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Press conference in Melbourne on 26 July 2021 with an update on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

Read the transcript of the press conference with Minister Hunt on 26 July 2021 with an update on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

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

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Good afternoon everybody and welcome to the weekly update with regards to the COVID vaccination program.

Let me start by saying congratulations to our amazing Australian swimmers, to Ariarne Titmus, to Emma McKeon, to the men’s relay team.

But also, congratulations to the amazing Australian public. Almost 1.1 million vaccinations in the last week. To be precise, 1,085,914 vaccinations.

And to look at that in context, only five weeks ago, we were at approximately 725,000 vaccinations. A week ago, we were at just over 980,000 vaccinations. And this week, 1,085,000 vaccinations, so almost 1.1 million vaccinations.

So Australians are stepping forward in record numbers, a record week, and that's I think a fitting step forward but there’s more work to be done. To put all of this in context, six of the last seven days were daily records for that day in the week.

That's important because there is a pattern and what we see is if those individual days continue to increase, that’s more Australians coming forward for more vaccinations. The total national vaccinations includes 70,936 in the last 24 hours but significantly, that means we're now at 11.2 million vaccinations in Australia.

So 11.2 million vaccinations in Australia, and what does that mean across the population? It means that we’ve had 3.3 million Australians with double doses and 7.8 million Australians who’ve had their first vaccination.

What we also know is that, in terms of the over 50s, 62.5 per cent. Significantly, for the over 60s, we’ve now passed 70 per cent at 70.3 per cent. And for the over 70s, 77.2 per cent of Australians have been vaccinated. So 38 per cent first vaccination rate, 16.3 per cent second vaccination rate. That is following very quickly.

And then, what we’ve seen as well I think and very importantly is that the states have delivered 4.9 million vaccines and the Commonwealth 6.3 million vaccines, and our GPs just over 5.8 million vaccinations. So they’ve been the real backbone of the program but everybody is pitching in.

In terms of other critical steps forward, we know around the country with regards to COVID, in the last 24 hours, 165 cases of which eight were overseas acquired and 157 local.

We’re seeing very good progress in Victoria and South Australia. We are hopeful about the situation in each of those states. I would say we are on track, as the Victorians have said, to see a significant movement to give people greater freedom over the course of this week. But that’s been the hard work of Australians.

In New South Wales, there’s more work to be done but people in Sydney are doing an extraordinary job. They’re overwhelmingly following the difficult, challenging restrictions and staying at home. They’re coming out to be tested in record numbers. And in addition to that, what we’re also seeing is that they’re coming forward to be vaccinated in very large numbers.

Over the course of the last week, as a nation, there have been a series of areas of progress. We’ve had the work from the TGA, which has approved Pfizer for 12 to 15-year-olds. That will now go and is being considered by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.

We’re expecting, over the course of this week, a decision with regards to the immunocompromised kids or kids with underlying medical conditions, and if that’s a yes, then we’ll move immediately to add them to Phase 1B, which would mean immediate access, and then they’ll consider the international evidence which is emerging over the course of the coming months with regards to the broad population of children, 12 to 15.

We’ve also been able to secure the 85 million boosters over the coming two years, a very important part of the short, medium and long term strategy with regards to COVID. So we already have 40 million Pfizer that are expected to arrive and are on track to arrive this year, plus the 10 million Moderna this year.

Next year, another 15 million Moderna. But then we’ll have significant supplies for the next two years of Pfizer, pending all of the different possible outcomes in relation to boosters. And in addition to that, there’s the 51 million Novavax. So those are very important developments.

And then of course, the last is pharmacies, and the opening up of the pharmacy program is continuing and expanding. We will have 251 pharmacies on board around Australia this week. That will increase shortly to 470, and over the course of August, over 3,900 pharmacies are qualified.

They’ll make their own decisions as to if they wish to come on board and if so, when, subject to the supply, but that will see a significant expansion. And this week, over 5,690 Commonwealth points of presence and over 800 state points of presence for vaccination.

So the message is very clear. Please come forward and be vaccinated. Vaccination, as we know, can save lives and protect lives, and I want to thank all of the Australians who have come forward, the nearly 1.1 million who have done that in the last week.

