Date published: 
24 May 2021
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

PAUL KELLY:       

Afternoon everyone. Paul Kelly here in Canberra with the COVID update, and I'm joined today by Commodore Young, who will be talking about the vaccine rollout with me, the weekly rollout figures for the COVID-19 vaccine program.

So firstly, just a quick update on cases. We are now just over 30,000 cases in Australia, with those 910 deaths. Only one death this year. At the moment, we only- we have less than 20 people in hospital. Most of those are in Queensland, where we know that's the policy in Queensland, to put positive cases from hotel quarantine into hospital, and only one person in ICU. So we remain going very well in terms of the COVID pandemic here in Australia. There are reports now of two cases in Melbourne. We have information just briefly from the Victorian health authorities this morning. They notified us virtually immediately about those cases, and they'll be standing up soon to talk further about the details there, but we're working very closely with them. They'll be the first two locally acquired cases, if that ends up being the case, for the last 13 days. So, that's an issue we'll need to work through. It's a stark reminder though, I believe, in the message we've been giving about the vaccination program over the weekend and now for weeks and months, actually, that do not wait to get your vaccine. We are approaching winter very quickly. We have been in a very good position all year in terms of locally acquired cases here in Australia, but that can change very quickly. We've seen these two cases now emerging in Melbourne. It's just a stark reminder. If you are in the list to get a vaccine, please make that appointment with your GP, make that appointment with one of our GP respiratory clinics, make that appointment with one of the state and territory clinics to get that vaccine which is on offer to you. Please do not hesitate to do that.

Over the weekend, I- we had new advice from ATAGI, the expert group on immunisation, together with the Thrombosis and Haemostasis Society of Australia and New Zealand. They're the experts in Australia and New Zealand on blood clotting. The two of them have got together over the last couple of weeks to just clarify exactly this issue of the- of this rare clotting disorder that has been associated with the AstraZeneca labora- vaccine. Very important that that information goes out to GPs and other doctors who are having those discussions with their patients right now, so that they can fully weigh up the risk and benefit of having the vaccine, as well as up-to-date information about this particular rare but sometimes serious disorder. So, the clarification was put there, and I wrote to every doctor in Australia over the weekend just to really make it very clear who can have the AstraZeneca vaccine, and the answer there is almost anyone over the age of 50. There are very few contraindications that's been narrowed down significantly from the statement for people that shouldn't have the AstraZeneca vaccine. Most people over 50 can have the AstraZeneca vaccine. That was the clear message in my letter. I also took the opportunity to remind Australian doctors about the facts in relation to this TTS syndrome, this rare but sometimes serious clotting disorder related to AstraZeneca. We've had 25 cases now. That's increasing because of the large numbers of vaccines that are actually being administered now in Australia, and Commodore Young will talk about that shortly. So as we increase the numbers of vaccines, we do expect to have more cases of this disorder, but there's 25 so far. We had one unfortunate death that was reported in the media when that happened up in the Hunter. Of the others, there's only two remaining in hospital. All the others have gone home. They've responded to the treatment, And that's really a testament to the information that has gone out to all doctors and to people that are having the AstraZeneca vaccine about what symptoms to watch out for, to get looked at quickly, to be diagnosed properly, and to be treated properly. And so, 22 out of the 24 that have- have gone home now and are recovering there.

So that was the main issue in relation to the letter I sent out on the weekend. But again, with that very clear advice, if you are in the groups that have been offered vaccines, so anyone over the age of 50 plus all of those priority groups from earlier on in the rollout, please do not hesitate and go and have that conversation with your GP or your other medical provider and get the vaccine.

