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Press conference in Canberra with a COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout update, Outbreak in Australia and Federal Government support for Victoria.

Read the transcript of the press conference with Minister Hunt on 30 May 2021 in Canberra with a COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout update, Outbreak in Australia and Federal Government support for Victoria.

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

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I’m delighted to be joined today by Professor Brendan Murphy, the Secretary of the Department of Health, but also the Chair of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Group with regard to vaccinations and Professor Michael Kidd, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer. And we’re here at the Calvary COVID clinic in the ACT, and they’ve done a wonderful job.

I want to thank Barb and Rochelle, Margi and Monica, Emily, all of the staff here who’ve done such a great job. So far, they’re administering well over 1000 AstraZeneca vaccines a week at this clinic and today marks the commencement of the second dose phase for AstraZeneca.

Brendan and I, 12 weeks ago today, had our first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine and then around the country over the following week, people began to have it. And since then, 2.8 million Australians have had first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and over the next 12 weeks, we ask people to come forwards for first doses as soon as they can within their eligible groups and for second doses.

Please do not wait. Come when you're 12 weeks has been completed for AstraZeneca and your three weeks has been completed for Pfizer. That’s a very important part of the regime. The first dose is the most important but the second dose is a very important part of the program, an indispensable part.

So having said that, I want to note that this week has seen Australians come out in record numbers. We are six days into the week and, already, we have seen a record number of Australians for this week - 599,846 Australians been vaccinated, plus three more today. And we’ve gone from 402,000 to 436,000, to 512,000, and then 599,000, six days into this week's program. So with the Sunday figures to be provided by Commodore Young tomorrow.

And that includes a record Saturday of 59,750 and, all up, Australia has seen 4.2 million vaccinations completed. And I think that’s an extremely important step that more people are being vaccinated at a faster rate than ever before.

The first million vaccinations took 47 days; 19 for the second; 17 for the third and 13 days for the most recent million.

In addition to that, I want to thank all of the states and territories, they’re pitching in, they’re doing their job. The ACT service has been exemplary. The states and territories have now given just over 1.5 million doses. The Commonwealth, approximately 2.7 million doses.

And so between them, everybody is doing their jobs - our GPs, our Commonwealth clinics, our state and territory clinics. So I want to thank and acknowledge all of them.

I also want to address Victoria and, in particular, acknowledge the difficult circumstances again that all Victorians are facing. This is a very challenging time. We know how to do this. We have been through this before. We know, as a country, and as individual states and territories, that we can get through this.

In particular, I want to provide some detail in relation to the vaccinated staff member who has nevertheless been diagnosed as positive at the Arcare Maidstone facility. The advice that I have is that the staff member felt ill and was tested on Friday, 28 May, so Friday this week. They were confirmed as positive on Saturday, 29 May.

Common work began immediately between the Commonwealth and the Victorian Government. And both the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre, led by the Commonwealth, in partnership with the Victorian Department of Health, I think, followed an exemplary process so far.

They were vaccinated on 12 May, and so it’s some considerable time now that the worker has been vaccinated and that was done as part of the in-facility residential program. 53 of the 76 residents have consented to have been vaccinated. We are providing additional vaccination; the facility was due this week to have their second vaccination and that’s been brought forward tomorrow, on the advice I have.

And we are encouraging all residents or their families, for those who have not provided consent, to reconsider and to bring themselves forward. Around the country, we’ve seen 85 per cent of residents in residential aged care facilities and 100 per cent of Victorian residential facilities vaccinated so far.

But we want to see as many of those residents who have not chosen to be vaccinated, or their families where they are providing the consent, to consider the absolute importance of vaccination. It can save your life. It can save the life of mum, or of dad, or of grandma or grandpa. So please do that.

We would also note that the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre has taken immediate actions, a first responder is in place. Testing is underway for all staff and all residents. As the Victorian Government has said, the highest level of PPE is in enforcement- is in place. Surge workforce is being made available and so all of the steps which can be taken to keep the residents safe are being taken.

