Date published: 
13 April 2021
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

NIC HEALEY:

Over the weekend, we heard from Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and he said that the Government would no longer be setting targets for the vaccination delivery, COVID-19 vaccinations. Now the original long-term target was to have fully vaccinated all 20 million adults by the end of October. That was adjusted to a goal of trying to give all adults their first dose by that date but now we know that's impossible given the AstraZeneca was the backbone of our strategy across Australia. Just over 1.16 million doses have been administered. It is far short of where we initially hoped to be. Mark Coulton is the Minister for Regional Health. Minister, good morning.

MARK COULTON:

Morning Nic.

NIC HEALEY:

Would you describe this as a botched rollout?

MARK COULTON:

No, I think that's not correct.

I think obviously there's been some issues that have come up that weren't foreseen and you know, we are being very cautious.

We are taking the advice of the medical professionals, despite the fact that the AstraZeneca risk is extremely low and right from the start, Australia has managed the COVID pandemic very well because we followed the advice of the medical experts and that's what we're doing now.

And if it means that it's going to take a bit longer to do the rollout, so be it.

But I think, Nic, we need to be very careful that we don't try and make this more than it is, and have people lose confidence in the fact that they will get a vaccine.

It might be on the day that they were or the time they were originally hoping. But they will get their vaccine and Australia will be covered.

NIC HEALEY:

But even before the AstraZeneca issue, there was some confusion especially with the groups 1A and 1B.

We were hearing reports of people in the 1A group not getting their vaccine; people in the 1B group getting it before 1A.

You've got to admit, there does seem, for people who are just wondering when their jab is coming, there does seem to be a lot of confusion.

MARK COULTON:

Well, I think, Nic, there's a lot of people making assumptions too, and the idea that 1A and 1B were actually run at the same time.

1A was run by the Commonwealth for aged care residents; 1B largely has been run in conjunction with the states, but by the Commonwealth as well for frontline health workers and some of the more vulnerable people.

I think the thing to remember is that people will get their chance.

Everyone was up in arms two weeks ago because there was nowhere where you could go to get your vaccine.

I’ve visited a couple of sites now where people in an orderly fashion in that 1B group over 70 or with chronic health conditions or frontline health workers are getting their vaccine and that will continue on.

Because there’s still about 8 million Australians, Nic, that are eligible to have the AstraZeneca dose.

And anyone that's under 50 that may have had one dose and they haven't had ill effects, it's quite safe for them to have their second dose as well.

NIC HEALEY:

Can people under 50 volunteer to have the AstraZeneca.

MARK COULTON:

Yes, I believe so, and I think that some will do that.

But the advice was, because of the blood clotting, low percentages, but I gather quite severe consequences. But there are other medications that people take that have side effects in a similar vein.

Having a national rollout, it was felt that the risk was probably just a little great.

Having said that, 20 million people across the globe have had the AstraZeneca vaccine up until now and, the results are far better than where we've had COVID.

We do have a bit of an advantage in Australia, the fact that we aren't battling illness and death like they are in other parts of the world, that we can take our time on this.

But in other countries, they haven't had that luxury because they're still losing thousands of people, every week, right across the globe now with COVID.

And we still need to be very careful coming into winter that we maintain our other practices with our hygiene and social distance and other things, so that it doesn't take hold here this winter.

NIC HEALEY:

Minister, one of the concerns around the Pfizer vaccine, something you and I spoke about, was the difficulties of transporting it given the temperature requirements. Now, we have heard that there have been changes to those requirements.

Is that going to mean we can get it faster into regional area?

MARK COULTON:

Yeah. Originally it was thought that the minus 70 degree story, was going to be a problem.

But I was actually at the DHL distribution and storage warehouse in Western Sydney some weeks ago.

They’ve got quite ingenious packaging, Nic, that they can transport this for quite a large distance packed in dry ice and it just looks like a cardboard carton from the outside, but quite good packaging and it can be kept like that for some time.

There are hubs about, there's one in Dubbo, a hub that can store the Pfizer vaccine at the -70 for a longer period of time.

But once it's thawed back to refrigerator temperature, it’s still I think five days that it can be stored in a refrigerator, a normal vaccine fridge.

So that puts the ability to have flexibility to move it into more isolated remote area. So, it's not quite as tricky as I think as first thought.

NIC HEALEY:

Are you worried though that with the suggestion that some people may be waiting until next year to be fully vaccinated that we could look at another run of COVID? We know it's still out in the community.

MARK COULTON:

That's the risk, Nic. That's definitely the risk and, you know, that's why I'm still encouraging people that when their time comes, obviously people over 50 are more vulnerable but it doesn't mean younger people can't get it.

But if you are younger than 50 and have an underlying health condition, you’ll be eligible under that 1B rollout.

So, you know, I'm certainly encouraging people to have the vaccine because quite frankly the side effects of COVID can be deadly and if not, they can be life-altering.

We are hearing reports of people who have actually come through having COVID having ongoing issues around fatigue and other things.

So, certainly when my time comes for my age group to have it, I'll be having the AstraZeneca dose.

NIC HEALEY:

Minister, given the lack of targets now that will be set in terms of the vaccine rollout and some confusion around the timetable, can we be expecting, I think, a better communication from the Government about when we should be contacting GPs, when we should be getting ready?

MARK COULTON:

Yeah, it's always been a problem, Nic, there's no doubt about it that because in the early stages, some of the vaccines that were promised didn’t turn up on time.

I don’t think people shouldn't misinterpret the lack of target for lack of resolve to get this done as quickly as possible.

And so, it is frustrating. I know there's a lot of people working in medical centres who have been overrun by people with phone calls concerned very much about when they can get their dose.

We will do as best we can but as we've seen, to set a too rigid a timeline and not keep it sometimes can be more upsetting to people than not knowing until the last minute.

So, we are working through that. This is still the number one priority for this country, for this Government and we are dealing with the circumstances and the cards we've been dealt with.

NIC HEALEY:

Minister, thanks for your time this morning. Mark Coulton, Minister for Regional Health anticipating that we will be getting a bit more communication from the Government when it comes to understanding when and where we should be looking to get our COVID-19 vaccines.