Good afternoon, everybody and I’m joined today by Commodore Eric Young, the head of the Vaccine Operations Centre.
The news this week is important for Australians, and I want to thank over 880,000 Australians who have come forward to create a record vaccination week in Australia. In particular, 880,807 people were vaccinated over the course of the last seven days. That’s an increase of 48,000 over the previous best week.
And what it shows is that Australians have confidence in the vaccination program. Australians are keen to be vaccinated. And Australians are coming forward to be vaccinated. This is, I think, a very important step.
In particular, we have now passed 8.25 million vaccinations in Australia. The number is 8,255,473 vaccinations. And taken together, what we are seeing is a significant increase in rises across first doses and second doses.
First doses are at 6,348,000, with 30.8 per cent, and second doses are now at 1.87 million, over 9.1 per cent. And very significantly, 53.8 per cent of over 50s, 62.7 per cent of over 60s, and perhaps most importantly, 70.8 per cent of over 70s. But we want to encourage all Australians to come forward at the earliest possible time, as they're eligible. Please do not wait.
And people have been magnificent in the last week and in previous weeks. The fact that we've now had a record week, at the same time, as we see new channels opening up, with additional supplies of vaccine arriving and being distributed.
This week, over 500 general practices will commence distribution of Pfizer. And Eric will give you more detail on that, and that will build over the course of the month. And then build over the final months of the year. And so these additional sources are based on additional vaccines. And we've seen record numbers of the current supplies. But as we have increased supplies this month, that's a very promising sign for the future.
In particular, I also want to address cases in Australia. We've had 38 cases officially in the 24 hours to midnight last night. Obviously, states and territories will announce additional cases after that. That's 35 in New South Wales, three in Queensland; I'm aware of subsequent announcements.
And I would also particularly want to address SummitCare, a Baulkham Hills aged care facility in New South Wales. Every aged care facility in New South Wales has had two doses. And around the country, of the Commonwealth residential aged care facilities, 2566 facilities, all have had first doses, 2565 have had second doses, one facility had a flu late last week, and so that will be completed once the flu is cleared in the coming days.
In particular, though, with regards to SummitCare, our advice is that we have five residents that have been diagnosed as positive. All, on the advice I have, are asymptomatic. All have or are being transferred, nevertheless, to hospital for observation and isolation. And of those, four have been vaccinated, one is unvaccinated.
What we know from Arcare in Victoria is, the advice I have from our Victorian Aged Care Response Coordinator, Anne Smith, today, all of the three residents positive here are now on the path to return and recovery.
One has returned home, having been cleared. The second has been cleared of the virus and is due to return home today. And the third is being treated in hospital for other conditions, but is expected to be home over the course of the coming week. And that's a very positive example of the way in which this program is helping to protect Australians.
We're not immune, but we are well prepared. And what we've seen in particular with SummitCare is clinical first responders on site, partnership between New South Wales Health and the Commonwealth, and in particular the local health district and the public health unit in New South Wales.
We’ve made sure there is communication which is being done by the facility with the families on the advice that I have in terms of daily updates. And in particular, very close clinical supervision with additional support for the workforce, there to provide additional support for the residents.
Obviously, the facility itself is in lockdown. There's a specific focus on the area where the residents have been. And all residents have been tested on two occasions. And across the facility, 149 residents, and the advice is all but four were vaccinated.
So, I do want to thank Australians. Each day, each week brings challenges, but most significantly what we have seen is a record week, 880,000 vaccinations. And this week, expansion of the program with additional supplies and additional points of presence through the general practices who we’ll primarily work with by reaching out to their own patients, and that will progressively expand.
And in order to talk about the rollout and the expansion, Commodore Young.
Thank you, Minister, and good afternoon, everybody.
As the Minister said last week was a record, with 880,000 doses of vaccine administered across the country, taking our total now to 8,255,473 doses administered. That included a record day last Thursday of 163,178 doses recorded in a single day. On our way to 8 million reached last Friday.
In New South Wales last week, 278,000 doses of vaccine were administered through a combination of state and Commonwealth clinics. And in New South Wales, we now have a 50 per cent of those aged 50 and above who have now received at least one dose of vaccine. And 67 per cent of those 70 and above having received at least one dose of vaccine.
