Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer, Alison McMillan's press conference on 21 September 2021

Read the transcript of Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer Professor Alison McMillan's press conference about COVID-19 on 21 September 2021.

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ALISON MCMILLAN: Good afternoon. My name is Alison McMillan. I'm the Commonwealth Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer and I'm here to provide our vaccine update for today. So I'm pleased to announce that more than 72 per cent of the eligible population have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. To reach this, more than 15 million first doses were administered across more than 10,000 sites. That means, nationally, just over 1.5 million doses are needed to reach that 80 per cent of eligible population over 16 for first dose. Yesterday, we achieved 25 million doses administered, which is a terrific result. Over the last seven days, 1,696,510 doses have been administered across, of course, that culmination of states and territory sites, primary care, pharmacies, which is a great effort, and I'm particularly grateful for all of the people who work so tremendously hard to deliver those vaccines. Now, nationally, we're averaging 1 million doses in every three to four days, so that incredible acceleration has just been sustained, which means we're not far off offering 2 million doses every week. We've also been increasingly seeing every day an increasing improvement on the day before, and we've seen that over the last five days. So again, that acceleration that we anticipated we're seeing, really great news.

So, my message to everyone, again, is what we've all been hearing: please, now is the time to get vaccinated. Talk to your general practitioner. Speak to the pharmacist. Go to a state vaccine clinic where you can turn up. And protect you and your loved ones from COVID. There are almost 10,000 places where you can get a vaccine by mid-October. And I want to reassure everyone we have enough vaccine now to vaccinate everyone who's eligible for a double dose. So, again, just to reiterate, 25,133,222 now delivered. More than 1.9 million in the last seven days. And we've gone from 25- 24 to 25 million doses in four days.

There has been, of course, a quite significant focus on aged care worker vaccine. And I'm, again, really very pleased and very grateful to all of our dedicated aged care workers who are leading the nation, leading the world probably, in those who are now vaccinated with their first dose. Today, 98* per cent of all aged care workers have received their first dose. That is an incredible effort, and as I say, we are really appreciative of that.

Now, we know that there's been increasing interest in vaccinations for children under 12. So we welcome, in Australia, the news from BioNTech that have announced the top-line results from both their Phase 2 and Phase 3 trials of their mRNA COVID-19 vaccine - we know it's as Pfizer - and particularly in the ages of 5 to 11. The results are from their first trial, and they are the first trial of any of the COVID-19 vaccines for children under 12. It's important to understand Australia is ready and prepared for childhood vaccination when we're ready and of course, for any boosters that might be required of us into the future. Why are we well-prepared? That's because Australia has secured 60 million doses of Pfizer, 25 million doses of Moderna, and 51 million doses of Novavax. So, by those figures, you can see we've got ample supply for all of us for now and in the future to make sure that whoever is eligible, including children, if and when that's ready, we have sufficient supply. It also means that we have the capability to manage if we see emergent or changing variants in the virus into the future, and we're accommodating and ready for that.

In Australia, we know the TGA has been a major part of the work in our vaccine rollout, and it has proved Pfizer and Moderna for adolescents over 12, and AstraZeneca for those over 18. Approvals by TGA have been made based on their strong, world-class regulatory systems. These are the systems that make sure these vaccines are safe for all of us. The TGA- though importantly, the TGA has not yet received an application from any of the vaccine companies producing COVID-19 vaccines for use of their vaccine in the under 12s. For a vaccine to be considered by TGA, an application needs to be made by the sponsor. And then they are required to submit their clinical trials data, and this will demonstrate the safety and efficacy of that vaccine in children. And as you know, we've talked a lot about this process over the years, the rigorous, world-standard TGA in assessing the effectiveness and efficiency of these vaccines. And this would be done again when and if a submission is made for this vaccine for the under 12s.

Data collected by these companies from overseas trials is assessed and acceptable by the TGA. And the TGA will assess that data based on international guidelines for this purpose. If an application is received for this age group, obviously, then the TGA would very quickly go to assess this information and make a decision. I understand that the Minister for Health has written to the Managing Director of Pfizer Australia-New Zealand, and has welcomed- and invited and welcomed an application for the use of this vaccine in those aged five to 11 in Australia. If that application is received as I've outlined, then the TGA will go ahead through its clinical assessment for the safety and efficacy based on the clinical data provided by that company. So we're ready when that happens. And as I've said already, we have secured sufficient supply to ensure that we can all be vaccinated with two doses. Of course, we understand and know that that will protect us, our loved ones and our community against the virus.