We will follow very closely, but we are thankful for the worker for having consented to be vaccinated. We are thankful to the worker for having come forward for testing so soon. And we are working in partnership with the Victorian Government.

I’ll invited Professor Murphy, then Michael Kidd to speak.


Thanks very much, Minister. I was delighted to get my second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine today. But while we know that the first dose actually provides really good protection, the best and most durable protection comes from finally getting that second dose after 12 weeks.

It does take a long time between the two doses, so we're now going to start seeing a huge ramp up in the fully vaccinated population as the AstraZeneca vaccine second doses start. And I do encourage everybody eligible, particularly those over 50 eligible for AstraZeneca, to come out and get vaccinated.

I particularly want to address today a message to those over 70. The reason being that people over 70 are those that have the highest risk of dying from COVID. One thing that this Victorian outbreak has taught us is that we are not immune from COVID. We will continue to see outbreaks, even with a really good public health response, which the Victorian authorities are introducing.

People over 70 have probably a greater than 10 per cent chance of dying if they get COVID. We have vaccinated already more than half of our over 70s, but there are many left to go.

If you think about the anxiety some people have felt about the very, very rare clotting disorder, that occurs in about a little over one in 100,000 people. Your risk of dying from COVID if you're over 70, is one in 10.

It is 10,000 times more likely that you will die from COVID than you would get this rare clotting condition, which we know we are picking up early in Australia and particularly in the elderly, it does seem to be in most cases, a mild condition that's treatable.

The risk of dying from COVID is very, very high when you're over 70 and continues to increase. So I say again, the risk of dying from COVID is 10,000 times more likely than the risk of getting that rare clotting condition.

So please, please turn up and get vaccinated, all over 50s, but particularly those older people over 70 who have an increased risk of severe disease and death.

Thank you.


Thank you, Minister. Thank you, Brendan. I'm very pleased today to have received the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine and to join with the millions of Australians who have lined up to get their first doses of this vaccine. This incredibly important contribution towards protecting our own lives, the lives of our families and, of course, our contribution towards the health of everybody here in Australia.

One of the things which I was given was a hand out from the Australian Government, both on preparing for the vaccine, but also awareness about possible side effects, which may occur following the vaccine. And I've read that and I encourage you, when you have your vaccine, to read it as well, to know what to look out for and just to be sure.

My message today is we are, of course, experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19 in Victoria. Incredibly important that anybody who has any symptoms of cold or fever or flu, no matter how mild, goes into isolation and arranges to get a COVID-19 test.

We have had some complacency in Australia in recent months. I think that what we're seeing happening in Victoria is a really important lesson to people right across Australia that we cannot be complacent about COVID-19. The pandemic is still with us. We need to do all we can to protect the health of our loved ones and the rest of the country.

Thank you.


I'm happy to take any questions. I'll start in with Shuba from SBS.


Thanks Minister. James Merlino says he's beyond disappointed in the Federal Government for not providing financial support for Victorian workers. He says he's asked the Federal Government multiple times, and the unrelenting answer has been no.

Is James Merlino right to be disappointed in the Federal Government. And what's your message to him?


We welcome the Victorian support. We think it's appropriate under the circumstances.

It builds on the $45 billion which the Commonwealth has provided to Victoria, far and away, the highest per capita economic support to any state or territory. It, I think, supplements the 13 billion which Victoria has put in place.

We have four ongoing measures as an example, which are supporting Victorians. One is the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment of $1500. Two is the National Health Emergency Crisis payment. Three, of course, there is the ongoing business support of the loss carry back program for any business which may make a loss during the course of this financial year, where they can receive a rebate against profits from previous years.

And then, of course, there are the immediate expensing measures. Those are our ongoing supports, and we think that the Victorian response today is fair and appropriate and we acknowledge and thank them for that.


But James Merlino says that that’s not good enough, and he slams the Federal Government. What’s your response to that?