It took us 47 days to get us to our first million doses of vaccine administered, and just eight days to reach our most recent and that milestone gives us an opportunity to stop and thank everyone across the supply chain that makes that possible.
That includes those people producing the vaccines, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and CSL. Our distribution partners, DHL and Linfox. And I’ll add in to that the Royal Flying Doctors Service, which has provided support over the last couple of weeks. Our vaccine service providers, International SOS, Sonic, Healthcare Australia and Aspen Medical, and the thousands and thousands of healthcare professionals who turn up every single day to vaccinate Australians. As well as the many hundreds of people in the National COVID Vaccine Taskforce and our counterparts at both the Commonwealth and state and territory levels.
In addition to reflecting on where we've come, the milestone also gives an opportunity to reflect on what we need to do. As the Minister said, this week we’ll see a boost to our program through two primary fronts. Firstly, we'll be increasing community pharmacy rollout. The community pharmacies are specifically designed to provide access in areas where there's little to no GP support, in remote, rural, and regional areas.
And this week, we'll have 65 community pharmacies administering the vaccine across Queensland, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia, and that will ramp up to approximately 300 by the end of July.
Secondly, again, as the Minister said, we'll see now a progressive transition of our Commonwealth vaccination sites to administering the Pfizer vaccine. This week, we have 505 general practices administering the Pfizer vaccine, 62 Commonwealth vaccination centres, and 15 Aboriginal community controlled health services.
By the end of this month, we'll have 1300 general practices administering Pfizer, all of the Commonwealth vaccination centres. And by mid-August, we’ll have all the Aboriginal community controlled health services administering Pfizer.
In terms of operational update, I will cover that in three parts, focusing on the supply of the vaccine, the distribution of the vaccine, and the administering of the vaccine. In terms of supply, last week, we conducted batch release and sample testing of 305,370 doses of Pfizer vaccine, and 704,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine.
In the coming days, the Therapeutic Goods Administration will conduct sample testing and batch release a further 300,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and 260,100 of the onshore CSL-manufactured AstraZeneca vaccine.
In terms of distribution of the vaccine, last week we distributed 1,108,000 doses of vaccine to more than 2500 locations across the country. Every single one of those deliveries were made, and despite lockdowns causing a number of flights to be cancelled, we even managed to use the Royal Flying Doctor Service to ensure that deliveries were made to a number of remote and rural areas in the Territory.
In terms of administering, we already talked about the figures last week, 880,000 doses administered across the country, taking our total now to 8,255,473. That's an increase of 100,000 doses from the previous week. And analysis of that data indicates our week day average increase of 16,000 per week day, up from the previous week, predominantly on the back of increase in second doses.
And I’d like to take the opportunity again to thank everyone who’s coming forward to receive a second dose. This week, for the first time, we saw second doses surpass first doses. 443,000 second doses were administered, of which 241,000 were AstraZeneca.
With our vaccine service providers, we continue to focus on those most risk in our society, those older Australians in residential aged care facilities. As the Minister said, all 2566 residential aged care facilities across the country have received a first and second dose visit. In New South Wales, all 883 residential aged care facilities have received a first and second dose visits, and our focus now is on the conduct of roving clinics.
Roving clinics are designed to head back to a facility who has received a first dose visit and offer vaccines to those who may not have chosen to take a vaccine up the first time around. We’ve now conducted 79 roving clinics in New South Wales and we have another 156 scheduled to be completed by the 17th of July.
As we complete the residential aged care facilities, we will start to roll our vaccine service providers and continue ramping up the disability sector. We now have 12,521 people with a disability in a residential setting having received at least one dose of vaccine.
This week, like we do every week, we want to ensure that all eligible Australians know how and where to access a vaccine. And again, I point everyone to the Eligibility Checker on the Health website at health.gov.au, where they can access and we've had more than now 12.9 million visits to that website.
But today, like we do every single day, our focus is ensuring the vaccines we have are available across the country, where and when they're most needed, to protect more Australians.
Thank you very much. Happy to start with questions. I'll begin, if I may, with those on the phone.
