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Press Conference in Canberra about Maeve’s Law, COVID-19 vaccine rollout, and assistance to Papua New Guinea

Read the transcript of the press conference with Minister Hunt, Professor Michael Kidd in Canberra on 18 March about Maeve’s Law, COVID-19 vaccine rollout, and assistance to Papua New Guinea.

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

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Good morning everybody and I’m delighted to be joined this morning by the Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Australia Professor Michael Kidd.

We’ll very shortly give you an update on the very heartening news from the TGA that not only have they approved the Australian manufacturing processes and production for the CSL program but that the first batches were approved last night and the trucks are rolling, the trucks are rolling around Australia which is great news in terms of the rollout.

Before that though, I do want to mention something I think that’s of really profound significance of the Parliament coming together.

At 9:30 AM, and that explains the timing this morning, I will go to the Parliament to introduce the Mitochondrial Donation Law Reform or Maeve's law, bill for 2021.

Maeve's law is inspired by a beautiful young five-year-old girl. Maeve Hood, she is from my electorate, but she represents so many beautiful children around the country.

Mitochondrial disease can affect many, many families, and every week there is a child born who will have a severe, potentially terminal form of mitochondrial disease.

Maeve is a young girl who was not expected to make her five years and as her parents said to me this morning, every day is a blessing.

But this law is landmark legislation, it’s been brought in with the support of the ALP, and I particularly want to thank Chris Bowen who worked very hard on this jointly and quietly behind the scenes with me and Kylie Wright in my office and the Mitochondrial Foundation led by Catherine McGovern and so many parents.

But what this law does is it will open the way for mitochondrial donation firstly through clinical trials and then subject to those being successful, through general clinical practice, to be made available in Australia.

It’s based, in large measure, on the UK legislation which has already been passed and put into practice and it means that the mitochondria can be provided by a donor, and what does that mean? It means that young children who would otherwise be born with an inherited genetic condition and have either a terminal or an utterly debilitating condition, might be able to live a rich, full life, and that’s the gift of life.

We know they will be people with different views - ethical views, religious views, any sort of values framework. And so, what we're doing is offering a rare, free vote.

The Prime Minister, the cabinet, the party room, have all been in support of this, and we have had very constructive discussions with the Opposition, and Chris Bowen’s passion has been passed on to Mark Butler.

And so, this Parliament does not see many free votes. But Maeve’s law, named after this beautiful young girl, offers hope for every family that might face mitochondrial disease.

It’s transformative and a free vote, I think, is when you see, in many cases, the very best of the Parliament. I’ve had the privilege of participating in some during my time. But it allows everybody to vote according to their conscience and with the freedom to do so, knowing that their views are sought and welcomed.

And these are important moments in the life of the Parliament and they’re important moments in the life of the nation.

Now, in terms of the rollout, we’ve had very good news overnight and Michael will address this in more detail. But the TGA has approved the first batches of the Australian made, CSL produced AstraZeneca vaccine.

We have over 830,000 doses as part of approximately 3.3 million doses over the next three and a half weeks. Now, contingency will be held and so, approximately 500,000 a week or a little bit over that will go out each week.

But this provides the security of supply for the Australian general population rollout which is fundamental. We’ve seen global supply challenges, you’re all aware of them. And that’s both in production and obviously, the EU and the European Commission have put in place some very challenging hurdles. But we are in a strong position because of this Australian production.

And just in terms of an update, yesterday was a record day with regards to the Commonwealth aged care vaccinations. So, what we’ve seen in the last 24 hours is over 4600 aged care vaccinations. We have had 45 first dose facilities, 20 second dose facilities, 679 facilities that have been vaccinated for first doses and 130 that have been vaccinated for second doses. The state and territory figures will come through during the course of the day.

And I should say this, we haven’t previously released the fact that now that we’ve done the numbers, there were 116,000 doses over the last week. We’d aimed during the phase 1A to have 80,000 doses a week. So, that 80,000 has been beaten, and 116,000.

And now, we will have for distribution and contingency over the course of the next three and a half weeks, 3.3 million doses and that will lead to a distribution of exactly as we had planned, over 500,000 doses a week.

So, they’re very important. We’ve also received another shipment of Pfizer. That arrived yesterday; 159,000 doses. They will be distributed via aged care and via the states. And so, the program is accelerating at a significant rate.

The other question that I think some of you had asked was about the distribution given the floods. We had hoped that we would have by Monday evening, the number of practices that were flood affected down to 50. The trucks rolled through the rain, they rolled through the challenges and they actually got it down to 38. And so, that’s a real tribute to our distribution.

There are some practices that are still flood affected and in towns where they just simply wouldn’t be able to practice. But, we’ll make sure that they have the doses and if they need a double dose in the second week, once they’re able to practice, that will be arranged.

