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

JOHN FREWEN:    

Good morning, everybody. I'm here this morning with Paul Kelly and Commodore Eric Young. The PM has asked me to provide an update on the deliberations at National Cabinet this morning. At the meeting, I provided an update on the implementation of Operation COVID Shield and our planning out to the end of the year. We also spoke about the recent update from ATAGI and, in particular, the importance of those people who've had their first dose of AstraZeneca continuing to have their second dose. And there was also some discussion about how we will continue to roll out vaccinations through GPs and pharmacists, both in cities and regional areas. In summary, can I re-enforce the importance of the vaccine program as part of our integrated strategy to mitigate against COVID? Of course, we have testing, tracing, isolation, social distancing, and masks, but I really do encourage all Australians to get vaccinated, and we retain our aim of offering vaccinations to all Australians who want them by the end of the year.

 

So, can I say to the Australian community that you should have faith in the vaccines, that you should remember that the consequences of the virus* are worse than any of the potential side effects, and if you are eligible to make a booking, please do make a booking for your first dose, and then continue with your second dose. We have a plan to offer vaccines to all Australians by the end of the year, and again, I encourage all Australians that we should pull together to protect both ourselves and our fellow citizens by getting vaccinated.

I'll now hand to Paul Kelly.

 

PAUL KELLY:

Thanks, Lieutenant General Frewen. So, I was also at National Cabinet this morning. I gave a quick update on the epidemiology of the disease in Australia, as I do every meeting. As people will be aware, there have been cases in recent times in Victoria and more today associated with that outbreak; similarly in New South Wales, particularly in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. Plus, there's one case recently arrived from overseas out of hotel quarantine in Queensland. So, that just really re-enforces what Lieutenant General Frewen has just said about the importance of not delaying, going and getting that vaccination, booking in, and so forth.

 

I reiterated the ATAGI advice to the premiers and the chief ministers that were on the call. Of course, they'd had that information already last week from their health ministers as well as chief health officers and heads of departments of health. But just to really reiterate the reason why there was a change of advice, that this has happened right through the pandemic. We've got new information. The analysis has been done. Changes have happened to all parts of our response to the virus, not just the vaccine program, as quickly as possible, and that has been communicated quickly and clearly to the Australian public but also to the states and territories because we are working in very close coalition in relation to that.

 

So, the reasons, just to reiterate, there was further advice about the TTS syndrome, this rare but sometimes very serious side effect related to AstraZeneca. That was particularly the case in the 50-to-59-year age group, which led to a change of advice about where Pfizer became and remains the preferred vaccine. Now instead of being at 50, the cut off is 60. And then with ATAGI, looking at that information, looking at the risk-benefit equation in different age cohorts, plus the supply, and the epidemiological situation in Australia now and into the future, that decision was made to change the program. We took that advice on board, and we did that and are doing that now.

 

So, four key messages to really reiterate, which I did in the room at National Cabinet. If you are over 60, do not delay. The benefit far outweighs the risk of AstraZeneca, and you need to get on and get that vaccine, as now 56 per cent of over 60s have had that first dose, and so continue on. The second important point - and there's been a lot of discussion about this in the media in recent days - if you've had a first AstraZeneca vaccine, at any age, don't cancel your second vaccine. You need to have that second vaccine to get the full protection from the AstraZeneca. It is a very effective drug- vaccine. It is- and the risk of this very rare side effect is extremely rare, 1.5 per million in a second dose. That is far outweighed by the risk posed by COVID at any age. So, please, we are not mixing and matching at this point. You need to match, don't mix. The third point is if you are 40 to 59, book in for your Pfizer. That's the good news for that age group. Now between 40 and 59, you are eligible for Pfizer, and so make your booking now either through the state-run- state- and territory-run clinics, or increasingly over the next couple of months, through general practice.

And the final one- final point is an important one to those who have had their AstraZeneca first vaccine in the last month. Be alert to those symptoms that can be concerning, but this is an extremely rare event. If you are worried, go and talk to your GP. I wrote to all GPs last week reminding them about the symptoms to watch out for and what needed to be done. We are picking up more of these cases because we have the best surveillance system in the world for this. And we do know how to treat it. We know how to treat it effectively, and that early diagnosis is key.

 

I'll pass to Eric now.

 

ERIC YOUNG:        

Thanks, Professor Kelly. And good afternoon, everybody. Last week, 723,442 doses of vaccine were administered, taking our total now to 6,590,741 doses administered. That included crossing 6 million doses administered on Tuesday last week, and for those tracking, it took 10 days to reach our most recent million doses of vaccine administered. In New South Wales last week, 192,000 doses of vaccine were administered, taking the total administered now by Commonwealth and state and territory clinics to 1.9 million doses administered. Now, this includes 43 per cent of those aged 50 and over having received now at least one dose of vaccine, and 61 per cent of those aged 70 and over having received at least one dose of vaccine.