Just the one that I’ve given. Thank you. I’ll then go to Rob at Channel 7?


Thanks very much, Minister. I just want to get your reaction to Nick Coatsworth’s call for people under 50 to be able to get AstraZeneca if they've been properly informed of all the risks.


Look, I'll invite the Deputy Chief Medical Officer to talk about that.


Thanks, Minister. So, we're following the advice of the experts on ATAGI, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation. As you'll be aware, the recommendation from ATAGI is that Pfizer is the preferred vaccine for people under the age of 50. Thank you.


If I may, Madura from The Courier.


Thanks, Minister. I understand that about 98 per cent of all residential aged care facilities have now been visited by the in-reach vaccine clinic. But how many aged care workers have been vaccinated? And further to that, how many disability- how many people in disability care have been vaccinated? And how many people who work in disability care have been vaccinated as of today?


So, at this point in time, it's actually 99 per cent of facilities nationwide with the final facilities to be done in the coming days.

Secondly, it's 100 per cent of Commonwealth residential aged care facilities within Victoria.

The aged care workers and disability numbers all up are 345,566 across the different categories, with over 9000 resident doses and over 3000 doses for disability workers, and over 70,000 aged care workers.

But that's on direct in-reach, with many additional ones having gone specifically to GPs and Commonwealth respiratory clinics and state respiratory clinics so that reconciliation is additional work which is ongoing.

Alright. So then, if I may, Jade?


Thanks, Minister. In regards to the aged care worker who tested positive in Victoria, what vaccine was given to that staff member? And do you concede that if the rollout had of been faster, residents at that facility would’ve had greater protection right now?

And just on supply, Victoria says it only has 20,000 doses per day that it can sustain. Are you going to further increase the supply of doses to that state?


So on the Victorian supply, there are 787,000 doses that the Commonwealth has provided to Victoria. They have delivered 460,000 doses.

So just to repeat, the Commonwealth has provided 787,000 doses to Victoria. They have delivered 460,000 doses.

We're providing an additional 171,000 doses to Victoria over the course of the coming week and an additional 90,000 doses to general practitioners in Victoria. So, there are very significant supplies and we thank them for their work. We think they're doing an excellent job. And, as you will see, there is very large and significant inventory available within Victoria.

In relation to the program, I think the fact that we have had 100 per cent of facilities, Commonwealth facilities within Victoria, which have been given the vaccine program, means that that's a very, very important protection, exactly as Professor Murphy has set out.


Minister, can you just clarify exactly what ATAGI will be considering this week? Is it the case that AstraZeneca, the threshold, the age threshold for AstraZeneca, could be reduced and in fact, Pfizer vaccines could be extended to under-16s as well?


So, I'll let Professor Murphy give advice on that. But I will say this, that ATAGI operates independently. And so our one task has been to ensure that they have all of the information they need, but that they have the freedom to be entirely independent. On the substantive matters, I'll refer that to Brendan.


Thanks, Minister. So, ATAGI meets weekly to look at all of the vaccine recommendations and the age limitations. They have considered on a number of occasions whether to change the current age 50 cut off, and each occasion have felt that it's appropriate and balanced, on the basis that the risk of the clotting disorder seems to be higher in younger people and seems to be more severe.

But, obviously, the context of outbreaks does change that and they will make that consideration. But I wouldn't want to pre-empt what they might say. In terms of vaccination for children, that- certainly, we know that the vaccines are now- there's no good data on children, but we're unlikely to extend to children until we've finished vaccinating the adult population.


Professor, one for you again. Do you have any public health concerns about the lack of a wage supplement in Victoria, that casual workers with symptoms may be forced to go to work to pay their bills?


So, I'm really talking about the vaccine today. I don't think I'll comment on that issue at the moment. I might leave that for the Minister.


Can I Just clarify, Professor Murphy, so you're saying that the- when ATAGI meets this week, they'll be considering the age threshold in context of the Victorian lockdown, which may change?