Just one final thing from me before I pass onto Commodore Young is in relation to why we think that this is a really good idea to roll out this vaccine. It's absolutely crucial in relation to us getting back to some sort of post-COVID normal society here in Australia is one element, but it also works. And I take the example from data that was released by Public Health England overnight in relation to further information that we've talked about before about how protective both the AstraZeneca and the Pfizer vaccines are in relation to severe disease, to preventing death, to preventing hospitalisation, but also to preventing symptomatic illness and asymptomatic infection and transmission of the virus. So, they work very well for all of those things. And they- in particular, their latest estimates from England is that their vaccine program rollout, particularly concentrating on that older age group, has led to a prevention of 35,000 hospitalisations and 10,000 deaths already. And that will be an ongoing effect because the vaccines last for some time. But at the moment already, in England, where they've had that large outbreak, 35,000 people who would have otherwise ended up in hospital by their estimations have been prevented from that because of the rollout of the vaccine, and 10,000 deaths have been saved. At the moment in Australia, we don't have a lot of disease, but that can change quickly, and it's exactly those sort of effects that we want to get in and as much as possible before winter proceeds. So please do not hesitate to get your vaccine is my key message for the day, and I'll pass onto Commodore Young now.

ERIC YOUNG:        

Thanks, Professor Kelly. Good afternoon. Last week was our biggest week, with more than 512,000 doses of the vaccine administered, taking our total now to over 3.6 million doses of vaccine administered. That included a record day last Thursday of 101,146 doses recorded. This week, on the back of consistent supplies and further analysis, we'll see a further boost to our program as we look to further increase the allocations of those doses. On the 5 May, the Minister announced an increase in allocations equitably amongst the low and medium volume general practices, as well as the states and territories. We'll now undertake a further targeted allocation of doses to more than 1300 primary care sites that have consistently used greater than 80 per cent utilisation of their doses. This will include approximately 100 high-volume general practices and 1200 low- and medium-volume practices. For the high-volume practices identified, they'll see an increase from 400 to 600 doses per week. For the medium volume practices identified, they'll see an increase from 200 to 300 doses per week. And for the low volume GPs, they'll see an increase from 150 to 200 doses per week. Furthermore, we will consistently evaluate the utilisation and the stock at each individual site and continue to make adjustments to the allocation based on the need. So in short, we're providing more vaccines where they're needed to protect more Australians.

In terms of the weekly operational update, again, I'll do that in three parts focused on the supply of the vaccine, the distribution of the vaccine, and administering of the vaccine. In terms of supply, last week, the Therapeutic Goods Administration cleared 352,170 doses of Pfizer vaccine and 1,019,100 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine. In the coming days, the Therapeutic Goods Administration will conduct sample testing and batch release of a further 352,170 doses of Pfizer vaccine, which arrived onshore last night, and another 1 million doses of the onshore CSL-manufactured AstraZeneca vaccine.

In terms of distribution of the vaccine, again, we had our biggest week last week, with more than 969,000 doses of the vaccine administered across the country. Only one delivery was unable to be made on Friday and that will be made today. This week, we'll have nearly 800,000 doses of vaccine already ordered and scheduled for distribution across the country with nearly 5000 individual deliveries scheduled to be made.

In terms of administering of the vaccine, as I said, last week was our biggest week, with 512,916 doses of the vaccine administered, taking our total now to 3,613,053 doses of vaccine administered. An analysis of the data indicates a significant increase to our weekday average, now up to 92,000 doses per weekday, which is up 13,000 from the previous week. And we assess this is on the back of both the reallocation of doses of vaccines at primary care sites, but also opening up of the program to those aged 50 and over. Last week, more than 293,000 doses of vaccine were administered through primary-care for more than 4680 sites across the country. Which is an outstanding effort. The states also increased their rate of vaccination, and last week, nearly 190,000 doses of vaccine were administered through states and territories, including a record day for them on Tuesday of 35,612 doses of vaccine administered. The analysis of now more than 5300 sites indicates that the increasing rate over the last three weeks is predominately due to increasing Pfizer to those aged under 50, but we've also now, over the last three weeks, seen a week on week increase in administration of AstraZeneca to the 50-69 cohort. In terms of our vaccine workforce administration providers. Our focus continues to be those most at risk in our society, those old Australians in residential aged care facilities. We've now conducted 2411 first dose visits, which equates to 95 per cent of residential aged care facilities and 1711 second dose visits, which equates to 67 per cent of residential aged care facilities.