 

Apart from being poised to support New South Wales over the coming weeks, our focus at this stage is on operationalising the ATAGI advice, making Pfizer preferred for those aged under 60. To do that, we're looking at three specific components. Firstly, making sure that the Commonwealth and state and territory clinics administering Pfizer open up their bookings for those aged 50 to 59. Secondly, we're looking at bringing on additional Pfizer points of presence. So we currently have 22 Commonwealth vaccination centres administering Pfizer. That will increase to 70 in the first week of July, and all 136 will be administering Pfizer by the end of July. For general practices, we're looking at 500 general practices administering Pfizer in the week of the 5 July, another 500 general practices in the week of 12 July, and a further 300 general practices administering Pfizer in the week of the 19 July. And finally, we're making sure that both the state and territory booking systems, as well as our Eligibility Checker and Vaccine Clinic Finder, are continually updated so that those newly eligible can find and access a vaccine.

 

In terms of my operational update, I'll do that in three components, focusing on the supply of the vaccine, the distribution of the vaccine, and the administering of the vaccine. In terms of supply, the Therapeutic Goods Administration last week cleared 298,350 doses of Pfizer vaccine, and it also cleared 721,100 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine. In the coming days, they will conduct sample testing and batch release a further 298,350 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which will arrive onshore on Wednesday evening, and a further 676,600 doses of the onshore CSL-manufactured AstraZeneca vaccine.

 

In terms of distribution of the vaccine, last week was our biggest week by far. We had 1,201,000 doses of vaccine distributed to more than 2800 locations across the country, along with all the corresponding consumables required to administer vaccines this week. Of particular note, only one order of Pfizer and seven orders of AstraZeneca were unable to be completed last week, and all those are in the process of being completed today. This week, we have another 1 million doses of vaccine being distributed across the country. This will include an additional 50,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine for New South Wales state hubs, which will be split and distributed over the next three weeks.

 

In terms of administering the vaccine, as I said in my opening comments, last week, 723,000 doses of vaccine were administered across the country, taking our total now to 6,590,741 doses administered. An analysis of this data indicates that the weekday average has had, again, a slight increase by 500 doses, now at 140,000 doses per weekday. Nationally, we've now had 48 per cent of those aged 50 and over having received at least one dose of vaccine and 65 per cent of those aged 70 over having received at least one dose of vaccine. Pleasingly, last week, we saw a very good second dose uptake with everyone we expected to see administered at around 98 per cent return for their second dose of both Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccine. And as has already been said previously, we encourage- we thank those, firstly, who have come forward for their second dose, and encourage all those to come forward for their second doses this week and beyond.

 

In terms of primary care, last week, 347,000 doses were administered from 4740 sites across the country. For states and territories, we had 362,000 doses administered from 787 sites, and that included a record day last Tuesday of 69,552 doses of vaccine administered.

For our vaccine workforce providers, we continue to focus on those most risk in the community, those older Australians in residential aged care facilities. And again, all 2566 residential age care facilities have received a first dose visit. And now 2510 facilities have received a second dose visit, which is 98 per cent of all facilities. Within New South Wales, all 883 facilities have received a first dose visit, and 868, again, 98 per cent, of facilities have received a second dose visit, with all second dose visits scheduled for completion by the end of next week.

 

As we continue to complete the residential aged-care facilities and pivot that workforce to the disability sector, we've also seen a ramp up in disability sites administered. We now have 1017 disability sites having received a first dose of vaccine and 322 sites having received a second dose of vaccine. So now in total, 10,816 people with a disability in a residential setting have received at least one dose of vaccine. This week, as we do every week, we want to make sure that all eligible Australians know how and where to access a vaccine. In particular, the newly eligible Australians in the 50-59 age bracket. And I point everyone to the eligibility checker at health.gov.au. We've now had more than 10 million visits. But today, like we do every single day, we're focused on making sure the vaccines that we have available are available across the country where and when they're most needed to protect more Australians. Thank you.

 

QUESTION: 

Professor Kelly, New South Wales went into the National Cabinet meeting preparing to ask for more doses like Victoria got when they had their outbreak. Was that request granted? If so, could you provide the details? And further on that, is it sustainable for us to be shifting our limited supply of vaccine from state to state depending on where the outbreak is? Is that something you're expecting that will have to continue to happen until supply is sufficient that we don't need to do that?