Thank you, Minister. I have two questions. The first, Queensland is still pushing for a quarantine facility at Toowoomba. Is there any chance that the Commonwealth will get on board with this? And second of all, the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is today calling for your resignation on vaccines and quarantine. What do you have to say to the former PM?
So, to the first one, the answer is no. That's not deemed a suitable facility at Toowoomba. And indeed, I’ve spoken with the local Member, Garth Hamilton, who’s reaffirmed the strong overwhelming view of the local community against it.
But we are working very constructively with Queensland. The Pinkenba base is being considered. Queensland has stepped forward on that. So I think that’s a very positive step.
Then in relation to the second one, I haven't read the article.
Thanks, Minister. Just on Queensland again, the Queensland Health Minister today said the state rollout is only getting 63,500 doses of Pfizer a week all the way through July and August. There's a big back up of people who have booked in for vaccine or want to book in for a vaccine.
What do you say to, you know, leaders who, like Brad Hazzard, who said trying to get doses is like The Hunger Games. What do you say to people like them?
Look, we work very constructively with all the states and territories. In terms of Queensland, we'll go from 232,000 doses of Pfizer in June to 430,000 doses. So an increase of almost 198,000 over the course of July. And I think that's a really significant increase.
So an increase for Queensland of almost 198,000. And if I may, I will give you the numbers for New South Wales.
For New South Wales, we'll go from 400,000 in June to 682,000, so an increase of 282,000 there. There were some additional supplies provided to New South Wales in June and so those figures were higher than the baseline might otherwise have been. So nevertheless, an increase of 282,000.
So what that shows is; we're able to achieve record results, record vaccinations, with the combination of AstraZeneca, and as Eric has said, very high second doses, which is really heartening, and Pfizer.
And just this month, in each of those two jurisdictions, an extra nearly 198,000 Pfizer doses in Queensland, and an extra 282,000 Pfizer doses in New South Wales. So I think all the states and territories, they’re all doing heavy lifting. We appreciate it. The backbone of the program of course has been the GP program. We see, at this point in time, that the Commonwealth programs have delivered 4.7 million doses; the state programs, 3.55 million. But all of them, all of the different channels are pitching in.
Thanks, Minister. New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard has likened the chase for available vaccines to The Hunger Games. What’s your response to this?
And just secondly, your colleague, Tim Wilson, has identified 60 per cent as a vaccine threshold to clear the first stages of roadmap to the return to normality. What’s your personal opinion on this and do you think any potential vaccine threshold should apply to adults or the entire population?
Sure. Look, in relation to vaccines, it is the most competitive global environment imaginable. And through the course of this, we've been fortunate to ensure that there was sovereign domestic manufacturing. And that's seen, at this point in time, over 5 million AstraZeneca vaccines delivered, including 4.3 million of those as first doses.
And that means that we're in a very strong position to have absolute security of supply over the rest of the AstraZeneca program. And then internationally, we have 40 million Pfizer that are due this year. We have 10 million Moderna that are due this year. And we have an order of 51 million Novavax and we're expecting the first arrivals of that to occur in the last quarter of the year at this stage. We’re hopeful for earlier but we put the conservative expectations of the last quarter of the year. And it is incredible the result that we had of 880,000 doses last week with what we have in Australia. That shows that the distribution system is working.
It's a global challenge. Australia is part of it. It shows that our challenge is different from others. In a world of well over 2.1 million lives lost this year, at this stage, no Australian has caught COVID and lost their lives in Australia this year. The vaccination program is part of those great global challenges, but for us, to see a record week is a strong indication.
In terms of thresholds, that's been referred, and it's very much understandable for anyone to have an opinion. But our approach has been to follow the medical advice. That work is being done by the amazing world leading Doherty Institute here in my home state of Victoria. They're doing that work, and we'll continue to work with the Doherty Institute, the Chief Medical Officer, and the chief health officers around Australia.
Yes, thanks, Minister. Since the conflicting messages we heard last week between Federal and state governments on vaccines, we saw a spike in anti-vaxxer activity online, including some groups encouraging aged care workers to go on strike and even protesting outside the offices of government MPs in Melbourne.
Is it unhelpful when we’ve got comments like those which came from Queensland last week? And what more can be done to combat this online misinformation and give more people more assurances around the safety of the vaccines?
