Press conference in Canberra on 14 June 2021 about the vaccine rollout, COVID-19 and vaccine reallocation
Read the transcript of the press conference with Minister Hunt on 14 June 2021 about the vaccine rollout, COVID-19 and vaccine reallocation.
The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Former Minister for Health and Aged Care
And good afternoon, everybody. I’m joined by Commodore Eric Young who’ll provide the weekly update with regards to the vaccine rollout.
I’m first delighted to be able to offer my congratulations and thanks to the extraordinary medical professionals who have been honoured for their work in the pandemic, during the course of the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
People such as Professor Alison McMillan, Australia’s Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer, who’s played such a role in infection control, in helping repatriate Australians from overseas, and throughout the pandemic with training and leadership.
Celia Street who has lead the National Incident Centre. Belinda Fraser who’s played an important role in the national medical stockpile development of the ventilator capacity which gave Australia such comfort at such a critical time.
Len Notaras who has lead the AUSMAT program through the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre, as well as South Australia’s Chief Health Officer, Nicola Spurrier. And they represent teams around the country that have helped keep Australians safe.
And it is worth reflecting in a world with over 300,000 cases yesterday and 8500 lives lost, at this point, no Australian has caught COVID in Australia in 2021 and passed from it.
And we have had one who has returned through quarantine and, obviously, the case incubated, but no Australian has caught COVID in Australia and passed from it in 2021.
And in a world where we have seen 3.75 million lives lost, that’s just an incredible achievement, and our health and medical professionals are rightly being honoured today.
In terms of the rollout, Eric will give you more detail but significantly, we’ve now passed 5.8 million vaccinations. But very importantly, more than 5 million Australians have now had a vaccine.
So, in particular, 5,000,913 Australians have had at least the first dose and over 5.8 million when second doses are included.
During the course of the last week, we’ve also seen a record day and record weekday figures. Obviously, a long weekend, as Eric foreshadowed last week, was expected to have quieter weekend numbers, and very importantly, what we’re seeing through all of this is that Australians are continuing to come forward and be vaccinated.
And I want to thank all Australians who’ve come forward to be vaccinated, all who have had tests for COVID - they’re helping to keep themselves and fellow Australians safe - and all Australians who will continue to come forwards, and encourage and thank you on that front.
Significantly, I want to be able to announce an important next step with regards to reaching out to older and frail Australians, those with disabilities in their own home or in residential aged care facilities.
We’ve now reached 100 per cent of aged care facilities around Australia for first doses and 94 per cent of facilities have had second doses, with the remaining numbers over the coming days and weeks as they reach the three-week mark from their previous dose.
As part of that, one of the things we’re doing is enlisting Australia's GPs to be able to visit people at home or in a disability or in a residential aged care facility. And so, I’m pleased that after working very constructively with the AMA and the College of GPs and the College of Rural and Remote Medicine, to announce a home visitation payment program for general practitioners.
They will be paid $56.75 plus the vaccination fee for the first patient they visit in residential aged care facility, in a disability home, or where you have individuals who are frail or immobile and unable to leave their own homes.
It's about expanding the vaccination program, bringing it to people, and it's recognising that each year, we have up to 60,000 people who come into aged care, and to ensure that there is a continuous vaccination program in our aged care facilities and in our disability facilities as those programs continue to go forward.
So, that in-home visitation fee will assist, whether it’s with the elderly, the frail, the immobile, those with disabilities, to provide access for all of Australia's 30,000 plus GPs to choose if they so wish to be part of the program.
With that, I'll pass over to Commodore Young, and then we'd be happy to take questions.
Thanks, Minister. Good afternoon, everybody. Last week 790,886 doses of vaccine were administered across the country, taking our total now to 5,867,299 doses administered. That included a record day last Thursday of 153,338 doses recorded.
