca jab.

Is that more concerning, is there a concern about the impact that will have the perception of both of those vaccines? What’s your response to the situation in WA more generally?


Look, Western Australia is doing a great job around the country, as of yesterday, and I haven’t had the updated figures today, I apologise. There have been 19 cases of anaphylaxis, they could be mild or they could be more severe.

That’s consistent with global projections across all of the different vaccines.



That's right. We expect to get a small number of these reactions occurring, these allergic reactions.

It’s part of what we know about the vaccines and it's why it is so important that when people have received their vaccine that they stay and get observed for 15 minutes after the vaccine, so that we can make sure they are not going to have one of these reactions.

The vast majority of people, if they will get a reaction, it occurs in that 15-minute period.


So I’ll be very quick.


Minister, the New South Wales Premier said under the current program, her state won’t meet the October target. She mentioned concerns about communications with GPs as well as supply.


I haven’t seen the comments. I won’t respond to them directly. The Prime Minister and Professor Murphy set out our plans to ensure every Australian receives the dose before October and we remain on track to do that. Tamsyn?


Minister, how real is the threat of Europe blocking vaccines coming into Australia for Australia, but then also vaccines into other parts of the world?


Well, certainly they’ve reaffirmed that view about vaccines remaining in Europe, and that is a deep concern for us.

We haven’t factored any of the remaining 3.1 million AstraZeneca vaccines into Australia's rollout, we’ve taken the most cautious approach.

We obviously believe that contracted vaccines should be supplied to the world, not just Australia, but right now our focus is ensuring support for our friends and neighbours in PNG.


My question was on Gladys Berejiklian as well. I won’t ask you to respond to the comments directly, but the Premier of the biggest state in the country has continuously voiced some concerns around, you know, the numbers, the supply, communication, that sort of thing.

What is yourself, the Prime Minister, the Government more broadly doing to try and, I guess, bridge that gap with the premiers who might be voicing some concerns?


Well, we meet with them regularly. I’m due to meet with the Health Ministers in the next 24 hours. We speak with them through the department, we speak with them directly on an almost daily basis. All of the health ministers are meeting weekly at the moment.

But I will point out, as I say, in the coming week, over 150,000 vaccines to the states, 200,000 to the GPs. But of course, those GPs are all within state borders.

And all the Commonwealth vaccinations, the more than 50,000 for the GP respiratory clinics, all within state borders.

And then finally, of course, the 100,000 for a mixture of aged care and the frontline emergency workers, all within state borders.


Thanks Minister. It was a year ago this week that we began putting in restrictions on crowd gatherings, we were two days away from shutting international border and beginning lockdown.

Here we are now, we’ve got a vaccine where we didn’t think it would be possible, by some people in the scientific community. We’ve avoided a number of deaths that other countries have seen.

What do you sort of put down that Australian performance to? Did you think that we would be where we are today, with things like phenomenal job numbers and things like that today, where we were 12 months ago?


I think Australia has outperformed even our best expectations. Australia and Australians have been magnificent. And I think we should share the gratitude and the thanks for that.

Whether it’s state and territory, whether it’s the Commonwealth decisions on sovereign vaccine manufacturing capabilities or border closures, or the containment and capacity strategy.

Our GPs are our heroes. And I want to reemphasise that today. Our nurses are our heroes. Our pathologists, and then the Australian public, all of those people have shown, I think, we are a better country than perhaps we have always given ourselves credit.

I think Australians are stronger and better than they are credited.

Now there was one right up the back who’s been very patient.


Yes, so just on Gladys Berejiklian, given that this is a state leader who is very concerned about the rollout, what is your reaction that she has come out with this goal but is clearly concerned that the Federal and state governments are not working together on this?


Look, we are due to meet with health ministers in the next 24 hours and I would say that 150,000 vaccines to the states.

New South Wales is doing a great job; we have seen a record number of vaccinations in the last 24 hours.

And it is difficult, because we have high levels of demand, we have been able to secure international supplies, against the trend that was raised about the European Union. We’ve been able to secure those international supplies.

But now we have sovereign vaccine manufacturing capability, and the key message at the end of the day is be patient, there are enough vaccines for every Australian three times over. And as they come on board, and is that supply is provided, then we are able to provide that response.

Now, the pandemic has been a great challenge. And at different times, there have been stresses and other things, but what ultimately we have seen is patience, resilience, and commitment from all Australians, and we have a little bit more of that to do, but honestly, you would rather be in Australia than anywhere else in the world.

Thank you very much.

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