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

PAUL KELLY:       

Good afternoon. Paul Kelly here in Canberra with the coronavirus update. I think, as I usually do at the start of these press conferences, just to give the context - I think that's really important - we need to remember the difference that we are in in Australia compared with the rest of the world. So, in the last 24 hours, across the world, 697,000 cases, recognising that in many countries, we don't know how many cases there are, but they're the ones that are recorded officially. And almost 11,000 deaths in the world in the last 24 hours. The situation here in Australia, again, a day of community transmission and no deaths. A double zero day. So that's where we are. Since the start of the year, we've had 62 days - that's 61 per cent of the days this year - where there has been no community transmission, and it's been nine days since we had a community transmitted case in the community. So that's where we are. And the other- and what does that lead to, it leads to Australia essentially being open. As of today, Victoria is open to every other state. WA still has some restrictions in relation to Queensland, but by next week, assuming everything stays as it is now, they will be open. We can go to the footy. Many places around the world, you can't do that. So people are allowed to go about their business, pretty much back to pre-COVID times, and that is because of public health response we've had here in Australian since the beginning of the pandemic, taking into account new information, taking that into our planning and our response, and being nimble when things change.

And so what's happened over the last few days, people have certainly heard about the safety concerns that were expressed by the medical expert group, ATAGI, the vaccine immunisation guiding group for the Minister for Health, who have alerted us, the Australian Government and the AHPPC that I chair, about this matter with these extremely rare but serious issues of blood clots. And just to be clear, I was talking to my colleague here about this just now about the clotting. These are very specific clotting. This is a brand new disease, in relation to this matter. So these are not the usual blood clots that are very common that we get in our legs or in our lungs. These are particular types of blood clots, almost certainly related to an immunological response to the vaccine itself. And so, very rare, somewhere around four to six per million, but can be quite serious, and so that is why that advice last week about AstraZeneca, particularly in the under 50s, that there was a preference that another vaccine should be used other than AstraZeneca. So that was the information that was given to us by that expert group on Thursday around 7pm. Within 15 minutes, the Prime Minister, myself, Professor Murphy and Health Minister Hunt were talking about that with the Australian public, giving that information. Since then, even that evening, we gave information out to doctors and other vaccine providers in the community so that they were able to have that very important and detailed discussion with their patients, balancing that risk and benefit equation between the vaccine on one hand and prevention of the seriousness of COVID disease on the other. And that is something that is not unusual. That is what doctors do every day in relation to all vaccines, all medicines, all medical procedures. None of these things are without their risk. This is just another thing to consider and to take into that conversation.

In the meantime, the vaccine continues to roll out. As of Friday, we reached our one millionth dose. And as of yesterday, 1,178,302 vaccines have been distributed around Australia, including 473,000 in primary care, 142,000 in aged care, and through our state and territory partners, 561,000. Yesterday there was a daily increase of 12,227. That was a Sunday number so you wouldn't expect that to be large, but in previous days before that, they were much higher. We'll be looking very closely and carefully about what influence that AstraZeneca announcement will make in relation to those numbers through the week. But anecdotally at least, we know that many of our GP colleagues and particularly, the GP respiratory clinics that we have a direct relationship with in the Commonwealth, have seen some people cancel their appointments but a very small number over the weekend. Very small number. And there is certainly a lot of people still wanting to get that vaccine.

My main message- so we are now looking to recalibrate in relation to the vaccine rollout on the basis of this new information. But in the meantime, my message to all Australians is please if you are in that 1A or 1B priority group, continue to roll up to your vaccine provider, roll up your sleeves and get the jab. Make sure that if you have concerns about a particular vaccine or any of the procedures, as would normally be the case, please discuss that with your normal GP or the vaccine provider that you're going to, work through those issues with them, and come to that agreement in an informed way, including in relation to this new information that came through last week.

So, I think with that, I will leave it and I'll start with questions in the room.