So, our GPs are doing a great job. Around Australia, thousands of people are being vaccinated and those numbers yesterday were 312,000, but then a record number of aged care residents overnight- over the last 24 hours and I think we’ll see very significant acceleration in these numbers exactly as we had planned for this week.



Thank you, Minister. So, clearly, the approval last night of the release of the first four batches of the locally produced AstraZeneca vaccine is another major step in tackling COVID-19 in Australia.

Four batches, totalling 832,200 doses of the vaccine have now been approved, as the Minister has said, for supply right across the country.

And of course, this follows the approval on Sunday of the manufacturing process by CSL and the early approval for the overseas manufactured doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The TGA process, looking at the batch approval, ensures that locally manufactured vaccine has exactly the same composition and performance as the overseas manufactured vaccine with the exact same quality and of course, is free of any contaminants.

And what will happen over coming months, each batch that CSL produces in Australia will go through exactly the same batch testing to ensure the quality of the vaccine before it’s released for use across the country.

So, as the Minister has said, this vaccine will now be rolling out to general practices, general practice respiratory clinics and to Aboriginal health services right across Australia boosting the number of vaccines that we have available each week.

This morning, I had the privilege of attending the Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service in Ngunnawal country here in Canberra where local Ngunnawal elders received their very first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine along with Minister Ken Wyatt, the Honourable Linda Burney and also Professor Tom Calma. So, they received their first dose today. They’ll receive their second dose in 12 weeks.

And just a reminder that as well as rolling out this week the vaccine for those aged 70 and above, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 55 years and above are eligible to receive the vaccine this week.

A number of Aboriginal medical services have started delivering doses this week and that number will rise over the coming weeks as well.

Thank you, Minister.


Great. Happy to take-


Minister, you say that you’re accelerating the roll-out, but you’re still well behind what you’d hoped. Do you think you’d be able to catch up on some of those numbers that you’d hoped by the end of March?


We’re making progress, and there’s no question, what we’ve seen is last week was 116,000 - during 1A we were hoping 80,000. Let’s go back, and I think it is important to put the history in context, January 7, once we had the affirmation from AstraZeneca that they’d provide 3.8 million before the end of February, that was when we made that, once it was absolutely confirmed.

January 25 was when we revised that, and many people have airbrushed that moment from history. I was here, January 25 was when we did that and some have airbrushed that exact moment.

And why did that change? Because, as we know, there was a massive global supply change challenge for AstraZeneca.

In the end, we’ve received 700,000 and we’re working on the other 3.1 million, but, we’re not banking on any of that either.

So, the decision to create the sovereign domestic manufacturing capability, which was hard fought and hard won, has been fundamental.

And we said we’d start the phase 1a with Pfizer in late February, and we did. We said we’d start the phase 1a for AstraZeneca in early March, and we did. We said we would start the phase 1b general practice roll-out the week of the 22nd and we did. The difference was simply that global supply chain elements.

So, we remain on track on all the advice that we have for the first doses to be available to all of the general population that seek it, before the end of October - and that remains the guidance.


What about second doses?


Second doses are simply a function of however many weeks after the first doses. So, it’s a statistical element that AstraZeneca was initially looking at four weeks. Globally that standard is because of the trials and the field evidence, has moved to 12.

And so, wherever you have your first dose it’s 12 weeks after for AstraZeneca, it’s three weeks after for Pfizer.


You said that there were 3.3 million doses over the next three and a half weeks. Is that the manufacturing run-rate at the moment? Or is that the distribution rate?


No, that’s manufacturing. From that, we take contingency, which we’ve always said, because what will happen is when we get to 12 weeks after the first round, we will effectively move towards doubling.

And so, our distributions over the coming weeks are expected to be over 500,000.


So, are you getting any advice on how that could be ramped up? Or are we going to see the manufacturing capability is pretty much going to max out at one million a week, and it has to stay at that level throughout the rest of the year? Can it be increased?


No, we are actually looking at options. We’re looking at options with CSL, we’re looking at options where they might have contract manufacturers - Professor Murphy is leading that process.

And so, we’re always looking to expand, but, we’re being conservative as to what it currently is. And we’ve got the 50 million doses coming.


Does a contact manufacturer mean that somebody else would be running a different bio-reactor? It’s obviously, it’s a highly biological process. So, do you think you it could scale up?


No, CSL does the– No. This is about what’s called, fill and finish.

So, right now CSL, has been focusing on completing this first set of batches, getting the manufacturing approvals, getting the batch approvals. And then this becomes what’s called a continuous release process.

So, as each batch us ready, approved by the TGA, it’s then completed and rolls off. So, it then becomes a proposition, not so much of a weekly release, but continuous release. Then the second thing that happens is we’re setting conservative expectations on the manufacturing.

