The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
Topics: Vaccination rollout; New medicines agreements with Medicines Australia
Good afternoon, everybody. And I’m delighted to be able to announce that over the course of the next week, 1.7 million additional doses sourced from Singapore and the United Kingdom will be distributed to the states and territories to support all states and territories around Australia.
This comes at the same time as we have news that Australia has now passed the significant mark of 21 million doses, and very significantly, 13 million first doses and 8 million second doses.
So, what that shows is that Australians are stepping forward to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but at the same time, additional doses are coming to support every state and every territory.
In particular, I’m pleased to be able to inform the Australian people the TGA has already cleared the first 450,000 doses from the United Kingdom. The first 500,000 doses from Singapore are now being distributed. The 450,000 from the UK will now join them.
I’m also pleased to be able to say that we are expecting on Thursday night a further 450,000 doses, and on the weekend, by the end of the weekend, approximately 300,000 further doses from the UK with the balance to be delivered at approximately 1 million a week over the coming weeks.
What does that mean? It means that over the course of the next week, the Australian Government will inject a further 1.7 million doses into support for states, territories, GPs, and ultimately, the Australian public.
This is on top of the existing doses which were already coming – 4.6 million Pfizer and 1 million Moderna, as well as 1 million a week available for AstraZeneca.
So these are very significant additional doses that will be available for bookings, will be distributed as they’re cleared by the TGA, with the first 950,000 of that 1.7 million on their way to GPs, to state and territory practices, to Indigenous medical clinics, and to Commonwealth vaccination centres. So, I think that’s a very important step forward and a real point of hope.
Now I would also be very pleased to mention that we have struck new medicines agreements with Medicines Australia, the peak body for our medicine makers, and the Generic and Biosimilar Medicines Association of Australia. They obviously, as the name suggests, take care of the production of generic medicines, so biosimilar medicines.
What does it mean for Australians? It’s a five-year agreement which will see approximately $5 billion injected into new medicines through the PBS, and very significantly, for the first time ever, we have a medicines supply guarantee. Over 500 medicines, which periodically face shortages, will now have four to six months’ stock held in Australia.
What does that mean? It means for diabetes, it means for heart disease, it means for some mental health conditions, that the risk of medicine shortages for the first time is being addressed on an ongoing basis – an agreement between our medicines companies, which includes the vaccine manufacturers that are helping us here in Australia, and the Australian Government to benefit the Australian people.
In addition, there is a faster process that’s being developed through what’s called the Health Technology Assessment to bring more medicines to the Australian public earlier.
Just in terms of vaccines, the daily rollout figures, we have almost 259,000 vaccines in the last 24 hours, and that takes us to 21.24 million vaccines, 21.24 million vaccines. And significantly, I mentioned that we’ve passed 13 million first doses. It’s now 13.16 million doses.
That leaves us with less than 1.4 million people to come forward to be given doses to achieve the national 70 per cent mark for first doses. It leaves us with less than 3.4 million people to be vaccinated to achieve the 80 per cent mark.
So, every day, we are coming considerably closer to our first and second national milestones. 21 million doses all up. 13 million first doses. 8 million second doses. These are all critical steps. But to get to that national plan, we’re well on our way, and approximately 1.9 million doses in the last seven days. So it shows that it’s within reach.
Finally, I just note that the first dose total is 63.8 per cent. The second dose total is 39 per cent. And very hearteningly and I think importantly, 89.3 per cent of Australians over 70 have now had a first dose at the least.
I’m happy to take any questions. I’ll work through the list. I’ll start with Tom Minear.
Thanks, Minister. Why did the Federal Government not publicly explain in July that it was fast tracking the introduction of hundreds of Sydney GP’s to the rollout at the expense of other states?
Why has it taken two months to level out the discrepancy and why is this good enough for your home state which is now weeks behind the New South Wales vaccine rate?
As we’ve had outbreaks, we’ve prioritised those areas to save lives. In particular, we started by prioritising Victoria when there was the Victorian outbreak.
So 300,000 doses. So 150,000 for Victoria and then 150,000 brought forward were made available for Victoria when there was a Victorian outbreak. Indeed, the Victorian state system has received a higher per capita rate of doses delivered than New South Wales.
And just to put that in context, I think Victoria has received just over 3 million doses to the state system. The New South Wales Government has received just over 3.3 million doses even though it’s 20 per cent higher in terms of population. 32 per cent versus 26 per cent.
So the critical thing here is to save lives and protect lives. Every state and every territory receives a per capita allocation, and where there is, on top of that, an outbreak, as we did with Victoria, which we prioritised when they had an outbreak, we’ve made sure that saving lives has been at the heart of what we’re doing. So, I think that’s a critical thing then.
