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

LEIGH SALES:                                

We invited the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt for an interview this evening but he declined. Instead, I was joined by Dr Brendan Murphy the Secretary of the Federal Health Department.

Dr Murphy, thank you very much for your time. Australians were told at the start this country would be front of the queue for vaccines. So far, only two per cent of the population is vaccinated against 30 per cent of Americans and 46 per cent of Brits. How can the public judge the vaccine rollout in Australia as anything other than amateur hour?

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

Well, I would completely reject that contention. We have always taken the view that unlike just about every country in the world, we didn't have the need for emergency use authorisation and rapid approval processes that other countries have had to do to get access to vaccines earlier.

We went through our normal, proper TGA approval processes and until they were completed, we couldn't get access to vaccines, no company would distribute those vaccines, so we went through our processes, they came through in February and March, for the locally produced CSL.

As soon as those had come through, our supply lines started. And like other countries, we have been constrained by international supply. Which is why the wonderful starting up of the local production of CSL is what is now accelerating our program which has really quadrupled over the last few weeks and it is ramping up significantly at the moment. We have not been in a position where we need to do things in a hurry.

LEIGH SALES:

There's a few things I want to come to with that. But let me - because it's the last thing you said, take you up on saying we don't need to do things in a hurry. Actually, the situation with states going into 3-day lockdowns all over the place and the ease with which the virus can get out of quarantine or hospitals would show that there should be a hurry, there should be a sense of urgency around it.

BRENDAN MURPHY:

And there is a sense of urgency, consistent with the supply of vaccine that we have. We are distributing and putting in arms in the proper way that it takes to get things out and deployed and put into arms, every vaccine dose we get. The constraint at the moment is vaccine supply. That is what's holding back any further expansion than the rate we're going at the moment.

LEIGH SALES:

But when you say supply is the issue, its more than that. Because doctors are saying the organisation is hopeless, state governments are saying they don't know how much supply they will get and when. There's no sense as to when Australia will reach a critical mass of people being vaccinated that would allow borders to open. How can anyone objectively view this organisation as anything other than a dog's breakfast?

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

Well, that - again, I completely reject that contention. The vast majority of GPs are incredibly happy with the rollout. They're very pleased to be involved. Sure, there have been a couple of instances where some GPs wanted more doses than they could be allocated because of the supply constraint. Sure, there have been some instances where the more than 1000 deliveries in the first week to GPs, some were not able to be completed, but it is going well. We have put, you know, 280,000 doses in GPs, in two weeks. That's a pretty impressive achievement and the states have put 460,000 doses in arms. They know what they are getting. They would like to have more forward certainty, as would we, but we are working with our suppliers to get as much forward certainty as we can. The program is actually going according to plan and going well.

LEIGH SALES:                                

How many doses of vaccine per week is CSL producing right now?

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

They are still going through a process of refining their quality release. As you know, they produced 830 for their initial release and they're going through sometimes one or two releases. Their quality release process requires a double check …

LEIGH SALES:                                

[Interrupts] So, how many per week?

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

Well, we haven't got a stable position yet. It is changing from week to week. They are producing sometimes two releases a week, so we're not going to give you an absolute average yet. But what we can say is that they are absolutely committed in coming weeks to achieve that million doses a week target once things have stabilised down. That's the target. Once we get that, we can then really reliably ramp up even further.

LEIGH SALES:                                

How many vaccine doses are currently in storage?

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

There's nothing that's in storage, as you put it. There is nothing that hasn't been either allocated to contingency, which is clearly required because you can't give first doses without second dose contingency, or is being distributed to sites of vaccinations. So for example, at the end of last week, we had 850,000 doses in arms. To achieve that, about 1.3 million doses had been distributed and deployed to the sites of vaccinations.

