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

ALISON MCMILLAN: Good afternoon. I'm here to provide the Department of Health's update on our continued COVID-19 response. So, first, I'm really pleased to say that another day in Australia of no community transmission, which is terrific to see and congratulations to all Australians for the ongoing work that you do in preventing transmission. This week is World Immunisation Week and it's a salient reminder to all of us that vaccines are very, very successful at preventing severe disease and death. And obviously, our focus at the moment is on COVID vaccines but I'll talk a little bit more about other vaccines, and my colleague, Eric, will provide an update on the COVID vaccine rollout.

Firstly, it's probably really important for me to say that today is a great landmark. We've seen now 2 million vaccines administered in Australia for which we are really pleased to see, and as I say, Eric will provide further detail of that very shortly. That's thanks, in no small part, to the amazing and fabulous effort made by all health professionals out there who are delivering these vaccines to our most vulnerable, focusing obviously on the most vulnerable communities and those in Phase 1A one 1B. And I obviously as Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer particularly would like to thank all nurses and midwives out there every day delivering vaccines to our community. So I'm here again to encourage everyone that vaccines are very, very effective, and our COVID vaccines of AstraZeneca and Pfizer are very, very effective at preventing severe disease and death, and that's why it's important that I'm again encouraging everyone to get vaccinated when your turn comes.

None of us can avoid the pictures that we've seen from overseas. Obviously, at the moment, our focus is in India where we're seeing an enormous spread of COVID across that country, and our hearts go out to all of our friends and family in India. But India is not alone. I recently talked to colleagues in Canada who are also seeing significant transmission and certainly seeing younger people presenting with and needing hospitalisation and intensive care. So it's a reminder again of all of us in Australia of the importance of vaccine but also the importance of continuing to do those things that have served us so well over the last 18 months. Stay at home if you're sick and get tested. Continue to do those things such as coughing into your elbow, hand hygiene, use of a tissue and disposing, and those things that we encourage each other to do, the physical distancing where possible, and if not, where it may be appropriate, to wear a mask. Those are the things that have continued to keep us safe and we want to encourage people to continue to do that and keep us safe across the country.

It is, as I say, World Immunisation Week, and so it's also now, as the weather turns and becomes cooler, for us all to get our flu vaccination. There is a need to keep two-weeks between your COVID vaccine and your flu vaccination. But if it's not turn yet for your COVID vaccination, now is the time to make a booking and get that vaccine because we also know the flu vaccine is very effective at preventing severe disease and death. Whilst last year we didn't see a great deal of flu, that doesn't mean that we can drop our game and we need to continue see people get vaccinated. So again, a reminder: vaccinations do prevent severe disease and death. The two COVID vaccines we have are extremely effective at doing that and we'll continue to see the rollout.

I'll hand over to Eric to provide you some of the data for today and then we'll take questions.

ERIC YOUNG: Thanks, Alison. Yesterday, 60,207 doses of vaccines were administered to vulnerable Australians, taking our total to 2,029,544 doses administered. While we often talk about the complexity of this logistical and health program, that 2 million milestone is a time for us to reflect now and think about where we've come from but also where we need to go. It took 47 days to get to our first million doses administered and 19 days to get to the second million doses administered. We are building capacity. We are getting a little better every day. This milestone also provides opportunity to thank those who have made that milestone possible -from those that are producing the vaccine onshore and offshore, those that help us to store and distribute the vaccines, the healthcare professionals, the thousands of healthcare professionals that Alison talked about every single day that are administering the vaccines, through to everyone in the supply chain and across the program, from private sector, the Commonwealth, and the states and territories that are working collaboratively together every single day to administer those vaccines. Whilst this is a wonderful achievement, we still have more to do to make sure that the vaccines that we have available, are available across the country, when and where required, to protect our most vulnerable Australians.

