Topics: Vaccine arrival in Australia; Victoria lockdown;
Big news this afternoon, very exciting. The first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine has arrived in Australia. Health Minister Greg Hunt announced the great news earlier today.
The first dose is set to be rolled out in one week beginning next Monday. I’m happy to say that the Minister joins me on the line this afternoon.
Minister, welcome back to Drive.
And good afternoon, Jim.
This is a historic day. Very exciting.
It is an important day. It’s about hope. It’s about protection. Australians can see that as the year rolls on, global cases go down, vaccinations go up.
In Australia, there’s greater protection and therefore less incentive for some to have to impose very strong lockdowns and other things. And all of this is extremely important.
And we know we’ve kept Australia safe. There are no Australians- there are no Australians in ICU today for COVID and that’s just an extraordinary outcome.
But always we have to be watching. And what the vaccine does is allows us to progressively return to a more normal Australia.
Your government and you as Health Minister have done a fantastic job in dealing with coronavirus. This vaccine rollout will be what you’re ultimately judged on. It’s a high stakes game.
Look, it’s an important thing. We have three principle vaccines: Pfizer, which has been approved by our medical regulator known as the Therapeutic Goods Administration. That’s the first one that will start next week.
AstraZeneca, which is the backbone of the global vaccine rollout that’s now being considered in its final stages by the TGA. And we’ll know soon their views. And if that’s successful, then early March we’ll start with the international doses and that will double our weekly capacity.
And then CSL in Melbourne, our great Australian company will be making the AstraZeneca vaccine a million doses a week on average, arriving from late March. And the first of the vials is being filled and finished, will bottle today in Melbourne.
And so those things will just build up and build up and progressively more and more Australians will be vaccinated.
Okay, so who’ll be first to get the jab next week?
So we have our elderly, our residents within our aged care facilities. We have our hotel and quarantined frontline workers. Simply, we know that they’re the most at risk of contracting and therefore inadvertently spreading. And our frontline healthcare workers.
I think that the states and territories who’ll get just over 60 per cent of the available doses, we think 80,000 doses will be available in the first week.
We have to hold some back for second doses and for precaution in case there was ever a break in the supply chain.
States and territories will get 50,000 doses. They’ll share that across hotel quarantine and border workers, they’ll particularly prioritise them; frontline health workers. We’ll focus especially on the aged care residents and in the first phase we’ll also be focussing on the aged care and disability staff as well as the disability residents.
So that’ll take us about six weeks. But we’re in a really strong position.
One of the common questions from our listeners is that the second dose of the vaccine is supposed to be administered 21 days after the first. Can you confirm that this will happen?
Yes. And that’s exactly why with this first batch that arrived today, the medical advice, the maker’s advice, the sensible advice was always you need to provision to make sure that there’s enough for the second dose.
And we built that in place in case anything happened with the supply chain, a flight from overseas, a production issue. So we’re always making sure we’ve got enough.
The second doses and that three-week turnaround is what’s recommended by the TGA. They’ll make a decision on AstraZeneca, and that decision, if it’s a yes – and certainly the global direction has been very positive on that – that decision will also include how many weeks between the first and the second dose for AstraZeneca. But we’ll know that shortly.
Okay, let’s move to Victoria. You’re a proud Victorian. Have you- when was the last time you spoke to Daniel Andrews?
Oh, look, I spoke to the Victorian Health Minister yesterday, who’s my counterpart, so naturally I deal much more with my counterpart.
Our job is to support, not criticise, and so we know it’s very, very hard. And my family is in lockdown as are all the other families in Melbourne and in fact, the whole of Victoria. So, people are doing it tough.
I particularly feel for the small businesses, which over Valentine’s weekend had hoped to do large amounts of business. So many people.
Where the results today, only one case nationwide in the community, which was in Victoria, seven states and territories with zero, they were positive. And we hope those continue to keep going. And we would in that situation, be very supportive of Victoria being able to lift the lockdown as soon as they’re in a position with the epidemiology.
We’re offering support with contact tracing and we know how to do this as a country. New South Wales did it magnificently over Christmas and New Year.
It was hard for the people in the Northern Beaches, but what a job you did, and others have done it and will do it again.
Was the lockdown excessive though, Minister?
Look, I’ll let others judge it.
Well, you’ve been fairly vocal of the Victorian Premier. You’re very passionate about Victoria and about Melbourne. Businesses are on their knees. Let’s cut to the chase. The lockdown is excessive.
I won’t draw judgements. Our job right now is to do our best to support any state or territory which is facing an issue. And whether it was Queensland, WA, whether it was New South Wales or South Australia or now Victoria, we know that there will be cases through the course of this year.
And as a national government, we have to do our best to rise above it and to just focus on the contact tracing support. As we’re saying to people, well, here’s where you might be able to improve your quarantine, here’s where you might be able to improve your testing and here’s how we can help.
And that’s our job, to oversee the country, to make sure the supplies are coming in and to see the vaccine rollout.
If there’s no further community transmission though, surely the lockdown has to end on Wednesday.
We would hope it ends. They’re in a position to end it as soon as possible. I think if I were to put a day on it, then that might be counterproductive.
My job is to support; our job is to support. But at the end of the day, my heart goes out. My friends and family, neighbours, all the people in my electorate, all the people in my town, my city and my state. And it’s hard yards for them at the moment.
Before I let you go, I just got- on the text line from Collette, one of our listeners. Most of us will get that AstraZeneca jab as far as the vaccines are concerned. Collette’s just asking a question of you, Minister, why has the Swiss government banned AstraZeneca vaccine for all its citizens?
Many EU countries are not using it for people over 65. What do you say to concerned people like Collette?
Oh, look, it’s an important question. I think the decision of governments is, in fact, in relation to which I haven’t had the data for over 65s. The World Health Organization, the European Medicines Agency, which is the medical regulator for all of the EU and the UK, have all approved it without age conditions over the age of 18, I believe. And so they don’t have any limits on that.
And then there’s the real world data coming out of the UK, which has been provided in direct briefings to our senior Australian and state health officials and infectious disease and vaccine expert.
So they’ve been briefing them over the weekend and those results are immensely strong. And the clinical trial results showed for the AstraZeneca vaccine up to 100 per cent protection against serious illness, hospitalisation and loss of life to ultimately protecting people.
There’ll be, you know, huge numbers of global vaccines in the near future to be able to judge. And I was asked today, how does it work for the Prime Minister and myself? The Prime Minister will be part of the first round of the first vaccine, which we know will be Pfizer, and Brendan Murphy and myself, we were asked if we would take an early vaccine to demonstrate confidence and we will be doing the AstraZeneca vaccine ourselves, because if the TGA approves it, it’s safe, it’s effective, and it’ll save lives.
When do you expect the TGA to approve the AstraZeneca?
Look, they’re going through the final phases. I won’t put a day on it, but it’s in the near term. And all of that’s aimed at being able to provide that and a doubling of weekly vaccines from early March.
Okay. Well, it’s been a historic day. And again, well done on your leadership and getting on top of the virus, and the handling of it and the first shipment of that Pfizer vaccine has arrived in Australia earlier today. Congratulations to you and the government.
Progress. Good progress. Take care everybody.
Good on you. Thanks very much. That’s Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.