But, you know, I’ve set out what we know at the moment, but at the same time, CSL is examining what they can do to expand. But, we’re also looking beyond CSL.


Just to double check on the way to frame this. Are you, do you think you can go beyond one million? Or do you think you’re simply scoping out whether it’s possible to go beyond one million a week?

GREG HUNT:         

Sounds like the same question put two ways, but, but that’s alright. We’re considering whether it is possible, and that’s, I think, the assessment.

But you know, I’ve got to say at the moment what we’re looking at is we know that we’ve got approximately 3.3 million over the next three and a half weeks – that’s a mixture, though, of distribution and contingency. One of the things you see is that you have to prepare for the second doses, where we will go to an effective doubling of the run rate per week.

Tom, then Claire.


Minister, thanks for taking our questions. What’s the status of Australia’s request to European authorities for PNG? Are they dragging their feet? Is that acceptable?

GREG HUNT:         

Well, we would encourage them to support it, and we would encourage them to consider it as quickly as possible.

We are working respectfully, but our diplomats are under the guidance of the Foreign Minister, working directly with Europe, and both the individual countries and the European Commission. So, I don’t have an update on a particular response yet, but we think that’s very important.

It’s not the only iron in the fire. We’ve been working with AstraZeneca that is doing their very best to ensure that there are distributions.

PNG is a developing country with a COVID humanitarian emergency crisis. I don’t think the case could be any stronger for that assistance. Claire.


The primary health network that is covering Hunter and the New England region in New South Wales has written to GP’s saying that they’re experiencing significant teething problems with the roll-out to do with vaccines arriving but no consumables, or no vaccines at all.

They’ve communicated all of this to the vaccine operations centre which, that you, as you recommended, I think, even yesterday. Are you going to shed any light on how widespread these issues might be? Are you in constant consultation with the BOC? What else are they hearing on it?

GREG HUNT:         

Yes. This is- So, for this particular one I’ll ask Michael to add something. I’m not aware of those details, that hasn’t been brought to me. I will say, there was an example on Sunday where four cases were brought to me by a journalist – all turned out to be wrong. And so-


That wasn’t the VOC though? That was because people hadn’t asked the questions by Sunday.

GREG HUNT:         

So, as of, as of Monday evening there were 38 practices around the country which had not received because of flood conditions – the supplies. And we had hoped that we would get that down to 50, by the trucks rolled through the rain, they obviously didn’t go to flooded areas or where practices were not in a position to receive.

But the advice we have is that there were 38 of those. By definition, some of the ones you’ve referred to may well be in the flood affected area. So, I’d be happy to receive and review that directly.


Just on PNG. Given the EU hold up, and the urgency of the situation in PNG, and our sovereign supply and significant scale up, is there any consideration about gifting some of our own supply to PNG?


So, only yesterday we distributed almost 8500 vaccines, and that will be for health workers. Those vaccines and consumables left with our AUSMAT team which, I haven’t had confirmation, but I believe is likely to be on the ground by, by now - and so, we’ve already done that.

For the large doses, knowing that PNG will have to set up and run a distribution network, we’re working to make sure that we can free these vaccines from our international allocations.

We haven’t counted those international allocations in our domestic, and so that remains the priority because this is a humanitarian need. And the idea that others might not support a developing nation in a time of need would be disappointing and surprising.

But we’re determined. We’ll just keep going until it’s done


But, are there any plans to give more than those 8000 doses announced last week?

GREG HUNT:         

Well, we’re offering a million of our allocation of doses. Our priority remains to do it this way, but you know what? We won’t leave PNG alone. They stood by us when it matters.


What about the US as a supplier of AstraZeneca. Is there any possibility there?

GREG HUNT:         

Yeah. One thing I probably won’t do is go into individual sources – AstraZeneca has asked us not to do that.

The EU part was already public because of the refusal by one of the member states. But we’ll just keep going until we get there. And AstraZeneca has indicated that there may be other global supply chain options.

But our task is to just keep fighting – that’s what we do.


On the islands- On the northern side- Sorry

GREG HUNT:         

Hang on, you just- Claire was ahead of you.


Just on the 500,000 doses from CSL going out each week. Once you’ve hit 12 weeks you won’t need to keep holding on to half of the doses, so you should then be giving out a million.

GREG HUNT:         

Correct. Yeah. So, the way that we do this is you have to build up contingency because you’ll probably end up at more than the weekly production, and then you run it down.

So, the Department has done exactly that planning and preparation so there’s a doubling in what you’d call week 13 of the general population roll-out. Andrew.


On the Northern Exposure to PNG, there are a couple of island on top of Torres Strait, they’re like four kilometres away from PNG, Saibai as being one of them.

