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

PAUL KELLY:

Greetings everyone. Thanks for coming to this update on the COVID-19 situation in Australia. Of course things have changed rapidly during the day with the situation in Victoria. And so a couple of hours ago I declared the seventh time this has happened - a Commonwealth hot spot - for greater Melbourne. The reasons for there are it has actually reached that definition of concern from the Commonwealth level in terms of rapidly increasing numbers of cases, but more importantly, rapidly increasing, particularly overnight, with almost a doubling of the number of contact places. And some of those are very high risk, in terms of transmission. The other important element of the situation in Victoria is this is one of the designated World Health Organisation variants of concern. This is related to the outbreak that's happening in India right now, in terms of a more transmissible virus, and so that is, that link with the case that had come out of hotel quarantine in South Australia had travelled to Victoria a few weeks ago now, and all of the genomic analysis so far, has led to that's probably where this outbreak has started. They haven't made that epidemiological link directly and clearly back to that first case but all of the other cases have been epidemiology linked so far in that now two outbreaks in Melbourne as well as those links into the rural parts, or the regional parts of Victoria.

So we have declared a Commonwealth hot spot. What does that mean? Well it really just does activate some of the supports from the Commonwealth, particularly in relation to single site support for aged care facility staff. So that is a particular thing that is activated from today. But really over the last couple of days we have looked at what other supports we could be giving to Victoria. Each day we've had an emergency AHPPC meeting, since those first cases were identified a few days ago now, and all of the chief health officers and myself have offered all of our supports, both materially and of course from just a general professional support to our colleagues in Victoria who are dealing with this outbreak. We have offered personal protective equipment to Victoria, they don't need any more at the moment, they have plenty. We've offered extra vaccines and my colleague, Commodore Young will talk to that. We've reactivated, although it was continuing to be there, the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre as part of our combined Commonwealth and state response, particularly in relation to aged care, and so that's being scaled up again in this new context. We've also offered support with the contact tracing if that was needed, currently we've been told that isn't the case.

So that is the main issue to discuss today, the hot spot definition. Just in terms of vaccine rollout in Victoria and again my colleague, Commodore Young will talk to the actual numbers, but I've said many times from this podium and other podiums, please get vaccinated. If you are in the groups that is available to right now and Victorian Government has increased some of those groups today, and that's their prerogative to do so in the state based clinics, we really, this is the time and this is the main incentive I talked about on Monday for getting vaccinated. It is to protect yourself, to protect your family and to contribute to the protection of the whole community here in Australia. So please, if you are in those groups where vaccination is available right now, please make that appointment and get vaccinated.

Finally, in relation to quarantine because there has been a lot of discussion around quarantine in the context of the Victorian outbreak, we continue and again today at AHPPC we had a discussion amongst all of the chief health officers about hotel quarantine and quarantine more broadly. We continue to learn from the issues that have arisen every time we've had a breach of quarantine of which there have been several but not a lot in the context of how many people have gone through hotel quarantine since last year. And we had another discussion around that again today. Yesterday the South Australian Chief Public Health Officer Doctor Nicola Spurrier did table that or announce that report had been completed into the latest breach from South Australia. There are more things to learn there but in general terms, I would say, like every outbreak that we deal with in infectious diseases, and I've been doing this through my entire professional career, there are multiple things that happen in relation to outbreaks. Some of those are due to the environment of where that outbreak commences and spreads. Some of those are due to human factors including human behaviour, and some of those are due to the virus. And what we learn from this particular breach from hotel quarantine touches on all of those things. And so it's important for us to learn from those to see what we can continue to do to improve quarantine. But hotel quarantine remains essentially safe.

I'll pass over to Commodore Young now to give some updates on numbers and particularly to touch on vaccine rollout in Victoria.

ERIC YOUNG:        

Thanks Professor Kelly. Good afternoon everybody. Yesterday we had more than 111,000 doses of vaccine administered across the country taking the total to more than 3.9 million doses administered. Within Victoria we had 30,426 doses of vaccine administered, taking their total to 1,001,455 doses administered through a combination of Commonwealth and State clinics.