In terms of the operational update for today, again, I'd like to do that in three parts, focusing on supply, distribution and administration of the vaccine. In terms of supply, we have 173,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine currently going through batch release and sample testing by the Therapeutic Good Association [sic]. And 707,000 doses of the onshore-produced AstraZeneca vaccine also going through batch release and sample testing. In terms of distribution, and I talked on Monday about 600,000 doses of vaccine that were distributed across the country last week. And this week, despite being a short week, we have more than half a million doses again being distributed across the country. That includes 140,000 doses of vaccines that were distributed yesterday, and today we have 125,000 doses of vaccine going to more than 1000 sites across the country. We also distributed all consumables required by those administering the vaccine for this week, and we've now prepositioned additional stocks in key areas across the country for short notice requirements.

In terms of the administration of the vaccine, again, we talked about the numbers. 60,207 doses administered yesterday and more than 2 million doses administered overall. Our primary care network, the general practices, the general practice respiratory clinics, the Aboriginal community controlled health services now account for over 1 million doses of the vaccines. Again, they took approximately 21 days to get to the first 500,000 doses of the vaccine and a further 12 days to get to 1 million. That comes from additional capacity of those primary care networks, with another 62 added this week. Our total Commonwealth state and territory sites now that are able to administer the vaccine is now over 5100 and continuing to grow. For our vaccine administration service providers, our focus is on those most at risk, those older Australians in residential aged care facilities. Today, we are visiting 45 residential aged care facilities for a first dose visit, taking our total now to 1554. We have 62 visits a day for a second dose for residential aged care facilities, taking our second dose total to 910. In addition to those most at risk, we also have a number of vulnerable populations including the disability sector. For disability residential facilitates, we've now conducted 97 first dose visits and 17 second dose visits. And we have another 17 visits programmed for this week.

This week, on the back of the National Cabinet decision last week, predominantly to limit Pfizer vaccine to those under the age of 50, we are focused on ensuring that all eligible Australians know how and where to access a COVID vaccine. But every single day, we're focussed on making sure that every vulnerable Australian is offered a vaccine as soon as possible. Thank you.

ALISON MCMILLAN: So I've got questions. Josh, we'll go to you first, please.

QUESTION: Oh, yeah, thank you. You mentioned, just a moment ago, about encouraging everyone to get it back as possible. The RACGP said at a senate hearing last night that they were concerned about patients over 50 who are currently eligible for a vaccine declining to get the AstraZeneca shots, saying they would prefer perhaps to wait until we get more Pfizer towards the end of the year. I know you're trying to give everyone the opportunity to get a vaccine as soon as possible. But what would you say to people who might be waiting for that Pfizer shot later instead of getting AstraZeneca now? Would you hope people would take the opportunity as soon as possible?

ALISON MCMILLAN: Yes, Josh, that's right, we are encouraging everyone over 50 who is eligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine to get that appointment and get their vaccine underway. I appreciate and understand that some people have some hesitancy towards that. But we need to always weigh up the balance of the benefit of the vaccine against the risk. And the expert group, ATAGI, have provided us with that advice that the AstraZeneca vaccine should be used for people over 50 and we're encouraging them to do that. If you do have some hesitancy, I encourage you to seek to get accurate information through our website, which is health.gov.au, or there's a telephone number. Or perhaps talk to a health professional who may help you guide you in your decision making. I remind you, the vaccine is voluntary. It's not mandatory, but we strongly recommend that you do get it because we know that's extremely effective against severe disease and death. Thanks, Josh. Rachel.

QUESTION: Thank you. I want to ask about the pause of flights from India to Australia, were there concerns the health system in the NT, particularly, wouldn't cope with a growth in COVID cases in hotel quarantine?

ALISON MCMILLAN: I think that we - my understanding is there was a discussion at National Cabinet on Friday, about both the capacity of the quarantine system in general, and the subsequent capacity of the health system to deal with positive cases. We are seeing some evidence that people who have the variance of concern do appear to be sicker than those that- earlier on in the pandemic. And so in order to ensure that we could maintain the effectiveness of our quarantine programme, the decision was made to slow the numbers of flights and the number of people coming into Australia to ensure that we could manage this safely and effectively. And I think this is evidence of the Commonwealth and the states and territories working to a solution for everyone, acknowledging still our commitment to bring as many Australians home as quickly as we can, but also maintaining that safe approach that we've had throughout the pandemic that served us so well in Australia.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that. How is the situation with India different to, say, the situation earlier last year in the US or with the UK? You mentioned the variants of concern, but are there other differences there?