And what we know from this is that Australians are coming forward. If you are eligible for your first dose, please come forward. If you're due for your second dose, please come forward.

Happy to take questions. I’ll start with those on the phone and then come to Dana in the room. Madura.


Thanks, Minister. You’ve mentioned that vaccination rates have been going up and we’re recording record numbers. Those statistics are mainly in New South Wales, which is obviously very important, but other states, like Queensland, have (INAUDIBLE) in the number of vaccines that they’re giving out each week. Is that disappointing?

And what do you think those states need to do or what would you ask them to do to make sure that they’re keeping their vaccination rates higher each week?


Oh, no. To be fair, these are increasing vaccinations right across the nation. And so the vaccination rates are released every day, and what we’re seeing is significant rates right across the country.

Obviously, someone will always be higher, and someone will be at another point. But all of the States and Territories are vaccinating, but it is critical that we have as many people come forward as soon as possible.

So no matter where you are in the country, this disease can strike you. It is a global pandemic. And whilst we have, as a country, been overwhelmingly protected for so much of it, we’re facing challenges, particularly in New South Wales now.

But no state or territory is immune. No state or territory is immune. So all of the states and territories are seeing this vaccination program.

I do want to highlight one interesting example of what we can do as a nation. The highest single rate of vaccination by any jurisdiction in any particular age group is the ACT, where over 94 per cent of over 70s have been vaccinated.

It sets what may be possible. That’s not to set a particular goal or target, but it shows in one age group, in one jurisdiction, given the access and given the motivation, in an area which has had frankly very, very low cases over the course of the entire pandemic. We are seeing the highest particular vaccination rate by demographic in the country.

Eliza from Channel 9.


Thanks, Minister. Do you concede the Government's mixed messaging on AstraZeneca has contributed to the spread of misinformation and how big of an issue was that to overcome?


Well, I think what’s absolutely critical here is that we continue to follow the medical advice. And one of the things that has happened in Australia is that we have prioritised the medical advice, and that’s what has kept us safe as a nation.

So I respect, absolutely, the position of the medical advisors, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, the important message which comes out of ATAGI's revised advice for people in Sydney is that people of all ages have a clear message from ATAGI that the benefits of AstraZeneca outweigh the risks.

That's a decision of ATAGI in relation to the Sydney outbreak, and the benefits outweigh the risks for all ages. And so I think that that is a very important message. And so our job is to make sure that the vaccines are available in Sydney right now.

AstraZeneca is available across general practices and Commonwealth vaccination clinics, and the New South Wales Government, and we thank them for this, is stepping up their work through their own clinics. And so these things are very important, and more and more pharmacies are coming online.

So the simple answer is we deal with any of the misinformation. There are people who put out false information with regards to vaccines. And frankly, I condemn it, in the same way that I condemn the protests on the weekend, because they were dangerous. Where they were in breach of state public health orders, they were frankly endangering people.

Okay. Sarah.


Thanks, Minister. Can I just take you back to your comments in regards to the booster strategy? Can you provide a breakdown for those in terms of which vaccines the Government booster strategy will comprise?

And can you advice when exactly you’re expecting to receive Novavax please?


Sure. So with regards to the booster strategy, we have, at this point in time, three vaccines. So we have 85 million vaccines from Pfizer, and that is 60 million in 2022 and 25 million in 2023.

We also have 15 million Moderna, which have been ordered, and we're very confident with the delivery time frames. So that’s 10 million Moderna for the first round vaccinations this year and another 15 million for the booster strategy next year.

And then we have 51 million Novavax, subject to registration, but we have to say the clinical trial results have been outstanding and very, very heartening. We are, on latest advice, expecting the first of those arrivals in the final quarter of this year.

So no change in any of the information with regards to Novavax. The recent clinical trial results, we think, were heartening and very, very positive. So we’ve always thought of Novavax as there backup if there were an issue with the first three vaccines for this year, and as a foundation stone and platform of the booster program next year.

No change in that position. But at this stage, the advice remains the final quarter of this year for the first deliveries. And Natasha.


Thank you. The latest administration and utilisation for use of vaccines show that some states are only administering 90 per cent or so of their allocated doses. Are you concerned about that?

