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

MICHAEL KIDD:                   

Good afternoon. I hope the rest of your Monday is going well. My name is Professor Michael Kidd. I'm the Acting Chief Medical Officer with the Australian Government Department of Health. I'm very pleased to be joined today by my colleague, Dr Antonio Di Dio. Antonio is a general practitioner based in Canberra and also president of the Australian Capital Territory branch of the Australian Medical Association. We're joining you today from the lands of the Ngunnawal people. I acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands where we're speaking today and pay my respects to elders past, present and future.                              

There have been no new cases of community transmission of COVID-19 reported in Australia in the last 24 hours. We have had 10 new reported cases, all among people who are returned travellers and who are in hotel quarantine: three in New South Wales, four in Queensland, two in South Australia, and one in Western Australia. Globally, the situation continues to be very concerning, with an additional 541,081 cases having been reported in the past 24 hours, bringing the global total to over 131 million people reported to have been infected with COVID-19. And very sadly, an additional 7,032 people have been reported to have lost their lives in the last 24 hours, bringing the global death toll to 2,851,932.

The expansion of the national COVID-19 vaccination program is progressing. And as planned, we have further general practices commencing their vaccination programs over this coming week. You can search for your local general practice or for other sites which are distributing the vaccine by visiting the Australian Government Department of Health website, health.gov.au, and going to the Vaccine Eligibility Checker, which is on the front page, or by calling the hotline, 1800-020-080.

As a general practitioner and a former president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, I'm very proud of my colleagues, our nation's GPs, our practice nurses, our receptionists and practice managers, and everyone else who has risen to the challenge of delivering the COVID-19 vaccine to our population. As planned, the GP vaccine rollout is expanding again this week after four consecutive record days last week. As Minister Greg Hunt advised yesterday, last Monday, there were over 55,000 vaccinations completed across the nation. On Tuesday, that increased to over 72,000, Wednesday, over 73,000, and on Thursday, over 79,000 vaccinations. In the past two weeks, working with our other vaccination delivery sites and teams, our nation's GPs have helped to triple the number of doses of vaccine delivered in two weeks from 250,000 a week to over 840,000 in the last week. And the daily and weekly numbers will continue to rise. Last week, we had over 1500 general practices involved in the vaccine rollout. By the end of this week, we will have over 3000 general practices, Commonwealth-funded GP-led respiratory clinics, and Aboriginal health services delivering the vaccine to members of their local communities. And that number will continue to rise to over 4000 sites by the end of this month. The rollout through general practice utilises the strong primary healthcare infrastructure that exists in our nation and our highly skilled professional workforce. Each year, our general practices deliver our National Immunisation Program to our nation's children and young people, and our annual influenza program to our entire population.

I also welcome the increased number of clinics being planned and opened by states and territories. Each state and territory is making their own plans on how to best meet local needs, how to ensure that all people in each state and territory have the opportunity to receive the vaccine. We're also seeing further opportunities for vaccination of our aged care and disability care workforce, including discussions to allow those facilities which would like to vaccinate their own staff to do so, as happens each year with the influenza vaccine. The first priority, of course, has been the residents of our residential aged care facilities, but it is also very important that the workers in these facilities also have the opportunity to be immunised.

I remind you that we are continuing to investigate the report of thrombosis and thrombocytopenia following the AstraZeneca vaccine. As I reported over the weekend, ATAGI, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, is continuing to meet with colleagues from the European Medicines Agency and from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in the United Kingdom. ATAGI is planning to meet on Wednesday of this week to further discuss the analysis of the data from similar cases of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia that have been reported elsewhere, particularly in Europe and the United Kingdom following the AstraZeneca vaccine. As I said on Saturday, while at this time we don't have definitive evidence of causality, the clinical features of the case reported on Friday are consistent with what we've seen in international reports of similar cases. It is likely that the case reported on Friday is related to the vaccine, which would be consistent with that international experience. But the definitive determination is, of course, up to the processes of our Therapeutic Goods Administration.

It is important to note that our colleagues overseas appear to be seeing one to two cases of thrombosis and thrombocytopenia reported in every 1 million people who receive the COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccine. By contrast, we know that the risk of death from COVID-19 remains at one to two deaths per 100 people infected. Although we currently have no cases of community transmission in Australia, we are permanently at risk of being on the brink of another outbreak. There will be, inevitably, more cases of community transmission. Especially when our nation starts to open up further to the rest of the world. We need to continue to protect our population through our voluntary vaccination program and through the public health measures which have been in place throughout the pandemic. I would now like invite Dr Antonio Di Dio to speak with us.