This week will see another boost to the program. Following the target reallocation a couple of weeks ago, we'll have a further allocation increase to general practices across the country. The approximately 3000 low volume GPs and 1000 medium volume GPs will also increase to 400 doses per week, and the approximately 300 high volume GPs will see an increase to 600 doses per week.
Each week, we continue to look closely at the utilisation and the stock on hand across all of the administration sites, and we continue to reallocate based on where the greatest need is to make sure that the vaccines we have are provided across the country where they’re most needed to protect more Australians.
In terms of the operational update, again today I'll do that in three parts, focusing on the supply of the vaccine, the distribution of the vaccine, and administering of the vaccine.
In terms of supply, last week the Therapeutic Goods Administration cleared 811,980 doses of Pfizer vaccine, and 232,800 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine. In the coming days, the Therapeutic Goods Administration will conduct sample testing and batch release a further 298,350 doses of Pfizer vaccine that arrived on shore this morning, and approximately 720,000 doses of the on-shore produced CSL manufactured AstraZeneca vaccine.
In terms of distribution of the vaccine, despite heavy weather across the south-east of the country last week, which saw widespread flooding and road closures due to snow, fallen trees and a number of power outages, we were still able to distribute more than 1,118,000 doses of vaccine across the country which was our biggest week by far. Only two of those orders were unable to be met on Friday and both of those will be delivered tomorrow on completion of the long weekend.
This week we’re on track to surpass that again with another 1.1 million doses of vaccine to be distributed to more than 2,800 locations across the country. For Victoria, this will include 145,000 doses of vaccine to state hubs, which includes the additional 15,000 doses of AstraZeneca and approximately 30,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine.
And for general practice in Victoria, following the doubling of allocations, 350,000 doses of AstraZeneca to general practice in Victoria. It’ll also include an additional 10,000 doses of AstraZeneca for Sunshine Coast GPs, fulfilling our commitment to double the allocations for approximately 75 general practices in the Sunshine Coast area.
In terms of administration of the vaccine, as I said in my opening comments, 790,000 doses of vaccine were administered last week, taking our total now to just short of 5.9 million doses of vaccine administered. An analysis of this data indicates another increase in our weekday average by nearly 3,000 doses per day now to 139,000 doses per weekday.
It did also show a decrease, as the Minister said, in the doses administered in the most recent weekend compared to the previous weekend. We now have 44 per cent of those aged 50 and over having received at least one dose of vaccine, and 61 per cent of those 70 and over having received at least one dose of vaccine.
Last week, in primary care 389,000 doses of vaccine were administered from more than 4740 sites across the country, and that again included a record day of 83,090 doses last Thursday. For states and territories, last week 377,000 doses of vaccine were administered, and a record day last Wednesday of 66,678 doses administered. And this is predominantly on the back of increase in numbers in the 40 to 49 cohort coming forward for vaccination.
For our vaccine workforce providers, we continue to focus on those most at risk, those old Australians in residential aged care facilities. As the Minister said, all 2566 residential aged care facilities have now received a first dose visit, and 2414 or 94 per cent have received a second dose visit with another 109 visits scheduled for this coming week.
In Victoria, all 596 residential aged care facilities have received a first dose visit, and 547 or 92 per cent have received a second dose visit.
As we continue to complete the residential aged care facilities, we’re now focused on two elements. Firstly, roving clinics. We, last week and the week before, completed 122 roving clinics in Victoria and we have another 24 scheduled for this week.
Those roving clinics are designed to return to facilities that have received a first dose and offer vaccines to those who may not have chosen to receive a first dose during the first visit. We’re also now pivoting toward this disability sector, and we now have 8,561 people with a disability in a residential setting having received at least one dose of vaccine. In the last week, we conducted 300 visits to disability sites, with now 129 first dose visits and 155 second dose visits.