 

PAUL KELLY:       

I'll pass that to Lieutenant General Frewen. Thank you.

 

JOHN FREWEN:    

That request wasn't specifically discussed at National Cabinet today. At the moment, we are doing allocations across the states and territories proportionally in light of populations. We are managing in accordance with the orders of the states and territories. But of course, we will look at all options to be flexible the further we go into this. My intention is to get the maximum amount of vaccines that we can get to the states and territories as those vaccines come online. And we will work closely with the states and territories as incidents occur.

 

QUESTION: 

But Lieutenant General- so you just said you'd try and get more doses to the states as they become available. Obviously, all the states would really like a lot more Pfizer. Can you explain how Pfizer doses are going to increase week to week? And also, on second doses, Victoria particularly is concerned they're not getting enough of the second doses that they need to match the first doses they've already given. Is anything being done to, kind of, mitigate that in terms of the delivery of doses?

 

JOHN FREWEN:    

Yeah, so look, we spoke specifically to the importance of managing first and second doses within allocations at the National Cabinet today, and I can get Eric to speak specifically to the Victorian situation there. But the Pfizer at the moment, we are still in a resource-constrained environment where we need to very carefully manage. But on current forecasts, we are looking forward to ramp up of availability of Pfizer through August into September and into October. So as we get into that third-quarter, fourth-quarter, we think we will have far freer flows of Pfizer, and we will start to be able to allocate that more freely. But for now, we have to manage the resources that we've got against the highest priorities that we've got.

 

QUESTION: 

But shouldn't the doses- the deliveries start to double? Say you've given Victoria 80,000 doses of Pfizer a week and Federal Government's kept aside half of those for second doses, shouldn't the states then be receiving double what they've been receiving previously so they can start doing those second doses?

 

JOHN FREWEN:    

I might get Eric to speak to the management of the allocations. But the allocations are given with the first dose, and then the second dose is provided from the first dose from the previous delivery. But I might get Eric to speak to the details.

 

ERIC YOUNG:        

I'll just finish with Claire first. So, New South Wales requested an initial 50,000 doses of Pfizer, which was approved prior to National Cabinet, which I said will be split over three weeks and distributed over the following three weeks. There was no further request at National Cabinet. So in the ramp up of vaccines, what we'll see is, and I think the Minister has previously come out and said this, an increase overall in July, and we'll have about 2.8 million doses of Pfizer come in July. That will enable a baseline increase allocation to each of the states and territories. In terms of your question about first and second doses, so again, very carefully, each week that we give a first dose for Pfizer, in the case of Pfizer, three weeks later, we match that first dose with a second dose. So each week now rolling, the states and territories will receive a first and second dose allocation, which they are required to manage.

 

QUESTION: 

Professor Kelly, I assume this was discussed at National Cabinet. But the case in Queensland where the flight attendant was in a different flight and she couldn't  stay on a different floor of hotel quarantine, but somehow was infected with COVID-19, what theories perhaps were discussed in National Cabinet as to how this woman was infected? And do you have other concerns about the efficacy of hotel quarantine now heightened considering we are not so sure how this has occurred?

 

PAUL KELLY:       

So, obviously, that's a matter for Queensland, and they are in the midst of investigating that particular issue. It is unusual. All the other hotel quarantine- in-hotel quarantine transmissions we've seen have been very close rooms and on the same floor. However, it would be said that there are staff that move from floor to floor. And if I was a betting man, I would suggest that that's something to do with staff movement. But that's really a matter for Queensland to investigate. The fact that it appears that the transmission was from a quite high floor to a relatively low floor would be a world first. So I think the more logical explanation would be a staffing matter. But that's something for Queensland to look at. And I did talk to the Queensland Chief Health Officer about that this morning. It wasn't discussed in any det- at all, in fact, at National Cabinet.

 

QUESTION: 

Professor, given you've reported 98 per cent of people due a fir- a second dose, rather, turned up last week, the Government obviously has oversight on the rate of fully vaccinated Australians. Can we soon expect more data around exactly how much of the population is fully vaccinated, rather than the current, just total accumulative doses allocated- delivered, rather?

 

PAUL KELLY:       

So again, that's a programmatic issue. I will pass to the Lieutenant General.

 

JOHN FREWEN:    

Yeah, I will be working to make that detail available at the earliest opportunity.

 

QUESTION: 

Can we also get detail on vaccine by age breakdown? Now that we're vaccinating more and more people, obviously, you're giving us the percentage of over 50s, over 70s, but can we get 70- to 79-year-olds, 60- to 69-year-olds?

