Date published: 
11 June 2021
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

PAUL KELLY:…I've got quite a few things to talk about today. Five specific topics. The first of those is just to talk about a very unfortunate event that has happened in New South Wales. So, New South Wales Health has, just in the last couple of hours, announced we have had our second death related to the AstraZeneca vaccine. Extremely unfortunate situation of a 52 -year-old woman who had the vaccine a couple of weeks ago, and has developed this extremely rare, but as in this case, sometimes quite serious, clotting event. I will point out that it's only the second death with now over 3.6 million doses of this vaccine being given across Australia. I will point out that this remains an extremely rare event to get these serious clots, but when they happen, as we have seen in this case, it can have tragic circumstances. So my heart certainly goes out to the family, and all the friends and colleagues of this particular person.

In terms of the AstraZeneca vaccination rollout, my colleague Commodore Young will talk to that more fully, but it remains an incredibly and extremely important part of our vaccine rollout. The AstraZeneca vaccine, with our large numbers of doses that are available here in Australia, up to, in recent weeks, a million doses available to Australians, is absolutely key in relation to us becoming safe from a COVID as a population here in Australia, and that remains the case. As has happened every week, the TGA has released a more detailed report about events after vaccination, including this clotting event. And they now have found seven extra cases during this week, and they've - for the first time - characterised these by Tier 1 and Tier 2 events. Tier 1 being the more severe forms of the disease, and so we now have 15 cases either confirmed or probable in that very serious clotting event. So again, 15 out of 3.6 million doses, so extremely rare. And in the second tier, the less serious effects, 33 confirmed or probable cases have met the definition.

So these events remain of concern, and we are looking at them very closely. We learn from each of these, including this unfortunate event in New South Wales. But the ATAGI group, our expert group on immunisation has met again. Has re-looked at that extra information, made that risk-benefit analysis as they did some weeks ago, now in relation to AstraZeneca, have confirmed that for people over 50 that it should be the vaccine of choice. And for under-50, the Pfizer vaccine currently is preferred. There is definitely a much lower risk of this event, these clotting events, the older one gets. There is a definite cut point there at around the age of 50. So that's the news on vaccines.

A second vaccine announcement today, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, our experts on pregnancy, together with ATAGI, our expert group on immunisation, have issued new guidelines with relation to vaccination in pregnant women and those that are considering becoming pregnant. This is based on new information with over 123,000 pregnant women who have received the vaccine just before pregnancy, or during pregnancy, and had a perfectly normal pregnancy outcome, with no problem for the woman themselves, or their baby. So those guidelines now are that if you are pregnant and you are in one of those eligible categories, so for that younger group it would be people between the age of 40 and 49, or for those who are healthcare workers, aged care workers, et cetera in those- disability care workers, or people with a disability, that are pregnant in those groups, they should feel free, and in fact are encouraged to receive the vaccine which would be, in those cases, the Pfizer vaccine.

My third announcement today is in relation to Melbourne, and Victoria more broadly. So, firstly, well done to our Victorian colleagues in relation to getting on top of this latest outbreak that we've been seeing for the last couple of weeks now in Melbourne. That's in a very good space. And as I said last week when the hotspot definition was extended until midnight tonight, that I would relook closely at the epidemiology in Melbourne and to see whether they should be extended. I have made the decision that the hotspot should be- that designation should be removed at midnight tonight, the same as the Victoria lockdown changes. And that will mean an end to that COVID disaster payment, that's for others in government to talk about how those processes work, I just given the medical advice. But the other elements that the hotspot brings in, in particular further support for the single worker, single site element of aged care, as well as the Victorian aged care response centre, they will continue. And any other assistance the Victorian government was at this time in relation to personal protective equipment for example, will be provided and that will continue for another two weeks, but the hotspot definition- designation, rather, will cease tonight at midnight.

The third announcement today is that the Governor-General of this morning has signed off on an extension of the emergency measures related to the bio security act. This is the standard approach that we've become used to since early last year, that this emergency period can only last for three months, that's an important sunset clause. I need to give advice to Mister Hunt that that is- needs to be continued from the medical point of view. And there's a series of questions and answers I have to provide to the Minister. He then needs to provide, as a check and balance to the Governor-General, to make sure that the Governor-General also agrees with that stance, and he has done so. He's signed that emergency measures into law again for a further three months up until 17 September. So that extends the four existing emergency determinations under that particular determination, which is mandatory pre-departure testing and mask waiting for those returning on international flights. Restrictions on the entry of cruise vessels into Australian territory. Restrictions on outbound international travel for Australians, and restrictions on trade and retail outlets at international airports. So the Government, in particular in relation to cruise vessels, continues to consult with the states and territories, and the maritime industry, on options for stage resumption of a cruising, when the medical advice is that it is safe to do so. And that's discussed regularly at the AHPPC.