QUESTION: 

Just on the subject of the Moderna vaccine, has the issue of indemnity been a sticking point in those negotiations? Is that the reason why we haven't been able to close a deal with Moderna?

PAUL KELLY:       

So Moderna has an mRNA vaccine. So very similar, in fact, virtually the same as the Pfizer vaccine. Just in relation to this and we've said it many times but I'll say it again, we have a specific advisory group, the scientific industry technical advisory group which advises us. Professor Murphy is the chair, I'm the Deputy Chair. We work through all of the potential options for what vaccines Australia should pre- purchase last year, through last year. We decided to go for one mRNA vaccine over the other. We felt that Pfizer was the better alternative there. We had two protein vaccines and one viral vector vaccine. So they're the four, plus the COVAX initiative. So, we continue to talk to Moderna. Of course, we do.

And in relation to what might be stopping Moderna coming here, I think there's commercial and confidence issues I won't talk about, but in general, they remain on the table as an option. I will say though that unlike other vaccines, for example the Janssen or Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Novavax, Pfizer and AstraZeneca, no other vaccines of the many, many different vaccines and development have come to the TGA with their asking to be- go through that regulatory process. So Moderna has not asked for that yet.

QUESTION: 

Just on that taskforce recommendation about Pfizer, about Moderna [indistinct] similar sort of type of vaccine. You know, last week, Professor Murphy was making comments on this as well, saying Moderna hasn't delivered that much vaccine yet. It's a relatively young company. That's one of the reasons why we went for Pfizer. But, looking at the US at the moment, Moderna is making a lot of vaccines right now. It's responsible for almost half of the US vaccination issued so far. It seems to be a very good vaccine. Did the group get it wrong?

PAUL KELLY:       

So, we used the information that we had at the time, and at that time, Moderna was a small company. It was just starting up. It looked like a very good prospect, otherwise, but in many ways, very similar to Pfizer. And we've worked with Pfizer over many years with other vaccines and other medical products. And so, large company, and as it's turned out, very reliable in giving their vaccine supply. So, nothing against Moderna. It was just tossing out one or the other and we needed to have at least one of those types of vaccines so we went from there.

QUESTION: 

Professor Kelly, on current projections, how long will it be before the majority- all Australians have their first jab of a vaccine? And on the current projections that are put before you on the speed of the rollout, how many Australians will be vaccinated by the end of the year?

PAUL KELLY:       

So we're continuing with our two elements of our vaccine rollout. One is actually to vaccinate the people that are most at risk, the most vulnerable, and we've talked about that many times. Phase 1, 1A and 1B, so the quarantine workers and other border workers. We understand from our state colleagues that that's pretty much done. In some states a bit less than others but mostly, that's very close to being completed. Who else is in 1A? The aged care residents, they are a very component, the most vulnerable members of our community. That's a Commonwealth responsibility. We're going out and doing that. That's going very well. We plan to have that completed within the next few weeks, at least the first dose. And then, we have healthcare workers and aged care workers, disability care and disability care workers. And so, those are our priority populations. By the middle of the year, we are wanting to get those completed.

The rest, with this new information that we have over the last few days, of course, we need to recalibrate what we're doing in relation to the vaccine program. So, I'm not going to give a number or a date for that, but we are absolutely committed to providing the vaccine to anyone, any adult Australian, who wants to have the vaccine as quickly as possible. So that's that what we'll be doing.

QUESTION: 

[Interrupts] Can we just unpack that though? Because I'm not asking for a target, I'm asking you what the taxpayer funded projections tell you. So what do the taxpayer funded projections tell you about how long it will be before all Australians have at least one jab?

PAUL KELLY:       

So, we're continuing to put that out, and we've had a big change in relation to the logistics and the rollout in terms of the announcement on AstraZeneca last week. So, we're- we will take our time to work through that.

QUESTION: 

But do you have any information before you? I mean, do you get regular projections?

PAUL KELLY:       

So, we're working through those logistic challenges and we'll just continue to do that. I'm not going to be lead into giving a number.