This week it's important that everyone understands how to access a vaccine, and I'll point everyone to the eligibility checker at health.gov.au. We’ve had more than 9.1 million visits. I’d also like to acknowledge the team from Healthdirect, and particularly Bettina and her team at the national coronavirus hotline who answered their 2 millionth call last week, which is an amazing achievement and helping all Australians through the pandemic.
But today, like we do every single day, our focus is ensuring that the vaccines that we have are available across the country where and when they are most needed to protect more Australians. Thank you.
Thanks very much. I'll just start with those on the line. Tom from the Herald Sun?
Thanks for taking our questions. In Victoria today, we’re seeing some of the state-run facilities stop walk-in appointments, bookings, for Pfizer first doses to make sure they have enough supply to do second doses.
Are you worried about this crunch given that people over 40 are being told to get vaccinated for it but are finding that jabs aren’t available for them straight away?
And just to clarify, for people over 50, can they choose between Pfizer and AstraZeneca or does it have to be AstraZeneca?
Sure. So, firstly in terms of the vaccines that are available at this point, the Commonwealth has made AstraZeneca available on the medical advice for those that are over 50, and the Pfizer program is for the 40 to 49-year-olds, and we'll continue to follow the medical advice on that front.
Secondly, in terms of Victoria, they've received, if I may, so far, the total doses that have been delivered to the Victorian Government at 1.134 million, and they have administered 797,000. And as Eric has indicated, already there's a significant volume of Pfizer that's in place.
But what they’re doing is, we hold national reserves, and then we provide them to each state and territory. And they have to work within that volume each week. I had a very constructive discussion with the Victorian Minister encouraging him to make sure that they book people in early. Some states and territories have early booking programs, so when you book in for your first dose you book in for your second.
I think they’re doing an excellent job. They have brought forward an enormous number of people, and they obviously have to manage their doses within their total inventory, but we have made almost half a million additional doses available to Victoria over and above what would otherwise have been their allocation through this.
If I might to go Greg from The Australian?
Yes, thanks Minister. Just one local question on Victoria. Do you think there’s a case for lifting the restrictions earlier than the Thursday night timeline?
And, just given the G7 focus on COVID, do you think, how difficult is it going to be to meet the objectives of the 60 per cent globally, global population vaccination rate by the end of next year and also to develop new vaccines within 100 days?
I mean, do you think we should think of these as more an aspiration, or do you think that these two things are realistic?
Sure. Look, just in terms of Victoria, our goal and our hope is that restrictions can be lifted as early as possible, as soon as it's safe. That's been our position throughout. And I know it's been a very difficult time. I was speaking with one small business owner today, and it's been a very difficult time for them, particularly with the long weekend.
But we don't have any dispute with Victoria. We recognise that they’re making decisions on medical grounds, but we hope that they will be in a position on medical grounds as soon as possible to continue to lift restrictions such as the 25-kilometre zone, but there is no dispute or disagreement.
Now, in terms of the global goals, others who've been at the G7 will be able to better comment on that. But our part, as Australia, is to assist as many as possible. We’ve already made significant allocations, and the Prime Minister announced an additional 20 million vaccines from Australia's supplies that will be made available to neighbours within the Pacific and nearby within the region, and that's a really important contribution.
The fact that we’ve been able to produce on-shore has meant that we'll be able to meet our own requirements with regards to the over-50s but also have additional available and then beyond that, of course, in terms of the Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax, we are importing.
But the PM has made it clear that Australia has a critical role to play, and our hope is that all of these objectives can be met. Our task is to make sure that we are contributing our resources to that.
Madura from the Courier Mail?
Thanks Minister, just on the announcement that you made earlier about GP’s being able to visit people at home, are those GP’s that are already administering vaccines? Is there going to be an expression of interest-type of situation?
And also, just on the residential aged care facilities, specifically staff, have we gone back to check on that survey that was released during estimates to find out what portion of staff have been partially or fully vaccinated?