ALISON MCMILLAN: I think at the moment what we're seeing in India is that there is a significant proportion of the population is now infected. And despite the measures we put in place with pretesting before departure, we're still seeing evidence of people arriving and testing positive in the early days of their time in quarantine. I think it's the magnitude of what we're seeing in India that is of greatest concern. Of course, we are very, as I've said before, very concerned for our friends and family in India and the situation they're in. And we will continue to monitor, obviously, if there are any other occasions. But really, Rachel, it's the magnitude that we're seeing in India that's providing us the greatest concern. Jacob.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi. The question might be best for the Commodore. The vaccine numbers we're getting per day, late March that was peaking above 100 thousand. It now seems to have flat lined at a much lower number. What caused that flat line? Is that a cause for concern at all that what was looking like a significant growth a couple of weeks ago now seems so slow?

ERIC YOUNG: Yeah, sorry, who was asking the question? Was that-

ALISON MCMILLAN: Jacob.

ERIC YOUNG: Ah, Jacob. Thank you for the question. So we never actually got to 100 thousand a day. We were getting towards there. I think we've reported publicly over the last couple of weeks that following the ATAGI advice and the recalibration of the programme, we had an expected reduction in the number of those under 50 who were receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. So we would expect to see those daily numbers decrease because of that over the next couple of weeks. Again, will be key for us to have a look at what those daily numbers look like. But again, we remain focussed on two elements - getting vaccines into everyone's arms. And we've got 60,000 doses of vaccine to the arms of Australians yesterday. And we're going to be focussed on doing the same thing again tomorrow. Thank you.

ALISON MCMILLAN: And questions in the room?

QUESTION: Thank you a couple, if I may. Firstly, the Commodore. The government has been reticent to put specific figures on what we're expecting to come in supply wise week on week in the next period of time, clearly, to have confidence in a strategy, you have to have confidence in supply. So is the decision not to go public with specific forecasted week by week supply figures due to a lack of confidence in that supply?

ERIC YOUNG: I'm not going to speculate to why those numbers aren't being produced, and that'll be a matter for government about what numbers are produced and when. The Minister is on the record as saying that he expects the Pfizer numbers to increase next month to again increase over coming months. And again, we expect to see the onshore produced AstraZeneca vaccine also continue to grow. And they're numbers that we're working on for our planning assumptions.

QUESTION: And just on capacity building. When you look at the role of GPs, they've delivered more vaccines in a month than the rest of the system at the moment has delivered over nine weeks. Is there any sense that we will be able to lift the capacity in that existing state based clinics or the Commonwealth run respiratory clinics going forward, or do you foresee that as they complete Phase 1A, that their role will actually become reduced and we will shift focus to GPs and then to pharmacists?

ERIC YOUNG: There's an important ongoing role for the states and territories and all Commonwealth vaccination sites. We have yet to reach capacity in either. And we'll continue to start seeing some of that capacity reached over the coming months as we can provide them with more support.

QUESTION:  And if I can Professor McMillan, the Commonwealth is reporting second dose visits for aged care and disability care. But we are completely in the dark on the second doses in other aspects of Phase 1A that's not published. Do you understand why that reason might be? Are the states working toward that data? I know with AstraZeneca, obviously there's 12 weeks that haven't started, but with the Pfizer doses that have been administered outside aged care and disability care, when can we expect to get second dose information?

ALISON MCMILLAN: I'm probably going to go back to Eric, because he's the numbers man.

QUESTION:  Okay.

as we have throughout the pandemic, the Commonwealth is working in very close partnership with the states and territories. There's been agreement at every stage as to what numbers are provided publicly. And the agreement for National Cabinet was to provide those numbers that you see on the website every single day. And until it's a different decision by National Cabinet, those are the numbers that we'll continue to report on.

ALISON MCMILLAN: Okay. Thank you for your time. And thank you to Linda for the help in the Auslan translation today.

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