When will those populations - and they’re probably only a few hundred people, maybe you’ve got 1500 max through the whole region – when will they be?


My understanding is that Saibai has already begun its program.


I’m wondering when that be completed? And secondly, when will Australia’s Olympic athletes begin to get their vaccines, given that the 12-week gap that you were talking about before.


Sure. So, two things here – with regards to the Torres Strait Islands, Queensland Health, as part of their program, is ensuring that those islands are being addressed.

I’ve spoken with the Queensland minister and we’re actually very thankful and appreciative of what they’re doing. So that program is underway already and I believe Saibai was commenced last week and so Queensland Health could give you the status of the individual islands.

But you’re exactly right; they were recognised as a priority and we’re focusing on them as a country, but the delivery agent is Queensland Health but they’re doing, in my judgement, everything right.

And then the Olympic athletes, that will be considered as part of the program. At this stage, we will also see whether or not there is a special contingency which the IOC has available. Previous advice that I had from the Australian Olympic Committee is that they were considering that.


The Olympics aren’t too far away?

GREG HUNT:         

I’m intensely aware of that. But I won’t pre-empt on particular groups.


Could I ask about what the- models used in the US which was to use stadiums to vaccinate a whole lot of people.

Now, maybe this is not a federal responsibility, it may be something for the states. But do you think that there’s any place for that model in Australia?

GREG HUNT:         

So, firstly, let me make this important distinction – our vaccination program is about working within the available supplies.

And then the question is, in order to distribute those supplies, we have to ensure the optimal way to do that and I’ll ask Michael to add to this.

So, we work within our supplies and there are a number of ways you could that. But there are three elements – there are state vaccination clinics, and some of those are using those larger models.

The backbone of it, all our medical advice is that general practices, given that not every country has a primary health network, that is set up to distribute vaccinations.

Australia, because of its diffuse and diverse and regional population does have that network where our GPs are effectively vaccination clinics in every town in every state.

We go from just over 1000 to 4500. The focus on the needs of the elderly, the focus on not bussing the elderly, the focus on people with disability and in particular, with chronic disease or who are immunocompromised means seeing their doctors is so fundamental.

And then, thirdly, there are the Commonwealth clinics. So all three of those are being used. But Michael, on the fact that we have a vaccination network and we use it for flu and the National Immunisation Program every year, this has been the strongest possible medical advice.




No, no. Michael and then I’ll-


I think you said it all, Minister. We have an incredibly strong health care system in Australia and the capacity to deliver vaccinations to every member of our community by very well trained and very skilled health care professionals. Thank you.




I do want to see at least 50 per cent, if not more, of places in the Coalition party room, in the Liberal party room, held by women.

At the last election, in 2019, the election and the casual vacancies in the Senate. My understanding is that 50 per cent of people who were newly elected to the House or the Senate for the Coalition were female.

But we’ve got more to do. So, whatever way will get us there. I’m very open to that. One way is quotas; another way is active management.

Just to give you an example from the Health portfolio – I think when I came into office there were 43 per cent of women on boards. Now it’s 57 per cent.

We have the Digital Health Agency with a female CEO and a female Chair. Just outstanding strong leaders.

We have the National Health and Medical Research Council with 60 per cent on its board. Cancer Australia, 67 per cent of women are on its board. The Mental Health Commission, 75 per cent of women on its board


The Liberal Party which is old and very male. So do you support gender quotas and looking at your own state, Victoria?


Well, I support achieving 50 per cent at the very least and that’s been my approach and my record. I’m blessed that I have co-chiefs of staff who are women.


But that’s different to saying whether you support gender quotas or not.


I support the outcome and I’m very open as to the means. And what I’m saying is, when you look at the approach we’ve taken in Health, one approach has been what I call active management.

You can either be passive and just let things roll. Active management. Or you can, if you need to, if that’s not achieving the outcome, then the quotas are a possibility. And so I’m very open to that. Now, I will take.


Karen Andrews said yesterday that, you know, what’s been done in the past hasn’t worked so a new approach is needed.

Targets have been used in the past. Do you acknowledge that that hasn’t worked?


Well, I think we did achieve 50 per cent in 2019. I think it’s very important that we all acknowledge that fact.

But the whole message, the deep and profound message of recent weeks is that this Parliament and our party, and our party, my party, can and must do better.

The 2019 outcome with the outstanding women leaders who came through, I think was a really important step. But that has to keep going.

And then more generally, there’s a national challenge. And that’s our fight. Hopefully what we’ve been able to do in Health is one small example of how we can achieve this.

But the goal is really simple – total equality. That’s the goal. Total equality. And I think on that, I think that’s a good note to head to the House and to introduce Maeve’s law.

Thank you everybody.

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