Our focus every single day is making sure the vaccines we have are available across the country, but apart from that, our focus at the moment is making sure that we provide whatever additional support is required to those in Victoria. And we'd like to personally call out the thousands of healthcare professionals continue to administer the vaccine across the network. But also people throughout our supply chain, who are surging today as we speak, to take more vaccines into Victoria. In terms of operational update, again I'd like to do that in three parts focusing on supply of the vaccine, distribution of the vaccine and administration of the vaccine.

In terms of supply, this week the Therapeutic Goods Administration cleared 352,170 doses of Pfizer vaccine that arrived onshore on Sunday evening. And they've, at this stage, cleared 454,400 doses of the onshore CSL manufactured AstraZeneca vaccine. In the coming days they will conduct batch release and sample testing of another 550,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine.

In terms of supply in Victoria, again based on the utilisation chart that was released on Monday, there are approximately 268,000 doses of vaccine available for Victoria to administer on top of what they are getting each week.

In terms of distribution of the vaccine, this week we have 830,000 doses of vaccine being distributed across the country, and as of yesterday 53 per cent of those doses had been administered. Today we have another 102,000 doses of vaccine going to more than 460 locations across the country.

In terms of Victoria specifically, this week we have 84,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine being distributed to primary care across Victoria and we have another 70,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine going to Victorian State hubs. In addition to those numbers, as the Minister announced yesterday, we have an extra 130,000 doses of AstraZeneca going to Victorian State hubs. That includes an increase of their allocation from 26,000 to 41,000 doses per week for six weeks. It also includes a one-off 20,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine being delivered today and another 20,000 doses of AstraZeneca being delivered on Tuesday.

In terms of the administration of the vaccine, yesterday 111,388 doses of vaccine were administered across the country, taking our total now to 3,906,668 doses of vaccine administered. An early analysis of the data at this stage, three days into this week, indicate our weekday average has increased by another 5000 from last week. In terms of primary care 66,094 doses of vaccine were administered through primary care yesterday from 4690 sites across the country. States and territories administered more than 41,000 doses of vaccine from more than 700 sites across the country. For our vaccine service workforce providers, we continue to focus on those at most risk in our community, those older Australians in residential aged care facilities. And as of today, 2494 facilities have had a first dose to visit. That equates to 97 per cent of residential aged care facilities. And 1828 facilities have had a second dose visit or 71 per cent. On top of that, across the country 51 per cent of those aged 70 and above have now received at least one dose of the vaccine.

With Victoria itself, in the affected we'll see local government area, all 16 residential aged care facilities are fully vaccinated. In the surrounding five local government areas, out of the 67 residential aged care facilities, 66 have had a first dose visit, and the one remaining aged care facility is scheduled for tomorrow. Across Victoria, there are 594 residential aged care facilities; all but 16 have had a first dose visit. Eleven of those are currently scheduled for the next two days and we're now prioritising resources to look at the remaining five in Victoria.

In terms of our focus on completion of the residential aged care facilities, we also focus on other at risk members of the society and that includes those in residential disability settings. As of today, we've had approximately 6200 disability residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine. As Professor Kelly said, today, more than ever, it's important for people to understand how and where to access a vaccine, and again, I'll point you to the Eligibility Checker and Vaccine Clinic Finder at health.gov.au. We had 225,000 visits yesterday, now, with more than 6.1 million visits to that website. But every day and today, and I think as evidenced by what we're doing in Victoria at the moment, we are focused on ensuring that all the vaccines that we have are available where and when required in those areas of most need to protect our most vulnerable Australians.

Thank you. Professor Kelly.