Thank you, and I'm happy to take questions.

QUESTION: Pfizer International said when they released some of this information last night that they'd apply to the US FDA for emergency use approval and then they'd apply for some European and UK regulators. Do you get the feeling that Australia is maybe a bit down the list of regulators that it's going to send its data to when it comes to the vaccine for younger people?

ALISON MCMILLAN: I can't comment on where we might be on Pfizer's list. I know, and I've said I know that the Minister for Health has written to them now inviting the Managing Director for Pfizer in Australia and New Zealand, that we are ready and keen to hear from them in relation to the assessment of the vaccine for use in Australia for five- to 11-year-olds.

QUESTION: Looking at the process for approving the 12- to 15-year-olds, if it's a comparable timeline between receiving the application, getting TGA approval, and then ATAGI advice, could we expect then that these young children might be eligible for a vaccine this year? And has any work been done in terms of how it might be delivered, such as through schools? Or would it still be encouraged that they go to the GP or pharmacy?

ALISON MCMILLAN: You're right that the process has worked very well and very efficiently, and so based on when the application is received, the data is submitted, and they can make that assessment. It is possible that we will see this this year. Again, we have a strong vaccine rollout program, as you know, and the likelihood is we will see it through general practice through a range of options. We have an incredibly successful childhood vaccination program in Australia. We have some of the highest uptake in the world. So I've confidence that this, like every other vaccine, that it will be assessed on its merit and its safety, and we'll see an uptake in the five- to 11- year-olds when approved and when available.

QUESTION: We're seeing some pretty emotional commentary around the risks to children of COVID-19, given that it now seems like a vaccine is on the doorstep for this younger group. Would you be concerned if that was used as an excuse to delay a return to school or reopening of certain communities should those children being vaccinated in any way be considered as part of the reopening?

ALISON MCMILLAN: I think that we all understand the importance of getting children back to school. We've seen the challenges that parents and families have faced. I think that we will see a continued rollout of the program of returning children to school safely and effectively. And I think when and if the vaccine becomes available, that will be an additional measure for us. But I think that right now, we need to be continuing that program towards returning children, putting all those measures in place to keep them safe and to keep the community safe.

QUESTION: Can you explain a bit why it takes a bit of time from Pfizer declaring that it's good in younger kids to us actually being able to put it in those children's arms while we have that two step regulatory process as well?

ALISON MCMILLAN: Because we need to satisfy ourselves as well. TGA need to satisfy themselves that the data represents the results correctly, that they've been found, that it's been collected, analysed and assessed appropriately. And that's the expertise of TGA. That's what those amazing people there and TGA do for us, which saddens me, therefore, to think that we've heard in recent times some of the criticism of the great people who've worked so incredibly hard to do their job in a way that keeps us all safe. That's the role of TGA, is to assess the evidence that they're provided and critique and analyse it, and then make recommendations to us to keep us all safe.

QUESTION: But then we have ATAGI on top of that as well.

ALISON MCMILLAN: We do have ATAGI. So ATAGI and TGA work together, but the first step, of course, is the regulation.

QUESTION: Just on vaccine mandates. We've seen quite a visceral reaction to the mandating of vaccines in construction in Victoria, with protests erupting. What is your- are you concerned that that kind of behaviour might deter the further people getting vaccinated? What is this going to [indistinct]? What is the stance on mandatory vaccines in other sectors? Should people be prepared for a similar rule?

ALISON MCMILLAN: Okay. So I think where you've seen, such as where I've just said, we've seen vaccine being mandated in aged care workers, because we understand the critical importance that plays in protecting our most vulnerable.

Now we're moving in- as we understand, particularly with Delta, that this vaccine is- sorry the virus is incredibly easily transmitted. And we're seeing an increase in the promotion of the vaccine across the country. I'd like to say to everyone that's thinking, who has not yet made a decision on being vaccinated, these vaccines available to you are incredibly safe and effective. Please seek advice and information from reliable sources, from trusted health professionals because they are where you will get the most accurate information. And I hope that you will make a decision that will be good for you, your family and your work colleagues so that we can all get back to doing what we love and what we want to do and encourage everyone to continue to get vaccinated. There are many places you can get vaccinated now, as I've said, more than 10,000 across the country. So get vaccinated, make that appointment because it is safe and it is effective.