QUESTION: 

And how do you think we compare internationally? The Financial Times- you know, originally we were told we would be the front of the queue. The Financial, which is regarded by the Government by the authoritative information says that we're 76 out of 152 countries. We're behind Indonesia, we're behind a whole range of countries in our region. Why are we 76 out of 152, when we were told that we were going to be at the front of the queue?

PAUL KELLY:       

Well, I'm not going to go through very many- the details of every particular country. I'm not aware of that particular league table by the Financial Review or how they come to that-

QUESTION: 

[Interrupts] Financial Times.

PAUL KELLY:       

Financial Times, okay.

QUESTION: 

It's a very well known. You would have seen the graphics.

PAUL KELLY:       

Yeah. So, what I can say is that many countries started earlier than us. We know all the reasons for that, we've been cautious in having safety as our first priority. And look what's happened over the last week? We only know about this very rare side effect with AstraZeneca because there have been millions of doses elsewhere. So, there's some advantage to not being at the top of that league table. But if you look at- a better statistic is to look at where we are in relation to the start of the programme, rather than where people are, where they started months before us. And we're not that far away from the majority, that's what I would say.

Is there anyone else? No? I'll just go to the phone. Tamsin's on the line from Herald Sun.

QUESTION: 

Thanks Professor. Just wondering, how many doses of Pfizer has Australia received so far? And how many are we receiving on average per week. And if you won't give us that number, what's the reason behind not sharing those details.

PAUL KELLY:       

So, what I can say about Pfizer is that we have had a regular supply since the middle of February. And it's started a little bit lower, and has now gone up to over 100,000 per week. It's come every week, as Pfizer has promised to do. We continue to talk to them about increasing the rate of that, given that they have guaranteed on our first part of our contract with them to supply 20 million by the end of the year, and as was announced on Friday, another 20 million which will be at the back end of the year. So, they will need to increase the numbers that they're giving us, and we're in negotiations for them to do that on a weekly basis. What happens when that comes in, there's a very brief check by the TGA which is an important element of our quality assurance. And particularly, to lead to make sure that the cold chain process has been done properly in transit. And then, there is a calculation made, which is very important in relation to Pfizer, as there are two doses, and they should be three weeks apart, that there is a contingency. So for every dose that is distributed, there is always a second dose kept in reserve. All the rest, absolutely all of the rest of the doses, are going out to be used. And at the moment, up until now, it's been mostly either in the aged care rollout, in residential aged care, or through the states and territories into their clinics for their health care workers and their quarantine and border workers. So, that's what it is. Australians don't- [Indistinct] need to be- everybody needs to be reassured that all those doses are being used. And the supply that is the thing that is constraining us from going faster.

So I've got Madura from the Courier Mail?

QUESTION: 

Sorry, sorry, just professor just to continue on from that. How many doses of Pfizer has Australia received so far?

PAUL KELLY:       

Yeah. I don't have that with me at the moment. Madura?

QUESTION: 

Sorry, will you take that question on notice? [Indistinct]…

PAUL KELLY:       

[Interrupts] Yeah, I can- I will take it on notice. Modera?

QUESTION: 

Thanks Professor. You mentioned, of course, recalibrating Australia's vaccine rollout due to the decision around AstraZeneca. Can you, I guess, expand on what exactly that means when you say recalibrate the vaccine rollout. And, also, when it comes to that, is there monitoring on how many AstraZeneca doses, I guess, perhaps, might be rejected by people under the age of 50? Are you aware that's going to go? And how much more Pfizer or other vaccines might be needed to be able to handle that population. And also, is there any modelling happening as to how- what slight of the population might reject the AstraZeneca into this decision?

PAUL KELLY:       

I think the short answer to that is yes, there is modelling underway for all of the things you've mentioned. I don't have any of the results of that modelling, but all of those things are important considerations. And that's exactly what we mean by recalibrating. With new information, we're being nimble to consider what that might mean in terms of the rollout. Making sure that that is done safely, that it's done clearly, and all of our partners that are involved in that rollout and the Australian public, understand how that will all work. But I don't have any information there yet, it's- this has happened over the weekend, and will continue this week.

