Date published: 
4 March 2021
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Good afternoon, I'm here to provide you with the update from the Department of Health on our ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. So to date, i'll just give you some pandemic figures, as we've done, now, for almost a year. So we know that 29,002 people in Australia have contracted COVID-19. In the last 24 hours, six new cases have been confirmed. All of those are in quarantine. To date, in 2021, we've seen 582 cases. That is, of course, a significant number less than many countries across the world. And of course, we know an important part of our response to COVID-19 is testing. And so, whilst you've heard it many times before, I ask you again, if you feel any symptoms of COVID-19 at all, flu or cold-like symptoms, we do encourage you to get tested straight away. And as of that encouragement, we've seen more than 14 million tests done across the country, again, since the commencement of the pandemic.

Now, of course, our focus is the vaccine. We've seen a commencement of our vaccine rollout and we're very pleased to see the progression of that. Yesterday, we saw 10,168 vaccinations completed across the country, bringing us now to more than 61,000 vaccines being administered. Each day as the rollout continues, we are seeing numbers increase, and we'll see that over the coming weeks and months as we move into this program of rollout. Of those that were administered, we have had more than 18,000 vaccinations in residential aged care and disability care facilities. And of course, in our 1A, this, the most vulnerable group, were our initial target. That relates to 215 residential aged care facilities and eight disability facilities. An important part of administering this vaccine rollout is, of course, the training that we've developed and provided to health professionals in order to ensure that the program is delivered safely and effectively. So as to date, more than 20,000 health professionals have completed the core elements of that training, which is an online training program funded by the Department and administered by the Australian College of Nursing on our behalf. More than 12,500 have completed the Pfizer module, which is focused particularly on the special details required for Pfizer. We know it has some cold chain requirements and some special actions required in relation to drawing up. And of course now, we have a module focused on AstraZeneca, which is the program to be commenced tomorrow in Western Australia and in South Australia. And almost 13,000 health professionals have completed the specialised training in AstraZeneca.

So I'm happy to take any questions?

QUESTION: 

Professor McMillan, based on our current trajectory with the vaccine rollout, are you still confident that we'll hit our targets by October?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Yes, we are. We knew this rollout would take a number of steps. As you know, it had different stages in it - 1A, 1B - and that was always a role- as the vaccine becomes available, we'll see increased numbers over time, but we're still focused on that October deadline.

QUESTION: 

And you've said that 13,000 or so health staff have conducted the training for the AstraZeneca vaccine to date. How many overall are you hoping to complete that training?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

We don't have an upper limit. The training is available to all health professionals to complete, and so it's in our best interests that everyone is familiar with this. So we want - certainly, there is a requirement that anyone who administers the vaccine has completed the training, but we're happy for any health professional to complete it.

QUESTION: 

And so- did you say it was WA and South Australia starting tomorrow?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

That's my understanding, yes.

QUESTION: 

Yeah. So when will the other states start? Do you know?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

As the logistics rolls out, the others will start. I don't have details on when those will be yet, but obviously that's starting now and will come in subsequent days.

QUESTION: 

Alright. And look, ads published today or published this week in newspapers by Clive Palmer have raised doubts about the safety of the vaccine rollout. Do you think that ads like that might risk undermining public confidence at all?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Let me restate to everyone the really important message we want to say. These vaccines went through the formal process that Australia always takes to ensure these vaccines are safe and effective. It wasn't rushed. It went through the proper process and we took our time to make sure that was done. So everyone can have confidence in the safe and effectiveness of these vaccines. Commentary elsewhere, I will leave to others. But from me, as the Chief Nurse and Midwife, I give you my reassurance that we've gone through a proper and due process on these vaccines.

QUESTION: 

In terms of the AstraZeneca vaccines, we're obviously making about 50 million locally in Melbourne. Do you have an idea of the rollout timeframe for those vaccines yet?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

That detail, I don't have. No, I think that we're using currently that's come from overseas, with an aim, as our vaccine becomes ready, when it's prepared, then we will start introducing our local version as well.

QUESTION: 

And do you think when those are approved, our vaccine - the rollout - do you think the rate will accelerate once we've got that extra production?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

I think we will, because we'll have more available and we'll be going to bigger populations. As I said before, at this point in time, we've definitely focused on those most vulnerable, those in aged care, and those providing our front-line protection through quarantine. And as we go to bigger populations, with bigger hubs, we'll see bigger numbers increase.

QUESTION: 

And we've also seen the Australian Defence Force is going to be helping with the rollout as of next week. Are you able to give us any more details about what they will be doing?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

They- no, that's still being worked with the Defence Force. They're Defence Force health personnel, who have been freed up to be part of our response. States and territories are working with the Defence Force on how best to use that fantastic resource that we love to work with. But that's been working through at a local level.

QUESTION: 

And I suppose will the Department of Health, seeing as we're now looking at the option of using more Defence staff, do you think the Department of Health will be looking at more GPs and other health staff throughout the country?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Yeah. So there are, as the rollout continues, which is detailed in the plan, in coming weeks, we will see the rollout through general practice and through pharmacies as well. And that's a part of our program of rollout. We're also working with the Defence Force here at the Department of Health who are helping us with amazing expertise, particularly in logistics and planning. So Defence Force are a great partner for us in this vaccine rollout.

QUESTION: 

And with those Defence personnel, is there any particular reason why they weren't included from the start? Have they jumped in now to help, because we're maybe falling a bit behind targets? Or what was behind that decision?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

I can't speak on that decision. I'm really pleased to see they're here. As I said, I worked our Defence Force personnel during some of the aged care outbreaks and I know what a great resource are they. So I'm really positive to see them here.

QUESTION: 

And I suppose, are you happy with the level of the vaccine rollout at this rate, with the number of people that have gotten the jab so far?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Yes. We're steady. Concentrated effort. Working through the steps. As has been said by many before me, these are complex logistic systems to work through and we'll see a steady increase over the coming weeks.

Questions on the telephone?

QUESTION: 

Yes, thanks, Alison. James O'Doherty from The Daily Telegraph here. Hopefully, you can hear me?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Yes, James.

QUESTION: 

I was just hoping you could provide an update on when we might expect to be in receipt of low dead space syringes to enable reliable extraction of six doses out of each Pfizer vaccine vial?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Thank you, James. Just to explain, because this is in unusual language. Particularly, the Pfizer vaccine is in very low doses. And in order to get the maximum amount out of each vial, it is preferable that you use something called a low dead space needle. There has been a world shortage of these needles. Everyone has been competing for this resource. We now have these needles in Australia and they are being distributed to all of the states and territories as we speak. And that will aid in ensuring we can get six doses out of a vial as to five. One of the important things to say is that you can't mix vials of these vaccines. You can only use one vial at one dose. So these are a welcome addition to our response. And as I say, they are now in the country and being distributed across the states and territories. Thanks, James.

QUESTION: 

So just to follow up on that, Dr McMillan. How many low dead space needles do we have in the country and how many are going to each jurisdiction?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

James, that's detail I don't know. I'm sure we'll be able to provide you with that information subsequent. But it is a logistic aspect that I'm not familiar with. I'm familiar with the fact that they've arrived and they're going out. But I don't know how many.

Any further questions? Okay. Thank you for your time.       

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