My final announcement and an important one, the publication today of the updated Infection Control Expert Group advice on healthcare worker protection. This is related to those at risk of being exposed to COVID-19 in healthcare settings, wherever they may be. In hospitals, in primary care settings, in quarantine, wherever health workers are. And throughout the pandemic it has been a key focus of the Government and myself to protect healthcare workers from contracting COVID-19. And the Department of Health, the Infection Control Expert Group and the Australian Health Protection Principle Committee have constantly reviewed the medical evidence and regularly updated their advice, which has been adopted by governments across the country. And this is the latest change in that advice. In this context, experts from across a diverse range of fields have worked very closely together to continually update these guidelines in relation to their use of personal protective equipment, including and in particular P2 and N95 masks and eye protection. And I'm very pleased to see that this work has been achieved not only with the Infection Control Expert Group, which advises AHPPC, but also the National COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Task Force, which include representatives from 32 peak groups of clinicians and others. And we've have worked very hard and collaboratively to come up with what I think is an excellent set of guidelines, which are very clear in relation to this work. And so, they are now published. And that's a good thing.

Okay. So I'll handover to my colleague now, Commander Young, to talk about the vaccine rollout.

ERIC YOUNG: Thank you Professor Kelly and good afternoon everybody. Yesterday, 142,808 doses of vaccine were administered across the country, taking our total now to 5,487,670 doses of vaccine administered across the country. Within Victoria, 51,000 doses of vaccine were administered, taking their total now to over 1.6 million doses of vaccine administered. And of particular note, 62 per cent of those aged 70 and above have now received at least one dose of vaccine in Victoria. And 48 per cent of those aged 50 and above have now received at least one dose of vaccine. In Queensland, 26,000 doses of vaccines were administered yesterday, now taking their total over 1 million doses of vaccine administered. Within Queensland, 60 per cent of those aged 70 and over have received at least one dose of vaccine and 40 per cent of those aged 50 and over have received at least one dose of vaccine.

Apart from supporting the 5500 vaccination sites across the country, our primary focus at this stage is surging to support Victoria as well as the Queensland governments.

In terms of my operational update, I'll do that in three parts today, focused on supply of the vaccine, the distribution of the vaccine and administering of the vaccine. In terms of supply, as I alluded to on Monday, the Therapeutic Goods Administration has now cleared 811,980 doses of Pfizer vaccine and 232,800 doses of the onshore CSL-manufactured AstraZeneca vaccine. In terms of distribution of the vaccine, this week we are distributing over 1.1 million doses of vaccine across the country. As of yesterday, 585,000 doses of those vaccines had been successfully delivered. And today, we have 172,000 doses of vaccine to more than 670 locations across the country.

This week for Victoria, they'll receive 141,000 doses of vaccine for state hubs and 280,000 doses of vaccine for primary care sites in Victoria. For Queensland, the State Government will receive 95,000 doses of vaccine this week. That includes an additional 20,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine for the Sunshine Coast University Hospital, which arrived today. And primary care sites will receive 92,000 doses of vaccine. That includes an increase of approximately 16,500 doses of vaccine to be delivered over the next two weeks to 75 general practices within the Sunshine Coast area.

So in short, we continue to work with states and territories, in particular Queensland and Victoria, to make sure that we are providing more vaccines to protect more Australians.

In terms of administering the vaccine, as I said in my opening comments, yesterday 142,808 doses of vaccine were administered, now taking our total to 5,487,670 doses of vaccine, at more than 5500 sites across the country. Yesterday, 70,000 doses of vaccine were administered by primary care. And of note, the states and territories had a record with 66,678 doses of vaccine administered in a single day from 763 sites across the country.

With our vaccine workforce providers, we continue to focus on those most at risk in our community. Those older Australians in residential aged care facilities and I'm pleased to say that the final residential aged care facility is currently receiving its final dose of - correction, its first dose visit in Western Australia and that will be complete by the end of the day. 2318 of those residential aged care facilities have received a second dose visit, accounting for 90 per cent of those residential aged care facilities. Within Victoria, all 596 residential aged care facilities have received a first dose sites. And as of yesterday, 515 of those sites have received a second dose visit, which is 86 per cent of those residential aged care facilities. This week we have another 104 of those residential aged care facilities receiving a second dose visit, and on top of that, we have 59 roving clinics. Those roving clinics are designed to transit to residential aged care facilities that have already received a first those and offer vaccines to those who may not have chosen to take up a vaccine in their first visit.

Within Queensland, all 510 residential aged care facilities have received a first dose visit and 467, or 92 per cent, have received a second dose visit. And we're currently planning on setting up nine roving clinics to do the same thing in Queensland.