So there was obviously- you don't expect every vaccination site to use all of their doses, and particularly GPs, in the first two weeks are ramping up. So that's- then last week we distributed another 600,000 for this week's deliveries, and then the similar amount will be distributed this week. So there's no vaccine that's sitting in storage being unallocated. Every dose that we get is being allocated either to contingency or being distributed for the purposes of vaccination.

LEIGH SALES:                                

You said to parliament last week, that everybody would have one injection by October. To get to that, authorities need to deliver 200,000 doses a day, that's double the current rate. How will you get to that?

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

We will get to that by- we are still on track to hit our target of everyone getting a first dose, every adult getting a first dose by the end of October. We will get that by increasing our vaccine supply. That is the only constraint at the moment. Once we get to over the million doses a week from CSL, and they have plans to get significantly over that. And we are also working with Pfizer to get an increase in the current allocation that we're getting from the international supply. We're only getting a bit over 100,000 a week. We're working with them to increase that, too. So that's the strategy to get us there and we think we will get there, because we've got plans to increase those doses.

LEIGH SALES:                                

And what's your best current estimate for when north of 75 per cent of the Australian population will be fully immunised?

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

I haven't got a current estimate of that. All I'm- we're working to two major targets at the moment. One is to get all of phase one done, which is the vulnerable people in the community, by the middle of the year. And the second target is to get every Australian allocated a first dose, every adult Australian allocated a first dose by the end of October. That's what we're working through. We're working- yeah?

LEIGH SALES:                                

[Interrupts] So- Sorry, I was just going to say, to break that down, can you give people a date by which time all of the health workers, the aged care workers, the hotel quarantine workers and aged care residents would be done?

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

No, because these – we’re merging 1A and 1B together. That's- because we've now got the general practice online, we know that more than half of the aged care residents are already vaccinated. We're working on the aged care worker rollout, expanding that at the moment. Most of the hotel and quarantine, the hotel quarantine and border workers have already been done and the first line healthcare workers. But we're merging into other healthcare workers too. So, the strategy is to get all of phase 1 done, as I said, by the middle of the year.

LEIGH SALES:                                

Will Australia start to use mass vaccination centres, stadiums, convention centres, like the US and the UK are doing?

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

Well, we are al- there are already some of those that have been set up by some of the states and territories. The only constraint on that at the moment is simply vaccine supply, as I've already said. So we can't expand those significantly until we get more vaccine supply. But it's also important to note that in phase 1B, when we're doing over 70s and over 80s predominantly, they want to go to their GPs. They do not want to go into a mass vaccination clinic. Once we get into phase 2 and we're doing the general population, people who may not care whether they go to their GP or a stadium, and we will have more vaccines available, we will definitely be expanding into further vaccination clinics. It's a mixed model but general practice has proven in these first two weeks of its rollout to be a highly successful mode of delivery.

LEIGH SALES:                                

The Prime Minister announced in his press conference today that state and federal governments are looking at more data transparency around COVID vaccination. Do you have any further information about that at the moment?

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

No, I think that's a discussion at National Cabinet on Friday. I absolutely support that. You know, we're very keen to be transparent with what doses have gone where, and what's gone to which sector. But people have to understand that there's this long process between a vaccine being released. It takes a couple of weeks for it to be distributed in a complex way, to be put into arms. So there's always going to be a lag between the release and delivery. But I'm absolutely supportive of transparency, absolutely.

LEIGH SALES:                                

Let me finish by asking - any time there's a good news announcement around vaccination, the Prime Minister or the Health Minister are always there for it. But on a tougher day, here you are, having to front up on prime time television to get the rounds of the kitchen table, graciously, I might add. Do you feel at all used by your political masters?

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

Not in the slightest. I am- I chair the scientific and technical advisory committee, I'm the Secretary of the Health Department. The Health Department is primarily responsible. I appeared on your program primarily because you asked me to and I like talking to you.

LEIGH SALES:                                

Well thank you very much. We appreciate your time and your transparency.

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

Thanks.

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