Sure. Let me outrightly condemn the anti-vaxxers in Australia. Yes, I’ve had them protest outside my office on different occasions, but the real damage they do is by spreading falsehoods and undermining people's confidence.
But the truth is Australians are great vaccinators. What we've seen is that our childhood vaccination rates are some of the highest in the world, at over 95 per cent. And we're seeing strong confidence in Australia. And I would encourage everybody to have confidence in vaccination.
It's a pretty simple equation: vaccination for COVID can save your life. If you catch COVID, you can die. If you- and vaccination is your best protection against that. Then with regards to the Commonwealth and the states, look, we just work constructively. And I understand there will be voices or opinions from different time.
Our goal is really simple, and I think it's the mission that Eric first defined, to ensure that as many people are vaccinated as early as possible.
Just going back to a previous question about thresholds, given issues around things like hesitancy and stuff like that, and anti-vaxxer movements, is it wise to set sort of like a hard, arbitrary sort of numbers, just like 80 per cent, 70 per cent, whatever, or is it better to set a sort of threshold for reopening on the basis of everyone who wants a vaccine can have a vaccine?
And secondly, what is the current thinking around children being vaccinated, given some of the views of epidemiologists and what we've seen with Delta?
Sure. Look, in relation to children, the TGA is currently assessing an application from Pfizer. They are very- whilst they work at the fastest possible pace, they work to the fastest possible safe pace. And so they're doing that assessment, and once they've completed all of their safety assessments, then they'll make their decision. And so respectively, I won't pre-empt that. But that's the only application which I'm aware at this stage for children.
Others may be forthcoming, but I believe they're looking at 12 to 15 year olds. But again, that will be a TGA process and they will run to the point of working through all of the safety assessments, all of the efficacy assessments and then making their independent findings. They genuinely are an independent body, and that's what we want with our vaccine review body.
So we'll say one thing on this. But there was some criticism that they went through a full and thorough assessment. One of the things that I feel was a very important step in Australia is that we did go through the full and thorough assessment with Pfizer and AstraZeneca. As Professor Huyen Tran here at the Alfred in Melbourne said to me, that meant we were able to identify the cases of thrombosis, one million doses in Australia, as opposed to approximately 18 million doses in the UK. It meant that we were able to offer greater protection to Australians precisely because of the TGA process.
Then with regards to thresholds, we're working with the medical advisers. We're taking the modelling of the Doherty, working with the chief medical officer, working with the AHPPC, and that's the process for setting the thresholds. And I think it's important. What we've done right from the outset in Australia.
How is it that in a world of over 2.1 million lives agonisingly lost this year - that's the official figure, and the World Health Organization says between two and three times greater, in all likelihood, for the real figure - that we're at this stage, no lives lost in Australia? Although every day I look at the ICU numbers and there are seven people in ICU around Australia. How is it that we can achieve this? Because we follow the medical advice. It's kept us safe.
We'll continue to do this. We'll continue to ask questions, which is our job, to make sure we put the questions to the medical advisers, and when the modelling is complete, we’ll then overlay that with the medical advice and respond, as National Cabinet said last week.
Thanks, Minister. On aged care, I know every aged care home has been offered two doses, but do you actually know the percentage of aged care residents that are vaccinating, have been taking up that offer?
And also on staff, they've been eligible for four months now and have a vaccination rate that is as low or lower than the overall community, where is the failure there?
Was that a failure of messaging, of access, of supply, and what is going to be done to dramatically increase the vaccination rates of staff before it comes to being compulsory in September?
Sure. So firstly, in terms of residents, it's about 85.3 per cent of residents that have elected or their families have elected to accept the vaccine. Consent was provided for that. But we're working continuously to encourage every family to provide consent.
And I would gently, but very clearly say to the families of older Australians, that even if they're in the later stages of life, vaccination can either save or prevent a premature loss of life, or you want to be able to say goodbye to your loved ones in person. And to be able to do that in the same room by their side is so important if there's somebody in a palliative condition.
It is an individual choice, but we would encourage every family to so strongly consider providing consent for vaccination.