As we continue to complete the residential aged care facilities, those workforce providers will pivot continually towards our disability sector and we have now 8199 people with a disability living in a residential setting that have received at least one dose of vaccine.

This week, we want to ensure that all eligible Australians, particularly those newly eligible Australians, as directed by National Cabinet on Friday, understand how and where to access a vaccine. And I'll point everyone to the eligibility checker at health.gov.au. We've now had more than 8.6 million visits. But today, like we do every single day, our focus is on ensuring the vaccines we have are available across the country, where and when they're most needed to protect more Australians. Thank you.

PAUL KELLY: Great. Thank you, Commodore Young. So, turn to the room first. Welcome.

QUESTION: Thank you. On this second death. It's a 52-year-old. A lot of people aged 50, 51, 52 will probably be fairly concerned about this news, especially people who were maybe a bit worried before this death. Is there no leeway with the ATAGI about changing the age for AstraZeneca or? I mean, what would you say to those concerns?

PAUL KELLY: Look, I understand that this is very concerning news. As I said before, it's very clearly concerning news to the families that are affected. But I would say this, that we have made those decisions based on the risk and benefit equation. At the moment, the AstraZeneca is really important element of our vaccine rollout and individuals- but nothing is compulsory. So individuals who have concern about any medical procedure, but including and in particular the COVID vaccine at this time, should talk to their own GP about those concerns. It's certainly a very important point about the AstraZeneca vaccine, that there is advice now about what to watch out for. And most of those cases, as we've seen, that have occurred, have ended well. So there has been full recovery from the issue.

QUESTION:  Can you tell us like why this person died? Can you give us any more detail about underlying health conditions or was it caught a bit late?

PAUL KELLY: Yeah. So, I won't go into the details. This is all just happening today, so obviously there'll be a coroner's case that will look into those matters and what we can learn about it. But I will be writing to doctors again in Australia. I've written before about AstraZeneca and the issues that we've seen, but also the benefits of the vaccine, so that doctors can have that very good discussion about consent with anyone who wants to have this vaccine. But I would say, you know, we- just to remember, we've had three point 6 million doses of this vaccine, two tragic deaths. But other than that, mostly this has worked well and continues to work well and with great safety.

QUESTION: Can I ask one more question?

PAUL KELLY: Yes, do.

QUESTION:  Victoria's made masks compulsory outside, which is a bit of a change on their advice yesterday. Have we seen any cases of transmission in outdoor settings? What is the medical benefit of getting people to wear masks outside?

PAUL KELLY: Yeah. So, I'd- as always, I'll leave the specifics of the public health advice to the states and territories. They're the ones that know their local circumstances. I think the rationale for the Victorian decision is about abundance of caution in relation to releasing almost everything else and keeping masks - for two reasons. I think one is it is a reminder, as we have whenever anyone goes on a plane in Australia, you will understand this. It's a reminder that COVID has not gone away, it can come back at any time, that we need to be cautious. It's a great opportunity to consider getting the vaccine as another reminder of that. And I think that's the main thing that the Victorian authorities have taken into account. But as I say, it's their decision in the end.

I'll go to the phone now, and I've got Madura McCormack from The Courier Mail.

QUESTION: Thanks, Professor. I have a question about, obviously, the vaccine. Hoping I guess, for an explanation and just for a bit more information. So, I guess just to the Commodore, you mentioned an extra 16,500 over the two weeks for Sunshine Coast GPs. Could you just, I guess, confirm that 16,500 over two weeks or 16,500 per week? I think you said 95,000 for the state-run rollout, how much more extra than normal is this?

ERIC YOUNG: Yeah, Madura. As I articulated, the 95,000 includes an additional 20,000 doses of vaccine, which we delivered today. In terms of the 16,500 for GPs, that's over two weeks, and it's split into 75 GPs, about 37 this week and the remainder next week.

QUESTION:  Okay. Just quickly, just one more. I'm wondering with the new storage conditions with Pfizer, when can we expect GPs to start administering the Pfizer jabs, I guess, in Australia, but also in Queensland?

ERIC YOUNG: Yeah, the Minister covered this this morning. So, we currently have some of our Commonwealth vaccination centres transitioning to Pfizer at the moment, and they'll progressively transition over this month. In addition, we'll start to transition the first of the general practices in July. We have approximately 500 of those transitioning in the second week of July and two weeks later, approximately another 500. And we'll progressively roll out that to the GPS over the rest of the year.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

PAUL KELLY: I'll go to Greg Brown in The Australian.

QUESTION: Hello. Just a couple of questions. One is on the global vaccine rollout. What is your working hypothesis as to how long it will take the world to get vaccinated, high rates around the whole world? Are we looking at potentially a couple of years or five years or what's your view on that? And also with the AstraZeneca vaccine, are there any- is there a sign that people are getting blood clots without low platelets?