 

JOHN FREWEN:    

Yeah, sure. As I go through the review, I intend to start providing that information. But just bear with me for a while until we have got it, and then I'll start providing it to you.

 

QUESTION: 

And just as well, Lieutenant General, you mentioned on Thursday that you were looking at how to now educate and move into the next phase of the awareness or advertising campaign. Where are you at with that?

 

JOHN FREWEN:    

Yeah, so I mentioned the other day, we're close to moving into a rallying phase of the campaign to explain- sorry, to inspire as many Australians as possible to start taking up the vaccinations. We're just working at the moment manage the commencement of that in line with the supplies available, because we want to make sure that we don't start the campaign until we're comfortable that we can meet the demand that we hope will be engendered by the campaign.

 

QUESTION: 

Lieutenant General, over the weekend, we had state leaders calling for more Pfizer jabs, but at the same time we had the Commonwealth saying that the states were under ordering. Was that discussed at National Cabinet? What do you think the truth of the matter is there? And are you able to give us a breakdown of how many Pfizer doses each of the state and territories requested at today's meeting and how much the Commonwealth can actually deliver?

 

JOHN FREWEN:    

So, the states and territories didn't make any specific requests for dosing today at National Cabinet. What I did do at National Cabinet today was to issue planning parameters of the likely lowest allocations and the likely highest allocations that the states and territories can expect right out to the end of the year now. Previously, they haven't had that information available. So I committed to them last week to get them that detail. They've got that detail now, and that will both their planning arrangements, but it will also now allow us to work more closely with them to better manage the right balance in their own jurisdictions through the rest of the year. The issue of under ordering, each of the states and territories have their own specific circumstances and they need to move towards what is right in their jurisdiction at the moment. And the $50,000 that was allocated to New South Wales that Eric mentioned, that was actually- that is not additional beyond New South Wales proportional allocation. That is moving New South Wales up to the maximum of its allocation in response to the current situation there.

 

QUESTION: 

So did they flag any issues about why perhaps they may be under ordering and ask for assistance to try and alleviate that?

 

JOHN FREWEN:    

Yeah, that wasn't discussed today.

 

QUESTION: 

Was vaccine hesitancy discussed during the meeting? Are you concerned that the resource constrain environment that you describe, that frustration complained to hesitancy or perhaps undermine the program?

 

JOHN FREWEN:    

Yeah. I think both, as myself and Professor Kelly have mentioned, we did discuss the importance of encouraging all Australians, as we've said, to take that second dose of AZ as I will be doing myself in a couple of weeks. And that- as I've reminded also, that the consequences of getting COVID far outweigh any of the other likely side-effects at the moment. So we just stress this vaccination program is really important both to individuals and to us collectively as a nation, so we will make sure that the information campaigns just keep giving people the best information they can have to encourage them to get the vaccinations done.

 

QUESTION: 

Despite those information campaigns and what's been said so far, there are people out in the community saying that no matter what they're told, they will not turn up for a second dose of AstraZeneca. What is that going to mean for both, I guess the country, and how we are immune, herd immunity, reaching that? And what will it mean for the vaccine rollout if you've got possibly millions of people who then need to get shifted to another type of vaccination down the line?

 

JOHN FREWEN:    

Yeah look, my task is to get as many Australians vaccinated as quickly as possible with the available supplies. Right now, ATAGI has put some parameters, recommendations around AstraZeneca, but remember, it's a risk-based decision around AstraZeneca. It is still an effective vaccine. It is still appropriate for those people who are taking it. At the moment, we are in the enviable position of being able to progress with vaccinations with the appropriate mix of drugs as we go. More of other sorts of drugs will come available throughout the year and we will adjust the allocations and the cohorts as we go. But right now, I would just encourage people who are eligible to get vaccinated with the drugs that are available.

 

QUESTION: 

So do you have no plan going forward for what you will do with people who have one dose of AstraZeneca and won't take another one?

 

JOHN FREWEN:    

We will encourage them to take their second dose. And Professor Kelly may wish to speak to it.

 

PAUL KELLY:       

Yeah. Look, I think it's very important, and we've heard those stories too. And our surveys, though, show that most people are intending to get vaccinated and are intending to take the second dose. So, yes, there's anecdotes out there. I understand people's hesitancy. The important point here is, despite what other countries might have decided, the TGA and the ATAGI groups who are Australian experts looking at the Australian data as well as the international data, are very clear on this. Mix and match strategies are unproven. They're unproven for effectiveness. They're unproven for safety. And when we get that information, we will provide that information if it was to change over time and that would be appropriate. But at the moment, it is- the proven strategy for both effectiveness and safety is a matching strategy, not a mix and match. So please go ahead and match. Don't mix.