PAUL KELLY:       

Thanks, Eric. So, one thing just before we go to questions and I'll take the room first. Just my heart goes out to the people of Victoria. They've suffered through last winter with a lockdown and so forth. I really hope that this will be a short one and to get on top of this issue. But I've had many discussions with my Victorian colleagues over the last few days. It is the right thing to do at this stage, given what has happened particularly in relation to the more transmissible variant, the increasing numbers and particularly those increase in those high-risk settings where transmission could have occurred. It's quite clear that there has been a super spreading event from one of the members of the current cluster, particularly at that workplace. So that really points to high risk at this time in terms of transmission through the community. And I know it's tough. It's very difficult to go through these matters and I have many friends down in Melbourne who told me how difficult it was last year. So, let's hope it's just for a week, but it is necessary and the Victorian authorities are doing the right thing right now and they have our support.

So we'll go to the room.

QUESTION: 

Australians have been told that they must wait two weeks after getting a flu shot to then get a COVID-19 vaccine. Has this advice changed? And if so, why? And also, is ATAGI considering expanding access to COVID-19 vaccines given that one in four doses being distributed aren't being administered at the moment?

PAUL KELLY:       

So a couple of questions there. Firstly, on the separation between flu and COVID vaccines. That advice is based on the ATAGI advice that was sought very early on in the vaccine rollout. That remains the advice in general. It was mentioned just now by my colleague, Commodore Young, about those few aged care facilities, very high vulnerable groups in the community. We know what happened last year in Victoria in terms of high fatality rates in those settings. So absolutely crucial we get to those aged care facilities. Those very few aged care facilities in Melbourne, and in Victoria more broadly, that have not yet received one dose was mostly because they had the flu vaccine in the last couple of weeks and it was being delayed. I sought advice specifically for that situation - so aged care facilities in this high-risk area -from ATAGI today, and they enforced the fact that the benefit of having vaccine and not waiting for the COVID vaccine in those settings at this time meant- outweighed any risk of shortening that interval. And so, I wrote to those facilities today, as the Chief Medical Officer, to give my advice that that should be changed for this specific event at this specific time. But just to be very clear, at the moment, the general advice around Australia and outside of aged care facilitates is to keep that two-week gap.

QUESTION: 

On the vaccine program, the Prime Minister has said today that we've got an ample supply of doses at the moment. There are about 10,000 close contacts at this stage of those cases in Victoria. Is there a case for widening the vaccine program to people under the age of 40, given we have ample doses at the moment?

PAUL KELLY:       

So, we have ample doses but remember, most of those doses are AstraZeneca. And so, on the basis again of the advice from ATAGI, that would only be limited to people over the age of 50. And so, we just have to put that in context.

QUESTION: 

Is there any consideration being given to perhaps trying to get as many first doses in as possible, maybe not holding back second doses of the Pfizer just to get that kind of first dose coverage in Victoria?

PAUL KELLY:       

Yeah. That has been a decision that's been made in some other countries, particularly those having very large outbreaks. So that's worth consideration. At this stage, we haven't changed that approach which has generally been for every person that has a first dose- second doses in reserve to give to them after three weeks. But let's see how it goes over the next week in terms of cases and numbers and so forth, and it is- a large number of those contacts are in that younger age group, as you've pointed out. So certainly it's worth considering, but at this stage, no change to that approach.

QUESTION: 

Professor Kelly, can you give us a sense of the AHPPC meeting today, compared with other outbreaks, the presence of the Indian strain must have been particularly concerning for chief health officers? What kind of atmosphere was there? Are people really concerned, given it's got a two-week head start in Victoria at the moment?

PAUL KELLY:       

Yes, we're all concerned about it. We have, though, if you look back on the small outbreaks we've had over the last- this year, almost all of those have been related to a variant of concern, usually the B117 strain, the original- originated in the UK. So we're familiar with these strains. What we've found in the Australian context is that they are still controllable, and it's really controllable. It's a numbers game. So even if they are up to 50 per cent more transmissible, if the numbers remain small, you can still get on top of it. The problems that have occurred, particularly in the UK with the B117 strain and probably related in India to this strain, have been the enormous numbers out in the community. And so every time there's a transmission, it just increases exponentially. So we've found this relatively quickly and made very strong- the Victorian Government has made a very strong approach to that today.