PAUL KELLY: So, just to do the AstraZeneca first, so this syndrome, it's a new syndrome. In fact, I'm talking to one of the haematology experts after this press conference about what's the latest known about this. And in many ways, Australia's leading the world because we are picking up those more mild forms more than anywhere else in the UK, for example, or in Europe. So, it is- the syndrome itself is characterised by low platelets and clotting, which is a very unusual event. It has been described previously with some other medicines, but it is an extremely rare combination.

In terms of other clots, there's no signal. We're looking at that. The TGA every week does look at all sorts of things that happen in the period following vaccination. And of course, most of those things that happen in the period after vaccination would have happened anyway and is not anything related to vaccination. They haven't found any link with other types of clotting in the AstraZeneca or the Pfizer vaccine.

In terms of the rollout globally, look, the answer to that question is how serious is the- does the world want to take about a global response to a global pandemic? The G7 is meeting this week, I understand- this weekend. I understand that is a major part of those discussions, though I hear that the US may be making a specific announcement in relation to those things. This is just from the media, but all of those things would be extremely welcome. I think it is going to take a long time at current rates to vaccinate the world and will take a huge commitment from developed rich countries that have vaccine capability- vaccine manufacturing capability to commit to share that with the whole world. That's how we get out of this together.

Simon Lane from Channel 10.

QUESTION: G'day there, Professor. It's Simon Love from Channel 10 here in Melbourne. I understand that you were saying before that you're not responsible for the economic side of the payment that you were talking about, which obviously come off after the hotspot declaration at midnight tonight. But in Melbourne, we're obviously coming out of so-called lockdown, but there are still some restrictions like the 25 kilometre limit, and also some businesses are unable to open like gyms. So, obviously, they've got concerns that they can't get that disaster payment. Did you reconsider your decision in light of those two aspects? And also what's been announced today by Allen Cheng with masks to remain on outdoors?

PAUL KELLY: So, the masks, I think I've addressed that. That's a decision for the Victorian authorities as a precaution that they've put in place. In terms of the COVID Disaster Payment, that was discussed and agreed at National Cabinet last week about how that would work, and the two elements that switch it on is a lockdown event as prescribed by the public health authorities in a particular state or territory, plus my designation of a hotspot in a particular geographic area. So, both of those have to be in place for people to become eligible to that payment. The lockdown has essentially been removed, and I'm removing the hotspot. So that's the medical advice. How that flows through to the actual mechanism of payment, that's for others to talk to.

Nicole Hegarty from the ABC.

QUESTION: Thank you. Yes. On this second death, did the 52-year-old woman have any underlying health conditions? And separately, how good are people getting at identifying and treating these clots?

PAUL KELLY: So, we have specific guidelines now for the medical profession that's- in fact, the haematologist I was speaking about who I'll be talking to shortly about these matters has been wonderful in leading that work. That's a haematologist from Melbourne. So, there are good guidelines, they are available. I wrote a few weeks ago now to all medical practitioners in Australia pointing out those guidelines, pointing out the ATAGI work that had been done in relation to the risk and benefit analysis. We've updated all of our information to doctors about the consent form and consent process and how important that is to discuss those matters. Through all that, I would say we are getting very good at diagnosing and treating correctly this particular event, but in this particular case, that was not successful. So, we will continue to learn from these unfortunate circumstances, and we'll tie that into our advice to all practitioners. I'll finish there, but just to say - one more in the room. I'll allow you as you came.

QUESTION: Thank you. To the Commodore Young, actually, if I could. Earlier the Health Minister and, I think, Brendan Murphy said that we could track or try to track in real time vaccine wastage. Are we tracking that now that we've administered quite a lot of vaccines, and what are we looking at? Are we doing pretty well?

ERIC YOUNG: Yeah, we are. I think you'll recall, if you look at the daily utilisation slide and the whole National Immunisation Program works on about a 10 per cent wastage. We're finding at the moment through what we're tracking through both the supply, distribution administration, that it's far less than that.

QUESTION: There's been vaccinations happening in the Torres Strait Islands. Can you tell us, the islands from New Guinea that are very close, are they getting vaccinations [indistinct]?

ERIC YOUNG: I actually can't answer that right now. Can you answer that? Okay, good. Excellent.

PAUL KELLY:  Yes. So, there is a very active response to COVID vaccination in the Torres Strait, including on the other side of the border. That's been an issue of discussion between the Australian and the PNG governments for some time. And so that's actively being pursued. We understand that PNG is having a particularly difficult time with the virus at the moment. And we definitely want to do everything we can to protect the Torres Strait.

Just to wrap up here, just to encourage everyone to continue to come forward for the vaccination. It’s very important. Roll up your sleeves. Get the jab. That's how we are going to get past this COVID-19 situation in Australia. Thank you all for listening.

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