Natasha?

QUESTION: 

Is it your expectation that this modelling will be made public?

PAUL KELLY:       

I'm not in a position to talk about that at the moment.

Natasha? From the Australian.

QUESTION: 

Thank you very much. Yes, [Indistinct] health care workers aged under 50. Do you have an estimate how many people fall into that bracket. And are we going to have enough Pfizer available up until, sort of, the mid-year to vaccinate all those people? And my second question is in relation to Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Is it correct that those companies won't sell vaccines to Australia on the basis that we don't have a no-fault vaccine compensation scheme?

PAUL KELLY:       

So, there's a couple of issues there. One is about the numbers. What I can say is that we will have 40 million doses of Pfizer by the end of the year. And so, by the end of the year we will definitely have enough to vaccinate basically the entire adult population of Australia. But in the meantime…

QUESTION: 

[Interrupts] Sorry, I was talking about the health care workers aged under 50. [Indistinct]…?

PAUL KELLY:       

Yeah. So, it goes back to the answer of my previous question. That we have- we will, by the end of the year, have by our contracted- our contract with Pfizer, 40 million doses of Pfizer. Can I tell you, on a week-by-week basis how much that is coming in? Or how much will be here by the middle of the year? No I can't. So, I can't answer that question. And the second part, sorry? What the other- oh, the no-fault compensation scheme? Look, no-fault compensation schemes are available in many countries in the world, and really, that's a matter for Government policy to consider whether Australia should be considering that. And I'm not going to comment further on Australia's response. But what I can say, is, and this was reinforced by Minister Hunt yesterday, backed up by the AMA and by the RACGP, that includes- in terms indemnity insurance for providers, GPs and other vaccine providers but particularly GPs, that's covered. And it's covered also in our contracts with Pfizer and with AstraZeneca in relation to indemnities. So those components are not an issue for Australia right now.

QUESTION: 

[Interrupts] Just picking up on Natasha's question, though. I mean, isn't what she's asking is, you're going to have a group of frontline workers that might not be able to be vaccinated until later this year. That's way out of whack from the original plan. And just on this, I mean I know this is anecdotal, but this is a gentleman who said on social media today. In relation to he's in 1B, presumably some sort of chronic illness. He said Paul Kelly on Radio National right now says 1B rollout quote, largely unaffected. My partner and I are in 1B. Last week, we could get a vaccine appointment, this week we can't. And we won't be able to get until the Pfizer shipment arrives at the end of the year. Is that accurate?

PAUL KELLY:       

No. That's not accurate.

COMPERE: 

Last question.

PAUL KELLY:       

Last question from Emily White, Nine News.

QUESTION: 

Thanks Professor. The Victorian Government is looking at supplying AstraZeneca diverted to GP clinics for the next two weeks. Is that something that you will endorse?

PAUL KELLY:       

So, we've been in close contact with all of our state and territory partners over the weekend, about this recalibration exercise. They've given us a range of suggestions that we're working through with them right now. And part of that recalibration will almost certainly be a rebalancing of where the vaccines are and where they're available. But these are ongoing discussions, and I can't really say much more at the moment. But it's a very good point you've made. There will be a need to look at all of those things. And just to reiterate my previous answer about the vulnerable groups, including our health care workers. We are continuing with our aim to have them all vaccinated by the middle of the year. As Norman Swan said this morning, winter is coming. And we know that winter is an important component of all respiratory viruses. And so those that are most vulnerable, and those that are most likely to be exposed to the virus will be protected- need to be protected by that time. And I'll go right back to the beginning of this press conference, where I've said for 62 days this year, we've had not a single community case in Australia. And so for most health care workers, it is not a risk at the moment, until such time as we get an outbreak. And that is something that we need to protect them against before that happens. Okay, thanks everyone.

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