QUESTION: 

Do you anticipate any other changes to regulations in hotel quarantine to stop further leaks?

PAUL KELLY:       

So, as I said at the start of the press conference, we look at every time anything happens in hotel quarantine, and not only then but anything we can do to look at the environment, what we can learn from issues in hotel quarantine. And it's quite clear that aerosols are playing a part to this. And so, each of the states that have looked at this directly and specifically have made particular changes to their arrangements. They've all been a little bit different but that reflects their own hotels and their own hotel quarantine systems. And so, we, as the Australian Health Protection Committee, look at those things, we give advice to each other, and through to the National Cabinet in relation to hotel quarantine, and that will continue.

I've got a couple on the phones.

QUESTION: 

Last one. One [indistinct].

PAUL KELLY:       

One more? Yeah.

QUESTION: 

You mentioned before that about 52 per cent, I think, of the doses that have been distributed have been used so far. Do you have any idea why there's that gap, and do you hope to see that gap brought to more what's actually being distributed?

ERIC YOUNG:        

Nope. 53 per cent distributed. So that's- in our network, we're planning to distribute 830,000 doses across our network this week, and we've- [Indistinct] our partners have distributed 53 per cent of those.

QUESTION: 

Right, sorry. So but- in terms of- the difference between the doses distributed and the doses administered, there's still quite a gap there. Do you have any idea what that gap is, what's being caused by that gap?

ERIC YOUNG:        

So, again, every week we put on the website - on the Monday - the utilisation. The gap at this stage is approximately 1.9 million doses. I guess I'll remind everyone that there's 5300 sites across the country. Every one of those sites will have slightly different reasons about why they do or don't get through their vaccines. Two things that we've done, and you recall on Monday, I announced a targeted allocation of doses now to those sites that are getting through their vaccines. That's the first thing we'll do. So we expect to see utilisation start to increase based on that. And the second thing is, in the next couple of weeks, we'll start to get well into second doses of AstraZeneca. And so, again, we expect to see that utilisation increase again.

QUESTION: 

Professor Kelly, could I just ask you a quick question about face masks?

PAUL KELLY:       

Let's finish with today's stuff and I'll come back to you, if that's okay. On the phone, I think we've got Madura McCormack from the Courier Mail.

QUESTION: 

Thanks, Professor. I have a couple of questions. So with Victoria going on to vaccinate 40-49-year-olds, is there enough Pfizer stock in the country and incoming, for all of the jurisdictions to go and vaccinate 40-49-year-olds? And also, in light of the new Pfizer storage advice, do we know when Pfizer stock will be made available to [Indistinct]?

PAUL KELLY:       

I think that one's for you, Eric.

ERIC YOUNG:        

I'll take the second part of the question first. Again, you'll note the Minister put a press release out yesterday and talked about Altona North General Practise, one of the general practise respiratory clinics transitioning to Pfizer in the coming weeks. Again, that's the start of a trial to see how the transition to Pfizer goes. And as we start to increase the stocks of Pfizer in the country, we expect that rollout to further increase to other GPs. In terms of the stocks of Pfizer for opening up more broadly. Again, I'll refer to the Chief Medical Officer's previous comments about where ATAGI's advice is in relation to who we're administering doses to at the moment. What I can say is that Victoria currently has 268,000 doses - that's combined between AstraZeneca and Pfizer - available for them to administer.

PAUL KELLY:       

Jade from the Herald Sun?

QUESTION: 

Thanks professor. in Question Time, just before, Health Minister Greg Hunt said he was not aware that any person who had been infected had been vaccinated. Are you concerned by that?