 

QUESTION: 

You said you have survey data. What is your data showing about how many people do plan on turning up for their second dose?

 

PAUL KELLY:       

Yes. So I don't have that specifically in front of me. But in terms of hesitancy more broadly, what I can say is it's remained very stable. Somewhere between 60 and 70 per cent of people in Australia say that they are- they will get the vaccine as soon as they can. And so, yes, there's issues around AstraZeneca, which has come up in the last week. So we need to look at what effect that may have. But our latest survey data has remained very stable in that regard. We should go to the phone, maybe? Yeah.

 

JOHN FREWEN:    

Alright. Paul, are you online?

 

QUESTION: 

Yes. Yes. Could I please ask Dr Kelly and Lieutenant-General Frewen, do you agree with Chris Moy from the AMA? He said that people who get the first AstraZeneca dose but then drop out before the second are almost wasting the first dose? And why should someone who declined the second dose of AstraZeneca be given Pfizer before someone aged 59 or younger?

 

PAUL KELLY:       

So thanks, Paul, for the questions. Paul Kelly here. So I think I've answered that one, the importance of matching. We have tens of millions of people around the world who have had to- a first dose of AstraZeneca, followed by a second dose of AstraZeneca, and safety and efficacy has been looked at. The same with Pfizer and the others. So that mix and match strategy, it's being looked at the moment actively in clinical trials. But we don't have a lot of results in relation to that, certainly not in the tens of millions of doses that have happened in real world situations with AstraZeneca plus AstraZeneca. If people want to get the full benefit of the first dose of AstraZeneca, they should get the second dose between four and twelve weeks after the first, that's the TGA recommended dosage schedule, and ATAGI has reinforced that with their advice last week. In terms of what might happen after that, I think and I've talked about this before, we will be in a situation from next year and beyond where we will all be getting boosters to our initial vaccine schedule. But again, if people have not had that second dose of AstraZeneca, they have not completed their first dose schedule. Olivia's next from The Australian.

 

QUESTION: 

I'm actually here.

PAUL KELLY:       

 

Oh, you're there? Okay. And on the phone, no. Okay. So thanks. Let's go to Chloe Bouras, Channel 10?

QUESTION: 

 

Ah, yes. Chloe Bouras from Network TEN. Now, I apologise because the line was really dodgy at the start, so I didn't hear a lot of it. I did hear you mention the key messages that you said at National Cabinet today. We were told this was a very urgent meeting brought on, what were the key outcomes from it, though? Has there been any change to the rollout of the [indistinct]? Are the states going to be doing anything differently as a result of this meeting?

 

JOHN FREWEN:    

No. Look, really, the focus of the meeting today was mainly update and then affirmation of the things that I spoke to at the start. The absolute importance of continuing with second dose. And we also spoke about the options that we will have going forward to accelerate the distribution of particularly Pfizer as it comes online increasingly over the months ahead.

 

QUESTION: 

Just another one from me, if you don't mind as well. Now that, obviously, the 50 to 59-year-olds need Pfizer does this slow down opening up the next phases to the younger cohorts?

 

JOHN FREWEN:    

Look, there will be- we need to adjust priorities to accommodate this cohort. But at the moment, the allocations suitable for the cohorts that have been opened up. But there will be a period of adjustment as the new cohort come in, make their bookings, get appointments and those sorts of things as I spoke to you last week. Do we have Shuba? Or Chris? No? That's it?

 

QUESTION: 

Can I jump in there? Lieutenant General, so you're in the business of logistics, defence and preparation, and ATAGI is obviously making decisions based on a risk matrix of the here and now. So how many COVID cases we've got. So, do you think it would be better if ATAGI made it's determinations based on more the worst case scenarios, that we didn't see this constant shifting with health advice and we actually have more Australians protected against COVID-19?

 

JOHN FREWEN:    

Yeah. So, Paul Kelly can probably speak to the detail of that. But I think ATAGI have made that kind of decision. And the recommendations they have made very specifically now are about the environment where we have that comparatively low risk of community transmissions. But they have made it very clear that if the risk profile changes around community transmission and those sorts of things, that AstraZeneca is absolutely an important part of our strategy to get Australians vaccinated as quickly as possible. And that's why we continue to recommend any of those Australians who are in the cohort that we need to prioritise AstraZeneca for right now to continue to get AstraZeneca in the long term. Any possible side effects are far more minor than the risk of getting COVID itself. All right. Thank you very much, everybody.

 

PAUL KELLY:       

Thank you.     

 

*Note: corrected to virus from vaccines which was said in error

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