Sure. So in terms of GPs, that's always a process to make sure that they're appropriately trained, but all GPs that are appropriately trained will have access to it. It’s what's called a Medicare item. And so specifically, it's a home visitation payment for vaccination.
In addition, the GP will receive the vaccine fee or the vaccine administration fee, but to make that home visit, for example, if they were visiting an aged care home and they were following up with new residents or they were following up with residents who have previously not consented or their families have not consented or for some other way, shape or form they haven't been able to accept it, then they would receive that payment for the first of the residents as well as the vaccine fee for every resident.
Now, the other question please, apologies? The staff. Now, just in terms of staff, what we’ve done is we’ve put in place a portal. Reports are due by the end of tomorrow. It's mandatory that every facility provide updated reports, and I'll get the data on that once that's been completed in terms of those workers.
The current figures we have on workers is 86,353 workers [46,201 first doses and 40,152 second doses] have had vaccinations to date. Those figures will be updated after close of business tomorrow when the mandatory reporting for each facility is provided.
Thanks, Minister. Firstly, in relation to the states, why are the states only receiving knowledge six weeks ahead of time of their supply that they are going to be receiving such as New South Wales?
And secondly, when will we have an indication as to the other age group being allowed to be vaccinated? Obviously, on a widespread basis, it's only 40-49 and above at this stage.
Sure. So, supply dictates the rollout, and we've provided advice on all of the confirmed supply that we have. And so once we receive confirmed supply for later periods, then we provide that immediately.
So we obviously have very clear line of sight with regards to AstraZeneca. The states and territories have ample volumes of AstraZeneca. Pfizer, we have indicated that our numbers are growing throughout July, and so those figures have been provided.
And once the company provides on a global basis the August allocations, then those will be provided to the states.
Minister, the figures that the Commodore gave us earlier suggest that people aged over 70, I think it was 61 per cent, what’s your reflection on that? Is it high enough in that critical group of elderly Australians?
It's good, but we want it to be better. We want to encourage as many older Australians as possible, in fact, we want to encourage as many Australians as possible but in particular to say to the older Australians we would very much like you to come forward as early as possible.
The Prime Minister, the Chief Medical Officer, and myself are writing to everybody over 70, and that letter should be arriving over the course of the next week to 10 days. And that's to encourage them all to continue to come forwards. And some of them may have bookings for later on, some of them may have watched the program – people change their mind.
And so what we are seeing is very strong numbers, but we want to continue to encourage more people of every age group but particularly the over 70s to come forward. The older you are, the higher the risk. It’s as simple as that with COVID. But every person in Australia can play their part.
Couple of questions if I may, Minister. In Victoria, I've heard reports of people being told to come back in six weeks for their second Pfizer shot.
Now, I know that’s still in line with Technical Group on Immunisation advice. Is there a change federally in saying when you can get the second shot, or is that up to the states?
No, there's been no change in our advice. And so, the states and territories - and I had a close look at this, states and territories have been delivering, I think, approximately 90 per cent of the doses in the due week for the second doses.
And so that's an extraordinary effort, knowing that individual lives might mean that there's an event, an illness or something else. And so those might be individual cases. I know that Victoria is focusing very much on ensuring now that they are booking people in.
And just secondly, on the GP process, we've got a whole bunch of GPs joining the rollout soon, and we know that a handful of GPs will be giving Pfizer in in July. Do we know when that will be more widespread, that GPs would be able to give?
Yeah. So I might step back for a minute – I think that's a really important question – and put the rollout in context. If you think of it as four stages to the rollout during the course of the year, which roughly equate with the four quarters of the year, the first stage was the commencement and then the beginning of the GP program.
The second stage has included the expansion down from the over 70s to the over 50s and then within the state clinics, the over 40s to 49s.
The third stage will be, as we have an expansion of Pfizer supplies, which we've always foreshadowed, which will increase to approximately 600,000 a week, with those supplies being available in in mid-July on the latest advice. But we do have the COVAX, which allows us to begin that program in early July.