ANTONIO DI DIO:                

Thank you very much Professor Kidd. I'll be brief. I speak here on behalf of the Australian Medical Association and our Federal President Dr Omar Khorshid. We have been advocating, very strongly, for- firstly, for the development of a vaccine and secondly for the disciplined, careful and competent rollout of that vaccine across all of Australia. We consider that the crucial step towards developing our protection against this ghastly illness across all of Australia and the world is the vaccine. As well as the other measures that we have been taking for many months now, such as social distancing and appropriate conduct when in public places. We are very, very optimistic about the effectiveness of the vaccine and we encourage very strongly all Australians who are eligible, to check that eligibility, either through the website or through the 1800 number or through your own general practitioner and get vaccinated. It is an incredibly important step. And at this early stage, the evidence so far is that the vaccine is the right thing to do.

We are blessed in this country with the very, very small number of active cases, a very small number of deaths, and particularly in the number of days that we've had in 2021 already where there have been no cases at all. This is by no means an accident. This is a consequence of outstanding advocacy from a range of groups, not just our own, many other groups, and from leadership from state and federal governments. I have no further comment to make other than to say that the rollout is incredibly important and is progressing at this stage reasonably well, as one would have expected. Certainly on a per capita basis, it's progressing as well as any other country, the vast majority of other countries in the world. But we do need to work together and collaborate to make this rollout work. As a GP myself, I particularly would like to thank the thousands and thousands of hard-working committed GPs all around Australia whose practices, whether they give the vaccine or not, have been thrown into an extraordinary difficult maelstrom of busyness and sometimes chaos and who have handled that challenge with incredible courage. Thanks.

MICHAEL KIDD:                   

Happy to take any questions. We'll start in the room.

QUESTION:                          

Professor, you- I might have missed it in the- all the numbers you gave us at the start there, but could you give us the latest number of vaccinations nationally in Australia? [Indistinct] and could you break that down into Phase 1A and 1B?

MICHAEL KIDD:             

Thank you. So, Minister Greg Hunt reported the most recent figures in his press conference yesterday. And that's over 840,000 cases a week. He also reported the breakdown by states and territories. I don't have the breakdown by phase 1A and B available at the moment. Thank you.

QUESTION:                          

Can you confirm how many doses have been blocked from coming from the UK to Australia. And that has been the key reason for the rollout's delay? Is that the predominant reason?

MICHAEL KIDD:                   

Thank you. So, the question, just in case people can't hear, was can we confirm about the...

QUESTION:                          

The amount of vaccines.

MICHAEL KIDD:                   

[Talks over] the amount of vaccine which has been blocked from coming into Australia?

QUESTION:                          

Yeah.

MICHAEL KIDD:                   

Thank you. And that as a reason for the progress with the vaccine rollout. So, we have had a number of shipments of vaccine and it's been the overseas supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which as you know, have been blocked from coming into Australia. We have still been receiving shipments of the Pfizer vaccine. And we're dependent on overseas supply for the Pfizer vaccine. The good news, of course, is that over the last few weeks we've had the local production of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the CSL facility in Melbourne and many, many tens of- sorry, hundreds of thousands of doses of that vaccine. Which go through their batch testing with the Therapeutic Goods Administration, and then available for distribution right around the country.

QUESTION:                          

What's the actual figure though? Of doses?

MICHAEL KIDD:                   

Yeah, I can't give you an actual figure, but we can help you with that afterwards.

QUESTION:                          

Sorry, is there a reason we don't have a vaccine update today? Is it because of public holiday and collating data that sort of thing? But the last update was 24 hours ago. Is there a reason we don't have one today?

MICHAEL KIDD:                   

Yes. Of course, yesterday was Easter Sunday, and we expected that very few doses of vaccine were going to be delivered on Easter Sunday. We do have people who are delivering the vaccine, however, today, even though it is Easter Monday. And we thank everybody who is involved in giving up their holiday to be helping the national public health efforts.

QUESTION:                          

CSL says it's manufactured 2.5 million doses that are awaiting final reviews. When can we expect the doses to be in people's arms? And has the approvals process been too slow, given that we're in a pandemic and we need to act immediately like in other countries?

MICHAEL KIDD:                   

Yes. So, we are going through our same rigorous processes with the Therapeutic Goods Administration, with ensuring the safety and the quality of every batch of vaccine which is being produced by the CSL facilities. So as those vaccines are released by CSL, each batch goes through that process of assessment. And then once the Therapeutic Goods Administration is confident with those batches, then they are released for distribution.