And secondly, you have promised as recently as last week that you would provide us with the vaccination rates of people within the local government areas of Canterbury-Bankstown, Liverpool and Fairfield in Sydney.

That hasn't been provided yet. And could we please confirm that this data has been collected and when will it be made available?


Sure. So in relation to the first question, just come again at that please?


The first question is in relation to administration and utilisation of vaccines. Some states have only administered some 90 per cent of their allocation and also GPs seem to only have administered 80 per cent of their allocation.

Are you concerned about any of those figures?


Well, what we’re seeing that the utilisation rates are increasing. It's over 88 per cent across the country, and what that means also is that particularly with the GPs with AstraZeneca, we are, in many situations, providing two weeks of supply, and that can also be the case with Pfizer.

So we’ll be delivering in advance, and so they are using them over a period of weeks. And what we’ve seen is that those utilisation rates have increased significantly. The states, on average, are in the high 90s.

And with regards to some states or territories, what we are seeing is that they have significant rural or regional populations, such as the Northern Territory, so they then outreach to those communities. But all of the states and territories have increased their utilisation rate, and we thank them for that.

With regards to local government, at this point in time what we’re doing is looking on a state by state basis. I’ll leave the particular questions with regards to that to the vaccine operations centre.

What we’re doing is making sure and publishing the state figures on a daily basis, and as the vaccine program develops, we’ll have more detail and more data that’s available.



What’s your response to the comments from the WA and (INAUDIBLE) Premiers who are angry that New South Wales is getting extra Pfizer doses from the national stockpile?


Well, I think the important thing is that no state or territory has had to have their amounts reduced. What we’ve been able to do and this is exactly in line with what happened with Victoria and I believe those states and territories were supportive of the additional doses to Victoria.

Every state and territory is seeing a significant increase in their doses. That’s as the additional Pfizer has come on-board now that we’ve received those supplies. So every state and territory is seeing additional doses, and that’s playing itself out in every state and territory having increasing outcomes.

For Victoria, when they had their outbreak, we were able to provide 150,000 from unallocated doses. New South Wales, we’ve been able to provide 200,000 from unallocated doses. Right across the country, what we’re seeing is an increase in all jurisdictions as the supplies have come in, receiving on a per capita basis sustained weekly increases.


So can you clarify is there a national stockpile of Pfizer? Where are these extra doses coming from?


So, these were previously unallocated doses.

The first 150,000, the 50,000 is coming forward from the supplies that are arriving and all state and territories are receiving exactly the per capita amount, which was pledged at the commencement of July.

So what we’ve been able to do by bringing forward these increasing doses, as we know, we brought forward three million over the course, we’ve been able to meet all of the commitments to states and territories. And this is from the additional supplies that we’ve been able to secure.

But what we have done is make sure we’re not holding large amounts of doses. There’s always a choice. If we were holding doses, people would say they should be out. If we aren’t holding doses, people are saying, why not? The simple answer is we make sure we have the second doses.

We also make sure that everything that possibly can be distributed each week is distributed. So these additional doses, the 150,000 was previously from the unallocated. The extra 50,000 is from the forward supplies that are arriving. And all states and territories are receiving a per capita increase, precisely in line with the figures that were set out previously.


What do you make of your colleague, George Christensen, being at an anti-lockdown protest in Sydney? Should he be facing consequences for his (INAUDIBLE)?


Was he in Sydney?


George Christensen, oh, sorry (INAUDIBLE)?


So, as the Prime Minister set out, there are two things here. One is an expression of views; with which I disagree. I happen to disagree. And then for those that were in protests in areas against public health orders then that’s obviously a breach of the state law.

So those that were in protests in Sydney and in Melbourne, they have breached the law and, yeah, I think we should have a very strong view in relation to that.

Let me finish by saying to everybody thank you. A record number of weekly vaccinations, almost 1.1 million of Australians. What we’re seeing is that each day, Australians are coming forward.

And each day, they’re protecting themselves and they’re protecting all other Australians. And if it is your turn and you are eligible, please come forward. If you’re due for your second dose, please don’t wait.

Thank you very much.

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