Now, with regards to workers, at this point in time, 97,000 workers have received the vaccination, I think it's about six per cent higher than the national average at this point in time. But it's precisely because of this, that National Cabinet, with very strong advocacy from the Prime Minister and the federal Government, made the decision last week to ensure that it would be mandatory for every aged care worker who wishes to work in an aged care facility to be vaccinated.
And that's a difficult decision. And I know that there will be some who don't support that. And we've done this because after having sought the medical advice on a number of occasions, that medical advice came back that endorsed the position which the Prime Minister had flagged some time earlier. And so we now have that.
And so there are a series of things we're going to do. There are four in-reach and three outreach programs. For the in-reach, we have the pop up clinics and roving clinics, if I may, actually, a better term, which Eric referred to, we have the self-vaccination program of facilities that's likely to see 25,000 workers covered over the course of the next two months. And that number is growing every day.
We have the formal in-reach program, and then we have GPs who have a flagpole to visit aged care facilities, and that includes the capacity to, by definition, ensure that the workers are vaccinated.
Then we have the outreach programs of GPs, Commonwealth vaccination clinics and state vaccination clinics. And I think the states, there's also work being done with the union, too. And I want to thank the unions. They have taken a very constructive approach to what could well be a difficult issue for many of their members, but we found them to be extremely constructive.
So making it mandatory was a clear but- I put it the other way, it was a difficult but clear decision. It's not something we would have wanted to have done, but it's something we needed to do, so we took that decision, and you can see why.
Thanks, Minister. The UK is opening up with 64 per cent of its population fully vaccinated. Do you consider that a practical and safe target that Australia could adopt too?
So one of the things we do do is we look around the world, and obviously, as we mentioned right at the outset, when countries took emergency decisions to list vaccines whilst we went through the full and thorough assessment process, there were many learnings.
The clearest learning is we were able to identify the thrombosis link to one million doses in Australia, as opposed to 18 million doses in the UK, approximately. Equally, we look at the experience from countries around the world, some countries that have vaccinated and had something of an additional wave afterwards.
We see the figures in the UK now of well over 20,000 cases a day at the moment, and when last I looked at approximately 300 people on ventilation and 120 lives lost in the last week.
But what we are learning is how we adapt. And the progressive plan, the four stages that the Prime Minister has set out, is both an incentive for the nation to be vaccinated, over and above protecting each individual and your family and your community.
But it's also a pathway which is based on international learning and safety, that moving progressively through the stages allows us to adapt.
This is a terrible pandemic. It's the worst pandemic the world’s seen in a hundred years. And yet we've kept our country overwhelmingly safe. But this progressive pathway is the next step forward.
Thanks, Minister. Two questions, if you don't mind. The first on the four phase plan, second on the vaccine ramp up. On the four phase plan, can the Government guarantee that the thresholds are set by the Doherty institute, they will be set in stone and won’t be walked back on?
And secondly, as the vaccine arrives, will clinics operate around the clock in the lead up to Christmas?
Okay. So I'll ask Eric on the second question. In terms of the timing, it'll be up to everybody to determine the timing of their own facilities. But I will make a comment on that.
Our GPs have put on extra clinics. Our state facilities have done an amazing job. Our Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations and the in-reach teams have all worked above and beyond.
What we do know is that at the current rate, we would be on track for ensuring that the nation had the opportunity for every Australian to be vaccinated. And that's before we step up.
Today is the commencement of Stage Three of our vaccination programme. The first quarter was the initial roll out, the second quarter was the general practice AstraZeneca programme, the third quarter begins with the general practise Pfizer program today and then we have the mass programme in the last quarter.
Where we can bring those supplies forward, as we've done with an additional 400,000 doses this month. We'll do it. But if people are required to work long hours, they'll continue to do that. But Eric will give more on that.
Then in relation to the thresholds, we’ll always follow the medical advice. And where ATAGI advice changed in relation to the AstraZeneca. We've followed that advice. It's likely that these thresholds will be enduring. But if the medical device changes because of a new strain, because of new learning, then we have to give ourselves the honest position of saying we'll adapt to the global circumstances and adapt to the medical advice. But by following that medical advice, we've kept each other safe.
Thanks, Minister. Thanks, Jonathan. I think the first thing to say that nothing is off the table. The Coordinator General, Lieutenant-General Frewen is on the record of saying that he's in the process of finishing off his review, his plan for the remainder of the year, which he’ll be exposing the states to tomorrow.