QUESTION: Tonight is the deadline for aged care providers to give the Government data on aged care worker vaccination rates. How confident are you that you'll see that pretty close to 100 per cent and what will happen if it's not?

ALISON MCMILLAN: So the deadline for the data submission is tomorrow. But in fact, the deadline for workers was Friday. And obviously, we've worked very closely with aged care providers on the strategies they've taken where staff are not vaccinated and mostly they've not been rostered on. They continue to work with their staff to help them if there are concerns and hesitancy or if there have been issues of access or where they may have been able to, due to certain health circumstances, secure that they weren't required to have that vaccine. So I think this result is incredible and is a credit, as I say, to the aged care workers out there and all of the people who have worked so hard to reach this point. I think we'll get closer and closer and we'll probably see some shaking of the data. But this is already a terrific result. And that small number that are not vaccinated are distributed across the country, so they're not going to have any major impact on service delivery to those most vulnerable.

QUESTION: Here in the ACT there's still nearly another month of lockdown. The territory's ticked over more than 82 per cent first dose vaccinated across over 16s, yet there's no roadmap to reopening. Is the ACT health department getting different advice to those in New South Wales and Victoria that have been able to make these plans to get out of lockdown? What makes the act different here if it has such a high vaccination rate?

ALISON MCMILLAN: So firstly, we know that all states and territories committed to the roadmap out in national cabinet and I think we've heard here in ACT a continued commitment to that. I can't speak for ACT Health or the ACT Government. They will, I'm sure, produce their plan for going forward in the near future. I like everyone else are hopeful of that. And at the moment, they're taking a very cautious approach because we do, as you know, continue to see cases in ACT and we need to make sure that we're protecting ourselves. So we may hear in the future of plans from ACT.

I'll go to the phone. Madura?

QUESTION: Thank you. Just on the Pfizer jab for children aged five to 11 should the TGA approve it, and I guess our strong record on vaccinating children, do you see the COVID-19 jab becoming a fixture in the programme to vaccinate children in schools? And also, could you provide an update on where we are in terms of the logistics of making school vaccinations happen?

ALISON MCMILLAN: Okay. So firstly, we don't yet, as I've said, have approval through the- we've not done an application for Pfizer yet. So TGA has not got an approval. When and if that happens, then we will see the rollout of the vaccine for five to 11 year olds. I would think that we will, if there's a need for boosters into the future and that data is still being very carefully analysed and discussed around the world, then it may be that this will become part of a regular childhood vaccination programme that we have. But let's take those steps one at a time. And as I've said before, I think that what we've seen is that we are working very closely with education departments and states' and territories' health departments to get as many children as we can back to school because we know the importance that has for their health and wellbeing and for their education.

And on the other telephone. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi it's Chloe from Network 10, I'm not sure if you can hear me, I can barely hear you. And there's a good chance that someone's already asked this. So if that's the case, I do apologise. I just wanted to firm up, how soon could we see jabs rolled out to kids aged five to 11? And would this ever become mandatory for kids to go to school or childcare?

ALISON MCMILLAN: Okay, so what we're talking about today is we now know that Pfizer, just to reiterate, we now know that Pfizer has its data in phase two and phase three trials, and it is sharing that data. We- in Australia, the Minister for Health has written to Pfizer Australia and New Zealand, inviting an application for Pfizer to be considered in Australia and therefore to provide their clinical data, Where- if and when that occurs, then TGA, of course, will take all of those internationally agreed guidelines about assessing that clinical data. When that's done, then we can start working to the administering of this vaccine to children five to 11. The third part of your question was around mandate. Look, I'm not going to make any speculation here about the mandating of vaccines in any groups. We've seen it work in aged care workers. There was a particular reason for doing that. Some states and territories have taken that to health care workers. I think we may continue to see some actions around mandatory vaccinations for some groups, but I'm not going to speculate on that. We know at the moment there is mandates in a small group of people. Thanks, Chloe.

Thanks, everyone. Have a good day.

*Please note, this has been updated with correct figure


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