Yeah, thanks, Minister. Just further to that, Daniel Andrews this morning claims there was extra Pfizer given under the table to New South Wales. He said he’s not quibbling about the Polish doses, but he claims there was a preference given to New South Wales. Can you expressly rule that out?
And I guess to really clarify, can you sort of explain what the big difference that we are seeing in the Commonwealth statistics around the number of Commonwealth doses given in New South Wales and Victoria?
As of yesterday’s statistics, New South Wales was given something like 4.72 million doses in Commonwealth settings. Victoria just 2.8 million. Can you explain those numbers a bit? Because I think the headline ones that have people concerned about whether one state has been prioritised over another.
When there was an outbreak in Victoria, Victoria requested and received additional doses. And that’s exactly what has occurred with New South Wales. That’s about saving lives, and that’s fundamental.
Ultimately, everybody, everybody is covered right across Australia. And right now, an additional 4 million doses from the UK, and 500,000 from Singapore. That’s then spread right around the country. The first 1.7 million of those available during the course of the coming week.
And so that means making sure that everybody receives their per capita allocation and where there have been outbreaks, as we did in Victoria, as we did with New South Wales, and as we did with Queensland in bringing forward approximately 100,000 doses at their request. We’ve provided that additional support as and when it’s needed to save lives.
Thanks, Minister. Under the national plan, if a state reaches 70 per cent double dosed, should the same settings in terms of reopening be applied across all areas with that high vaccination coverage?
So in Sydney, even though those LGAs of concern have higher case numbers, if they achieved those really high vaccination rates, is there anything in the plan that would limit their ability to reopen at the same rate as Sydney?
So that is ultimately a matter for each state and territory. And the way the national plan works is obviously we’re looking at state-wide figures. But they will look internally at individual risks.
And as you set out, those areas with the greatest risk, also seem to have as a general proposition, the higher rates of allocation, which does, of course to the questions of Tom and Josh about saving lives and protecting lives. And I hope that no one would begrudge that focus, as was the case of Victoria on saving lives and protecting lives, in the most extreme of circumstances.
So with regards to New South Wales, we have this very important development where the areas of greatest risk are seeing the highest rates. That will help the state make decisions. And they’re obviously in a position to focus on state-wide moves, or as is required, localised actions. And that’s expressly contemplated in the national plan.
Thanks, Minister. Just back to Tom and Joshua’s questions, I guess. The Western Australian Government, the Queensland Government, and the Victorian Government have been running the same argument today.
Queensland’s Deputy Premier Steven Miles said those redirected vaccines are coming from the Commonwealth share of the task of vaccinating Queenslanders, and it was also implied that Queensland will not be getting, will still be getting less than our fair share of the vaccines through September and through the end of the year.
What’s your response to that?
Occasionally, I have sensed that some people are looking for a fight. We’re not. We want to work with everyone constructively.
And what we see and what I’ve just announced is 1.7 million extra doses of hope that are going to be available to all the states and territories over the course of the coming week. And that’s a huge, huge increase.
Just in relation to ordering, I would point out that with regards to Queensland, that their 78 per cent ordering of their state entitlement is the lowest of any state and territory. In particular, they have a 37 per cent order rate of AstraZeneca.
To Victoria’s credit, they’ve done an outstanding job with AstraZeneca. They’ve made it a feature of their rollout, and so I applaud that and recognise and respect that. And so I think that’s the most significant thing in relation to Queensland, that they have had a lower ordering rate percentage of their allocation compared with anyone else, the lowest ordering rate in the nation.
But that’s fine. We work with all of them. These 1.7 million extra doses are going out to all states and territories, coming from the UK, coming from Singapore. And what that will allow is everybody to vaccinate to their maximum potential. And ultimately, everybody, everybody receives exactly the same share.
But understandably, as was the request for Victoria when they had an outbreak, there has been a focus on saving lives and protecting lives in the national points of extremes. And it has saved lives.
Thanks, Minister. The Premier of Western Australia, the Deputy Premier of Queensland, and the Premier of Victoria have long been saying that New South Wales got preferential treatment. And can you understand why some Australians would think there’s a case of double standard to the Prime Minister being able to see his children on Father’s Day then come back to work across the state border, while many others can’t?
Look, I respectfully disagree on both points. Firstly, when Victoria had an outbreak, they very clearly asked for and received support, all up an additional 300,000 doses through the outbreak support and then the bringing forward. And then more than 170,000 doses from the Polish supply as well.
Now, 1.7 million doses on top of that. So our focus has to be saving lives and protecting lives wherever that occurs. But also we know in relation to Western Australia, they’re doing a great job. But there’s still 150,000 unordered doses in WA and 394,000 unordered doses in Queensland. And so they were available, and those states could have drawn on them.