As we now come to the completion of those first dose sites of residential aged care facilities, as we've talked about over the last couple of weeks, we now look to reroll the workforce to looking at specifically the disability residential sites. The Minister yesterday talked about a reconciliation activity that we've been undertaking; I can now confirm that 5855 disability residential people have received at least one dose of vaccine. This week, our focus continues to be on ensuring that all eligible Australians know how and where to access a vaccine. Both through targeted communications, but also the eligibility checker at Health.gov.au. We've now had more than 5.5 million visits to that site. But today, as we do every single day, our focus is ensuring that all the vaccines that we have are available across the country when and where required, to protect more Australians.

Mr Kelly.

PAUL KELLY:       

Thank you, we'll take questions in the room first.

QUESTION: 

Professor Kelly, look, South Australia's just announced that anyone over the age of 16 in regional areas can now get a COVID vaccine from tomorrow, do you think that the other states and territories should look at expanding who can get vaccines, given the low uptake we've seen so far?

PAUL KELLY:       

Well, firstly, I'd dispute your [Indistinct] low uptake. We've got a good uptake, as has just been reported by my colleague Commodore Young. That has been happening in certain parts of rural Australia for quite some time, particularly remote areas of the Northern Territory, but also in other places. So that's again, a matter for the South Australian government. But in small, rural and remote areas we have been offering to the whole towns for quite some time. In terms to the wider approach to that age group, that- well, that's a matter for discussion in the coming days and weeks. But in the moment, we're really focusing still on those ones at higher risk of either being exposed to the virus or of developing the more severe. So the over-50s, and the priority groups I won't go into, we've talked many times before, but particularly those working in quarantine, healthcare, aged care and the like. Our aged care rollout is doing extremely well, as has been discussed already by Commodore Young. And this is just another way of getting vaccines out to people in the wider community.

QUESTION: 

Thanks Professor Kelly, a couple of questions if I can. There's been a lot of discussion about vaccine passports and where they're being useful for movement between states for people who have been vaccinated. Is it a good incentive? Is it something we should we do to get people to be vaccinated, or are there better ways to maintain state movement. And secondly, with the Victorian cases, are there any concerns about the fact they made the wrong [Indistinct] initially as [Indistinct] potential to COVID?

PAUL KELLY:       

So, to take the first one- your first question which was about vaccine passports. So this has been a matter of discussion for some time, and will be, I'm sure, discussed at National Cabinet in the coming weeks. I think we really do need to look for incentives, as many incentives as we can, for people to become vaccinated. I'll just- I'll use that UK example. When you look at how rapidly they rolled out the vaccine and how many people were in long queues to get the vaccines, they knew why. Because it was right in front of them, what advantage that would do for them and their communities and their families. It's a little bit more distant for Australians. Because we really, other than the Victorian second wave last winter, we really haven't had that experience of- as is the case in almost every other country in the world, of really recognising the value of vaccination. But please, my plea to all Australians again is if you are in that- those groups that are eligible for the vaccine at the moment, get the vaccine as quickly as possible. And then, some of these incentives will be talked about in coming days and weeks. But I think the main incentive is because it's going to actually protect you, your family and the community. The second question about the contact tracing. These things are always difficult. It's an inexact science, we have incredibly experienced and good contact tracers, including in Victoria. And sometimes they don't get the right information or they misinterpret the information. My understanding is that there were two IGAs within a very short space, one in I think North Epping and one in Epping, and there was some confusion about that in the initial message, but that's been discovered and put out over the weekend. And whether that was how these cases were discovered, I'm not sure, but in the fullness of time we'll know. But it really demonstrates the inexact science of doing contact tracing, but also that absolutely dogged approach to get the right information, to get that out there to the community so we can complete these chains of transmission investigations.