I think as we go through and see additional supplies, we have our primary channels. Our primary channels are the jurisdictions, the states and territories, and our primary care.
What we'll very carefully do throughout the year is monitor utilisation and the stock on hand of each of those channels. And where those channels have no capacity, we'll look for additional channels. And there's a raft of opportunities, and there’s a raft of different ways we can achieve that.
Thank you very much. Now, I'll come to the very patient Sumeyya and Richard, who are in the room. Sumeyya.
Lieutenant-General John Frewen completed his review into the national vaccine rollout program last week.
Other than providing more data, what other changes could there potentially be?
Sure. So look, as Eric mentioned, JJ Frewen is meeting with all of the states tomorrow. I will hand over to Eric in terms of some of the things that they've been doing together.
Well, again, I won’t pre-empt anything, but Lieutenant-General want to talk about himself, But he'll meet the states tomorrow, expose the states to that plan, make any requirements, and I’m sure he’ll be out to talk to people about what the plan looks like.
My second question is probably for the Commodore as well. We know we’re having a surge in the Pfizer vaccine towards the end of the year. Realistically speaking, when can people in their 20’s and 30’s potentially be vaccinated?
Again, I won’t make any comments about specifically age brackets. Again, that'll be a matter for the task force and Lieutenant-General Frewen to make that decision.
But again, as we've said a number of times now, the Pfizer vaccines will increase this month. So we're seeing now additional points of presence come on board for the general practises. We’re seeing the states get a modest increase this month. We'll see further increases then through August and September.
So, again, it would be a matter of looking at the numbers against each of those age cohorts that we put up on the website every day. And once we get to a point of adequate protection for those most vulnerable, I'm sure that the task force will make decisions on opening up.
Do you think realistically we can have people under the age of 40 have the Pfizer vaccine by the end of the year?
I think the Minister just said about two minutes ago, if you purely base it on what we're currently doing now, then those numbers will have us doing that cohort by the end of the year.
Minister, last week, there’s the announcement, the $11 million package for age care workers to get vaccinated. When will that support actually be available for aged care workers to?
So, we've had our first meeting with aged care providers. We're meeting with aged care providers over the course of this week. And our goal is to ensure that that is in place within the coming weeks.
What we want to do – and this is actually my number one focus at the moment – it's to make sure that, even though it's a difficult call, mandating vaccination if somebody wishes to work in residential aged care facility, we want to make sure that every facility is working with a plan so as every worker has that opportunity.
Obviously, the opportunity’s been out there for some considerable time. And indeed, I think it was, actually it was Norman Hermant from the ABC who wrote a very interesting piece about some of the differing views amongst workers on vaccination.
I respect those views. Ultimately, our job is to protect the residents, and that's why we put in place the mandate. So the answer is within the coming weeks. And the objective is to make sure that all seven of those channels for aged care workers are used.
On that point, looking at Baulkham Hills, I think two thirds of staff aren’t vaccinated. does the Federal Government accept some responsibility for that slow take up?
Look, our job is to encourage, to provide access. But ultimately, we made a difficult but very clear decision in National Cabinet last week to mandate vaccination.
I won't speculate on individual reasons, but I will say our responsibility is to ensure that everybody who is going to work in an aged care facility is vaccinated. With the take up as it is, the decision was made.
What’s my personal view? I think it was the right decision. It’s one we thought about and approached the medical advisers on for quite a while. The answer had not been forthcoming. We did push strongly to indicate that our absolute task was, above all else, to protect residents.
I'm pleased that the medical advisers saw it that way and provided, I think, the sensible time frame. And our job and Eric's job is to provide the channels to do that, and what we are seeing is a rapid increase in uptake since that decision has been announced. And I will say this, a rapid increase in uptake from aged care workers.
I’ll finish by once again saying to the Australian people, these are difficult times. It's a period like none of us have experienced in peacetime. But Australians have continued to keep each other safe, and they’re also now coming forward in record numbers.
But if you’re due for your second dose, please come forward. And if you're eligible for a first dose, please come forward. Each vaccination helps protect the nation, but it also helps protect you.