But, you know, I’ve got to say to Queensland and WA: you’re doing a great job, but keep going, and here’s the opportunity. And this is the moment.
Others may be looking for conflict, and sometimes these things can be a little stage managed, but it might be a little bit obvious. But we’re not.
Our job is to govern for the nation but to recognise when it’s a flood, a fire, a cyclone, the resources are put there to help those people when in extremes. And the same when it’s a pandemic, whether it’s in Victoria, or New South Wales, or Queensland, or Western Australia, wherever the need is.
As it was in the Northern Territory, for example, when they had the risk of an outbreak in the indigenous population, the Northern Territory Government asked for and received specific support for the indigenous population that was homeless within Darwin and that’s the right thing to do. And that was something which they then took up. They were able to provide that support directly to that indigenous population, and ultimately that will help save lives as well.
Just in terms of the Prime Minister John, the PM has been under the same essential worker rules as others. I would note that I think he’s had over 45 days in quarantine and has followed the rules meticulously.
Indeed, I would note that a year ago, I think it was 4 August, Richard Marles travelled to Canberra under the same rules at the time when Victoria had 439 cases on that day. So it’s the same position for Labor and Liberal and I would note that right now in Victoria, there are a number of Federal Labor MPs who are also under the essential worker permit as provided by the Victorian Government.
G’day Minister. You mentioned the 1.7 million doses next week. Will they be released on a per capita basis to all states?
And related to that, at what point would other states be given a higher allocation? Because my understanding is that at some point the increase that went to New South Wales has to be evened up. So when do other states get a higher allocation so that they catch up to New South Wales?
That would be very quickly, because what we have now is an abundance of doses coming in. Right now, that 1.7 million is being distributed on a per capita basis. It will be a matter for COVID Shield and Lieutenant General Frewen who’s doing the allocation work with all of the states and territories.
But that was exactly the same in Victoria when they had their extra allocations in June and July at their request, same as the Northern Territory has their indigenous allocations, the homeless people in Darwin when they were facing a potentially catastrophic but thankfully avoided outbreak in that part of the country.
And indeed, it would be almost unimaginable not to be providing support, whether it’s flood, fire, drought, cyclone or pandemic to those most, at their time of greatest need.
Thank you, Minister. I just wanted to ask, there’s obviously been a lot of questions on the pressure anticipated for the ICU sector but I wanted to ask about whether you believe that states are adequately prepared for the demand of emergency departments?
Sorry. There’s obviously been a lot of questions on ICU, I wanted to ask whether you believe that states are adequately prepared for the demand on the emergency departments and on paramedics?
And is it acceptable that fewer than half of New South Wales hospitals are currently accepting COVID patients? And just more broadly, can you give us an update on whether your discussions
about mandating vaccinations for the, sorry, mandating vaccinations for the health workforce? Can you let us know how those discussions are going?
Sure. Look, just in terms of ICU, all of the states and territories are well prepared. This began in February of 2020. It was one of our earliest areas of.
I was asking about emergency departments rather than ICU.
Yeah, yeah. Brendan Murphy focussed on that in terms of all of the hospital need. And so the hospitals themselves and state systems are strong and prepared, whether that be in terms of emergency departments, ICU or ventilator capacity.
And that’s always been, continuously been focussed upon and each of the states and territories, in my observations and in our government’s, is well prepared and is doing an excellent job.
That doesn’t mean defeat. It is challenging. COVID is challenging for everyone. We’ve asked us to rise to our best selves and that’s what I’m seeing. And yes, I understand there will be debates along the side, often sometimes looking, as if some we’re looking for a conflict, but we’re not. Our job has to be to operate at the national level on the basis of need.
Our view is that all of the states and territories are prepared. When that outbreak put pressure on the system, it’s not easy, but they’re strong and they’re robust. Ultimately, Victoria was able to cope with their second wave and they’re well-prepared, I believe, if this outbreak were to expand significantly, although I hope and pray it doesn’t.
And New South Wales is well prepared. And we are seeing signs that they are beginning to get on top of it. A Herculean effort, which is has come from vaccination, which has come from suppression. Those two things both have to happen. And ultimately, that will lead to many lives being saved.
So all of that comes together and I want to finish with this, that these are difficult and challenging times. But as a nation we now have over 21 million vaccinations, over 13 million first doses, over eight million second doses. As we see that we are so close, so close to the 70 per cent mark.
Just over a million people need to come forward to achieve 70 per cent first dose. Just over three million people needing to come forward to achieve the eight per cent first dose mark. We know that we can get there, but we want every Australian to be vaccinated. And over the coming weeks, an extra 1.7 million doses will make that a reality at an earlier time.
Thank you, everybody.