Can I go to people on the phone? I have on the phone Trudy?

QUESTION:                          

Thanks, Professor Kidd. Can I just go to that CSL issue? How many doses are CSL currently providing per week? When will they hit that 1 million a week target that the Health Minister previously talked about would happen by the end of March? And what's the hold-up?

MICHAEL KIDD:                   

Yep, thank you. So, I can't actually give you the figures. But we're happy to check those and get them to you out of session there, Trudy.

QUESTION:                          

Well, what's the reason? Does the Government not know what CSL is producing a week?

MICHAEL KIDD:                   

I don't have the figures available here right now. Can I go to Tamsin? Tamsin? May have dropped off. Madura?

QUESTION:                          

Hey, Professor. I have a question. So in- the Victorian State Government, or the Health Department today mentioned that they have continued to vaccinate people over the Easter long weekend [indistinct]…

 [phone line issues]

… in Queensland, the state vaccination hubs actually closed on Sunday. Are you of the opinion that the state vaccinate hubs should be open seven days a week in order to get this rollout really progressing, considering this is a pandemic and it is [indistinct] of emergency?

MICHAEL KIDD:                   

Thanks, Midura. So, obviously that is an issue for the people in that state as to the opening hours of their vaccine distribution centres. But I do want to reiterate our thanks to the many tens of thousands of Australians who are involved in the vaccine rollout program and who are doing their very best to protect the people of Australia.

QUESTION:                          

[Indistinct]… question on pharmacists- obviously, you're talking about GPs and their role in the vaccine rollout. Pharmacists say there's been a delay in getting them involved. Do you think the pharmacies are an answer to getting mass vaccinations? They say they want to get involved sooner. Will you be able to facilitate that?

MICHAEL KIDD:                   

Thank you. So the question was about the involvement of pharmacists in the vaccine rollout program. Pharmacists are scheduled to come online with the delivery of vaccines when we get to Phase 2A of the vaccine rollout program, and that's expected to commence in the middle of the year. And that's part of the current schedule for the rollout.

QUESTION:                          

On that theme, Professor, there's lots of talk this week about mass vaccination sites in Australia. Generally speaking, I imagine it's still under consideration, that sort of thing. But generally speaking, could you tell us how these could work here? I mean, what sort of locations could potentially be used? In the US it's shopping malls, stadiums, and that sort of thing. Can you give us an update on that area, what the Federal Government is thinking about?

MICHAEL KIDD:                   

Thank you. So we already have over 100 mass vaccination sites established across the country. These are the general practice-led respiratory clinics, which were established a year ago to do mass COVID-19 testing. And many of those sites are now also providing very large numbers of vaccine doses every day. That is working very well. And many people of course have already received the first dose of their vaccine through one of those sites. State and territories, as I mentioned, are also looking to see what they might do in addition to ensure that the needs of people in each state and territory are being met and that nobody is missing out on the opportunity to receive the vaccine. Of course, people who are not Australian citizens are also eligible to receive the vaccine. You don't need to have a Medicare card to get vaccinated through either one of the GP-led respiratory clinics or through a state or territory hub.

QUESTION:                          

On that point, though, I mean, obviously Australia is focused on a GP and pharmacies and those sort of things to really boost up our numbers here. What are the concerns or impediments around rolling out vaccines to stadiums [indistinct]… that sort of thing? Is it one of the things that's maybe not as easy as it sounds at first glance?

MICHAEL KIDD:                   

Well, of course, we already have an incredibly effective system of delivering vaccines to the people of Australia as Antonio has outlined, and that's through our general practices. And this is where people receive their vaccines each year. It's incredibly well set up. The people who are working there are very well trained. We

have the practices accredited to ensure the safety of the process. So, we're using, in Australia, the very strong system that we already have of strong primary health care, strong general practice.

QUESTION:                          

So that seems like [indistinct]… a no to that sort of system, like [indistinct]… the US and the UK?

MICHAEL KIDD:                   

Well at the moment, we don't need that sort of system because we are rolling out the system effectively through the systems that we already have in Australia. Thank you everybody for your time. And thank you to our Auslan interpreters. Thank you.

Contact

Departmental media enquiries

Contact for members of the media

news [at] health.gov.au (subject: Media%20enquiry%20-%20News%20item%20ID20790, body: URL - https%3A%2F%2Fwww.health.gov.au%2Fnews%2Facting-chief-medical-officer-professor-michael-kidds-press-conference-on-5-april-2021)

View contact