QUESTION: 

I wanted to ask you about borders, if I could, but I want to pick up something that you said to Rachel just then. On incentives, do you- obviously, we've seen other countries around the world offering novelties - you know, discounts, merchandise - that sort of thing to get vacc - cash lotteries. Are you talking about that sort of thing or are you talking more about like a structural incentive, like Minister Hunt has spoken about like, the incentive to travel?

PAUL KELLY:       

I think all of these things are potentially on the table. I think we have to look at ways- you know, at the moment, we do know there is some hesitancy, particularly in the 50-69-year age group. We're rolling out extremely well in the over-70s. So there is something we need to consider there. And, you know, we can certainly look at that. But I think most- the main incentive is the one I have mentioned many times. It's about protecting your own health, not sitting there waiting for an outbreak, because once an outbreak is here, if it comes, it will be very difficult for us to rollout masses and masses of vaccines quickly. So the more that we can get vaccinated now, the better situation we'll be in if that occurs.

QUESTION: 

On a broader one, on possible international border reopenings, the Prime Minister said multiple times that he would only do that based on medical advice. I imagine that would be in large- in no small part, your medical advice. What would your advice be based on? What sort of benchmarks are we talking about here? You're an epidemiologist. What sort of things are we talking about- what are you looking at? Are we looking at vaccination rates here in Australia, vaccination rates across the world, the children getting vaccinated? What would you- what would your advice be based on?

PAUL KELLY:       

So, all of those things and more. I think the international epidemiological situation is obviously a key one. So, if there was a major control happening in most countries where people are coming from, that would be another element to consider. The key one, though, is the vaccine rollout here in Australia. And we do need to remember that we basically are completely naive to this virus. We do not have a lot of people who are immune because they have had the infection. Very, very few, 30,000 of us. There may be some more that have been asymptomatic and not picked up, but a very small proportion of the population which is different from most other countries, so it's the vaccine rollout which is going to be the key thing.

QUESTION: 

Your former deputy CMO colleague, Nick Coatsworth, has put some numbers on it. He said something in the range of 60-90 per cent take up would be needed for, or I think he said COVID control in the community. And maybe above 90 per cent would be needed to really stamp out the virus. Is that broadly in line with your thinking?

PAUL KELLY:       

Yeah. We certainly- we've said many times before we want to vaccinate as many Australians as possible, recognising that at the moment here in Australia we don't- we have vaccines, two vaccines that are licensed only for 16 years and above, so there's quite a proportion of the population who won't be getting a vaccine at the moment. Some other countries are now- have now gone down to 12 for the Pfizer vaccine. That may happen in the future, but at the moment, the TGA has only two vaccines registered, and none of them are registered for under 16. So there is a proportion of the population that won't be being vaccinated for now. So we need to really maximise the number of adults that get the vaccine, and that's what we are planning to do by the end of the year.

QUESTION: 

Would it have to be above that 60 per cent number, do you think? Is that- [indistinct] all these, you know, uncertainties around transmission, vaccine, that sort of thing, numbers. I imagine all this will be figured out down the track with more data, but is that the ballpark number we should be looking for?

PAUL KELLY:       

So, we're doing modelling on all of that and putting in various tests in terms of the transmission dynamics, as you said. How long the vaccines last for, how effective they are against all types of illness, what sort of proportion of the population are vaccinated, what is the likelihood of someone coming across the border from other countries being positive, what is the quarantine system into the future as we go forward? So, there's no one answer to that, apologies that I can't give a certain one for that. But all of those issues will come into play. And then we have to decide as a nation about whether we would accept having some cases in the community, if most people that are most vulnerable for severe infection have been covered by vaccine and protected. So these are some of the more epidemiological questions, but others are political questions and that needs to be discussed by the elected representatives at the national level and the states and territories, to make those sorts of decisions. I would just go to the phone, because there are some people waiting. I think Claire is online, from The Daily Telegraph?

QUESTION: 

Yes, thanks, Professor. I just wanted to pick up on what you were saying about how we are significantly more aware in our understanding and ability to treat this very rare blood clotting situation. Can you step me through exactly what it is that GPs and hospitals are now looking out for in terms of specific symptoms and what those treatments are? I understand the CDC in the US has recently put out new advice about how to specifically treat that type of clot as well. What is it that we now know that we didn't perhaps know before?