That will mean that we'll have 300 plus, initially, general practices begin with Pfizer and they'll be focused on the same basis as the National Cabinet advice of 40 to 49. And then, that will grow in the latter part of the month to 600 plus.
That, subject to supply, that will continue, which we’re very confident of, through August and then grow again in September. And at that point, we'll start to expand the number of GPs, potentially bring on pharmacies outside of rural and regional areas.
And then as we go into the last quarter, we'll have over 27 million Pfizer doses. And that will be all hands on deck, to quote Eric from a few weeks ago. And that will be using all of our 4400 GPs, potentially another 700 to 800 plus that may come on board, plus a significant number of pharmacies, as well as all of the state systems. If we do get Pfizer earlier, over and above what we've already got planned, we’ll be able to bring that commencement in to September.
Just to clarify one point you made. So in the fourth quarter, can we expect to see pharmacies also out Pfizer as well as AstraZeneca?
It's most likely that the pharmacies will do Moderna. Simply- that's the initial planning at this stage, but it has exactly the same impact.
The difference in the second dose period is three weeks for Pfizer and four weeks for Moderna. And so, to think it through, in terms of, we're now completing the second phase and moving into the third phase of the national rollout, which aligns with the quarters, and that will see GPs, initially 300 plus and then 600 plus, come on board for Pfizer and then that will expand out.
So, by the time we get to the full Pfizer rollout, every general practice that is qualified will have access to it.
Just on WA, we saw some research.
Actually I will say of the additional 800 GPs, just so as to put it in context, the current 4400, they will have access to Pfizer. The additional 800 GPs and the pharmacies will have access to Moderna on initial plans. Sorry.
It’s alright. Just on today, we saw data from Murdoch University out of WA showing that WA’s hard border and its suppression strategy saved hundreds of lives and prevented many, many hospitalisations. Given ministers of the government early last year were a bit critical of the WA hard border, does this vindicate the McGowan Government and its stance?
Well, I think what we've seen around Australia is that the rings of containment have protected Australia. No lives lost in this nation from anybody catching COVID in Australia this year. That's an almost unimaginable outcome anywhere around the world.
And so, international borders have been our strongest and most important defence. Then we have testing, tracing, distancing, which can include state-based measures, of course, and then, of course, now the vaccination program. So all of those things come together to create what has been arguably the most effective system in the world.
All of the states and territories have played their part and there have been challenges. But when we step back and see a world of 3.75 million lives lost officially and the World Health Organization indicated the reality would be two to three times greater, so probably closer to 10 million.
And then Australia's results, knowing we're still in a global pandemic, knowing that that carries challenges and conditions such as those which Victoria has faced, as a nation on this day where we celebrate those people who've helped us, I think that it was stepping back and saying all of the different measures have helped to assist.
So the rings of containment are just as effective as the hard border stance was from WA?
Well, the first thing which has protected Australia above all else is our international borders, and that's not to be disagreeing or critical. All of these elements have played a part. But the thing which stops cases coming into the country, what we've done with our borders and quarantine, has been the first line of defence but it's not the last.
But then everything else, the testing. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine identified Australia's testing at the absolute global forefront of accuracy. The tracing, which started with the extraordinary strength of New South Wales, but Western Australia has a very, very good contact tracing system.
Tarun Weeramanthri, a former chief health officer, has been one of the Australian leaders. And so, all states and territories have played their part and all of the measures have played their part, and I think that's an important thing to remember.
When we look around the world, when we see- you know, even in the UK, over 7000 cases a day. When we see, you know, jurisdictions such as Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan, Korea, which have been so successful, struggling with major outbreaks.
We recognise that all the things that people such as Alison McMillan, Celia Street, Len Notaras, Belinda Fraser, Nicola Spurrier, and those others that have not yet been honoured, they've contributed to. They've helped save lives and protect lives.
Thanks very much.