PAUL KELLY:       

So I think it comes back to one of the previous questions about who's getting vaccinated and who is involved with particularly these- the workplace cluster in South Yarra. So that's the younger people. So we wouldn't expect them to be vaccinated unless they were in one of those specific 1A and 1B work groups and so forth, those at higher risk of being infected. So it's unlikely any of those have been vaccinated. My understanding is that some of the of the older members of the cohort that have been infected have been vaccinated, at least one dose. But I've asked this morning, actually, to make sure that we are absolutely documenting that so we can report on that at another time.

And the next is Dana, from SBS?

QUESTION: 

Thank you, professor. If you wouldn't mind just explaining perhaps in a little more detail, what was the risk that led to the original medical advice that remains in place for most Australians about the gap that needs to be kept between the flu jab and the COVID injection. Can you explain why that gap is in place?

PAUL KELLY:       

Well, the original advice was actually based on making sure we didn't- that we could have very clear air between the two vaccines so that we could be absolutely certain about adverse events following vaccination. We know that both vaccines- all the vaccines we're using are very safe. But we do know there have been reports of adverse events following both AstraZeneca and Pfizer. And every year we do get adverse events related to the flu vaccine, some of which are very similar because it's an immune response effect that the people have. So that was the main reason for that gap of two weeks just to make sure that it was very clear if an adverse event did occur, which of the vaccines it was related to. That was the main reason. There's no other sort of safety element or difficulty with mixing. And indeed, there are some live research studies happening around the world, clinical trials of administering both vaccines at the same time, even from the same injection. So we don't have information about that yet. But I'm pretty sure in the future, in the next flu season, that this won't be a major issue. But it would seem to be important to separate them early on.

QUESTION: 

Are you able to say how serious those potential adverse effects could be for someone who's already vulnerable in aged care? Or, what level of seriousness and how rare it is?

PAUL KELLY:       

I can't really comment because we haven't really put those two vaccines together. But all I can say is that there are clinical trials underway, and like all of the things that we've been working with in terms of adverse events following immunisation and particularly in aged care, we've talked about this many times. One is things happen and people do get sick. These are highly vulnerable people. But on the other hand, the benefit of having COVID vaccine, particularly in a place where there is a rapidly emerging and increasing outbreak of COVID-19, it's very important that we get those people vaccinated as soon as possible, all residents within aged care. We saw what happened last year. We know how quickly- and we've already had- one of the cases has been a nurse, in fact. There have been some secondary contacts with aged care facilities in Melbourne. And so we know how quickly this thing can change and we just need to get on with vaccinating those people. Just have one last question in the room.

QUESTION: 

Yeah, so does the AHPPC accept the expert advice from the National COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce that airborne protections are needed like, [Indistinct] masks? And just as the CMO, do you have a view on the science of airborne transmission now that it's been fully accepted by the WHR and the CDC?

PAUL KELLY:       

There is airborne transmission. I don't know how much clearer I can say it. I keep being asked this question. And so there is airborne transmission of the COVID-19. I've known that for a long time. I've said it many times here. It's true. What that leads to in terms of protection of people that are exposed to COVID-19 is- has been a matter of debate, but there's not really much debate anymore. And you need to be protected as much as you need to be protected in whatever you're doing, whether that's in a clinical setting or in a quarantine setting. We have the task force, you've mentioned. A group of 32 experts from 32 different organisations. And there is a great degree of similarity to the advice between them and our expert group that advises the AHPPC. We're just working through finalising that advice at the moment, very actively, and within a very short period will be able to say more about that revised advice. But ultimately, it's that if you are at risk of being exposed to COVID-19, you need the protections, including the correct PPE, to protect you from that risk.

Thank you very much.

Contact

Departmental media enquiries

Contact for members of the media

news [at] health.gov.au (subject: Media%20enquiry%20-%20News%20item%20ID22741, body: URL - https%3A%2F%2Fwww.health.gov.au%2Fnews%2Fchief-medical-officer-professor-paul-kelly-and-commodore-eric-youngs-press-conference-on-27-may-2021)

View contact