PAUL KELLY:       

So thanks for the question, Claire. So I think the main thing is that we've had that time of watching what has happened in the rest of the world. So, that's been really helpful and important, and our regulators, the TGA as well as the ATAGI group were very much linked in with international peers both in Europe, in the UK and also the US in particular. And so really learning from the UK and Europe experience about AstraZeneca, what the issues are. Early on, it appeared that the clots were mainly these very severe and unusual events in the large veins in and around the brain, and also in the abdomen. It appears now, and this was the advice you referred to from the CDC, that there's really sort of two tiers of this particular type of clotting. And some of them are the more standard and quite common clots in the legs or clots in the lungs. And so- and those ones, now we now know to watch out for those and do the test that we do to see whether it is in fact this type of syndrome, and to treat that effectively and quickly.

And the key issue there is to not use the type of medicine we usually use for clots, which is called heparin, because that can, in fact, make things worse. And so some of the early very unfortunate events and higher death rates in Europe in particular were because people had received that medicine, which actually inadvertently made their situation worse. So we're very much attuned to that, we know what to look for. Our doctors particularly in emergency rooms around Australia are very attuned on this process as well as GPs now. And that's the advice we have had from those learned societies I mentioned before, reinforced with this letter I sent out to all doctors yesterday. We've got Chloe Burns as well from Channel 10?

She might have gone. Eliza, from Channel Nine?

QUESTION: 

Hi, Professor. Just wondering who you is to blame for vaccine hesitancy, is it the media, or the [indistinct] who recommended AstraZeneca not to be used [indistinct]?

PAUL KELLY:       

Well I think rather than blame one group or another, I think we've our part to play in this. And the media has a very important part about bringing the truth and detailed information to the public. And so I encourage you to do that. But the main point we make is, please go to those official sites where the information is, those trusted sites you've been watching all the way along through this pandemic, and to see what they are saying. And the actual point I've been trying to make for many weeks now and again today, if you are in those groups that are eligible for the vaccination, please do not hesitate. If you are concerned about side effects or risk and benefit analysis, go and talk to your GP or your trusted medical advisor, because that's the sort of conversations you have every day with your GP, or trusted medical advisor, really, helping you to weigh up that risk and benefit of any medical treatment, and to make the decision which is best for you and your health. Just one more? Oh, sorry, go ahead Eliza?

QUESTION: 

The Department of Health [Indistinct] did blame media [Indistinct] though, do you agree with him?

PAUL KELLY:       

Well, that's been reported and that will be further discussed tonight, but I think we'll keep with the point I made. Just one last question in the room?

QUESTION:  Sure. So last week Greg Hunt did say that people over the age of 50 might be hesitant about the AstraZeneca vaccine could wait until the end of the year. Is that something that you would you be advising over 50s? Or do you think they should go out and get jabs as soon as they're eligible. And also, groups like the AMA have said that potentially putting a date  on borders reopening could encourage more people to get vaccinated, because they think we're getting a bit complacent. Based on your health advice, do you think that that is something that we need to start talking about?

PAUL KELLY:       

Well I think that comes down to the incentives element that we talked about earlier. And I think wherever people can see the advantage of getting that vaccine quickly, that will be better for them, for their families and the communities. Look, my message is very clear today. If you are in a group that is- has been offered the vaccine, please do not hesitate. Please do not wait until the end of the year. We will have more doses of vaccine later on in the year, that is not news. We've been talking about that for some time. Of course we have enough of various types of vaccination to vaccinate everybody. But winter is coming, winter is virtually here. We know that respiratory diseases do circulate more in winter. We've seen today in Melbourne that there are two cases that have come across our border that can very quickly develop into an outbreak. We need to be protected, we need to be protected as individuals, but also as a society. And so, please, do not wait. Go and make that appointment, go and get that advice from your trusted medical advisor, and get your jab in the arm. Thank you very much.

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