That would be a factor. It's not a large outbreak at the moment, and the Victorian authorities do seem to be bringing it under control. So, that will be taken into consideration.

But I think ATAGI have a serious and detailed discussion each week on what's happening with the rollout and what is the local epidemiology at the moment. Each week they have decided to leave the settings the same, but I wouldn't want to pre-empt their decision.


Well, Minister, if I could just ask you that question about the public health concerns about not having a wage supplement in Victoria?


Well, I think we have strong measures that are in place. In particular, of course, we have the series of elements that I set out before. That includes the national health emergency crisis payment. That also includes the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment.


But that’s if people lose their job; what about for people who might not be getting casual shifts at the moment, or might need to go out if they have symptoms to try to earn that wage? Those payments wouldn’t cover them?


Well, I think our understanding is that we have strong support. We have a strong system in Victoria. We believe that the steps taken by Victoria today are appropriate. And we welcome them.



Minister, would the Government, I guess, characterise the conversation between Treasurer, the Prime Minister and the Victorian Government in the way that James Merlino and Tim Pallas have, in that their characterisation of conversations was that the Federal Government says that state lockdowns are a state government issue, to be funded by state governments. Is that fair enough?


Well, I wasn't part of those conversations. I've just been working very constructively with my health counterpart, Martin Foley.

We've spoken on multiple occasions this week, and each has been very thankful for the support of the others.


Minister Hunt, in Victoria and nationally, how many aged care residents have not been vaccinated?


Well, it's approximately 85 per cent of the population that has accepted and consented to the process. And it is an individual consent process.

And I would reaffirm, again, in the strongest possible way, we would encourage all of those families who have elder Australians who are part of their network, that are within aged care to consent to allow them to be vaccinated or if the consenting person is the resident themselves. Vaccination can save your life. It can protect you.


There are 15 per cent of people in Victorian aged care homes who have not been vaccinated and that’s because they or their families have not consented to the vaccination. Is that correct?


Correct. And we've said that that's not new. That is a figure which we've talked about on multiple occasions. And so the vaccination program is a consent based program.

And we would very strongly, very strongly encourage the residents, or where families are making decisions or other guardians are making decisions on their behalf, to provide that consent. And we will ensure that they are vaccinated at the earliest possible time.

One last.


On the point that you make about data of which aged care workers have or have not been vaccinated, you talk about a reconciliation process of that data there.

I'm not sure if Professor Murphy or maybe it was Associate Secretary Ms Edwards in estimates recently said that I think you are working to try and get that data all under the same roof. Is that correct?


So, they’re two different things. There's the program where there's an in-reach, where that's automatically recorded and then where people choose to go outside, which is exactly what we've done with disability and which has increased the number from just over a thousand to 9000.

And so that gives you a sense that in the case of disability, the order of magnitude was very much greater with regards to those actually vaccinated as to those vaccinated through just one of four channels. And so the in-reach is one of four channels and all up, what we saw with disability was a massively higher number.

So I want to thank everybody and just again, to thank Australians for coming forward. The second dose program starts this week. And if it's your turn and your time has now passed for 12 weeks since your first dose, please come forward.

And equally, if you haven't had a vaccination, please come forward. If you are in an eligible group, do not wait. If you catch COVID, you could die.

Thank you.


Minister- just on your messaging, Minister, the AMA is the latest group to come out and say there has been some confused messaging from the Government, even if unintentional.

Do you concede that the message has gotten confused as to whether people should urgently get vaccinated or not. Do you need a reset on that?


Our message always, our message always has been, please come forward at the earliest.


So don’t wait for mRNA vaccines at the end of the year over, if you’re over 50?


No, please come forward at the earliest possible time. I think in virtually every circumstance, our message any of us has been, if you are eligible, do not wait. Please come forward at the earliest possible time.

Indeed, I said that a couple of weeks ago in response to a question and it was very clear that the message is do not wait.

Thank you very much.


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