Topics: Sydney cricket test; Vaccine roadmap; Phase 1A priority recipients; Consideration to mandating mandatory vaccination; Vaccine effectiveness; Herd immunity; UK strain.
Minister, thank you so much for your time.
There’s a lot to get through today, but I just wanted to start with this first of all, and that is we’ve got a cricket test being played today in Sydney, and of course there’s been a lot of concern about numbers, and those numbers have been brought down and various protocols put in place.
But would you personally feel comfortable attending a match like this today?
Look, under these circumstances, where they have cohorts of 2,000, where they have tickets, where they have all of those conditions – absolutely. Particularly with the masks.
I did attend before Christmas, the Twenty20 match in Canberra, so I’ve already done that, and I went with my young son. And people were great. They kept their distance. They were really responsible.
But the Sydney test has taken that to another level altogether.
But it also comes on a day when New South Wales has achieved zero cases within the community and Victoria’s achieved zero cases within the community.
There’s one in Australia today in Queensland, and we’re confident in Queensland as well.
So we know how to do this. We always have to be vigilant. And if it wasn’t safe, they wouldn’t have done it.
And they’ve in fact put in, in my view, some of the most stringent possible conditions.
And it is that question, isn’t it, of being able to live with coronavirus and put those things in place so that we can go about our daily lives.
And to that extent, I want to ask you about the vaccine and rolling out the vaccine.
Now the Government has been very cautious about this. It was initially talking about late March. Why has it been brought forward?
Well, we always put in place a cautious time frame.
As swift as possible, but subject absolutely to safety. And as we’ve been able to tick off some of the elements such as the time frame for the provision of data, the ability to assess that data, the ability to ensure that we will receive the doses on time, the ability to ensure that we will be able to test the batches, then as we’ve been able to tick off each of those, then we could bring it forward.
Because as a Government, our focus has been to make sure that we have safety, but also confidence.
And confidence is about safety on the one hand. But if they can see that we are meeting our time frames, then people believe, understandably, that we have this in control, that we have this in a way which has got their back.
And if we’re then able to bring it forward by beating our targets, then all of that’s, I think, going to add to confidence, and confidence leads to a higher take-up.
Was there a recognition here, though, that there’s been a lot of pressure?
The Opposition’s been calling for it to be brought forward. People have been concerned, as we’ve seen various outbreaks, particularly in New South Wales.
Was that weighing on your mind here? There has been some pressure to actually move this along?
No, that actually hasn’t had any impact at all.
There are some people, such as those that you mentioned, who wanted us to skip the safety steps, the assessments, the tests, the protocols.
Now, in the case of Europe, where we see that 60,000 cases today, over 1,000 lives in the UK, lost- in the US, over 200,000 cases and over 3,500 lives lost. And globally 750,000 cases today. We understand why there are jurisdictions who just had to take the emergency steps.
But Australia, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, the countries that have been doing incredibly well – Taiwan as a jurisdiction – all working on a similar expedited vaccine time frame with first rollout between the second half of February and early April.
And I think that’s very informative for the world, that the countries that have had the strongest approaches are all working with a very, very clear safety basis, but expediting it and bringing it forwards.
And as we’ve met our milestones, we’ve been able to say to the Australian people: we’ve ticked that and we can come forward again. And now we’ve got the final time frame.
So let’s look at the way this is going to be rolled out. Initially, there’ll be frontline workers, emergency workers, and the elderly. These are people- people in nursing homes, for instance. These are people who’ll be at the first batch?
Correct. So we’ve got five phases, and then the first involves understandably the three groups that are either most personally at risk or most at risk of catching and transmitting.
The elderly, our residential aged care residents, and their staff, and the same with the disability residences, the staff, and the residents.
Secondly, you have our frontline healthcare workers.
And thirdly, you have our border quarantine and hotel quarantine staff.
So those most likely to interact with somebody coming from overseas who’s in hotel quarantine.
Then we move to the over-80s and the over-70s, the additional health workers, Indigenous Australians over 55.
Is it voluntary, or are you going to insist to make it mandatory for some to actually get this, particularly frontline workers?
So it’s free, it’s voluntary, and it’s universal.
Obviously, the states have the capacity to consider any specific workplace.
But at a Commonwealth level, we’re not mandating at all, and we’ve been very clear on that.
They’ll consider on the basis of health advice whether there are any circumstances where there is an engagement with critically ill populations or others.
But that’s a medical assessment process.
But for the Australian population, it is a fundamental position that we’ve taken that, from a National Government perspective, it’s a voluntary program.
And let’s look at the vaccines that are on offer here.
We’re talking about the Pfizer vaccine, initially, in February. Then in March, we should see the AstraZeneca vaccine coming onto line as well.
When we look at the two of them, there is no doubt there is a difference in the efficacy. I think the test is showing around 90 per cent for Pfizer and around 60 to 70 per cent for AstraZeneca.
So, why one and not the other? Why wouldn’t we put more emphasis on the Pfizer one, which seems to be more effective than AstraZeneca?
Professor Brendan Murphy has been very clear on his advice on this, and that is that it’s expected that both vaccines will have a very, very strong outcome. In particular, we know that the AstraZeneca vaccine has had results of up to 90 per cent effectiveness in terms of prevention-
That’s after two doses though. If we’re talking about one, it’s around 60 to 70 per cent.
And if you’re talking about getting enough people vaccinated quickly to get on top of this, surely you have to have one that is more effective immediately, don’t you?
And a near 100 per cent effectiveness in terms of serious illness.
So, it’s the medical experts that have chosen, assessed and selected the vaccines and the quantities.
The people who’ve helped keep Australia safe, professor Brendon Murphy, professor Paul Kelly, professor Allen Cheng, who’s the Deputy Health Chief Officer of Victoria and the head of the Vaccines Advisory Committee for the Government.
All of this has been very carefully done.
The Pfizer vaccine is what’s called an mRNA, the world has never had an mRNA vaccine before, and it requires a cold chain distribution network of minus 70 degrees.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is a much more conventional vaccine, about to be rolled out, or has just commenced being rolled out very, very widely in the UK, and will be across Europe and in many other countries.
And that is stored at ordinary fridge temperatures, it’s easily distributed.
So all of those things were taken into account.
A first ever in class vaccine, very significant cold chain logistics. And, ultimately, what is expected to be full (inaudible) for Australians, that when all of these vaccines are taken across the whole of the population, Australians are going to be given that protection.
What’s the aim here? Are we talking about a herd immunity, which is the phrase we often hear here, is it a herd immunity strategy, and what does that look like?
So look, our goal is to have as a high a take up as possible of the vaccine, and I would encourage Australians to take up the vaccine for the themselves, but also for their parents or grandparents, for those who might be immune compromised.
It might be somebody who has some form of disability that you’re protecting yourself and others. So we want as high a rate as possible.
Herd immunity is often referred to as between 60 and 66 per cent, but our goal is to make sure that, amongst the adult population, that we have a very, very high take up rate.
But having said that, this year, the five-year-old childhood immunization has actually grown during the pandemic to 94.9 per cent, a record rate.
And that’s Australia being a great vaccination nation.
There’s a national cabinet meeting, which is going to be looking at several things. But particularly, this new strain of COVID that we’ve seen in the UK.
How concerned are you about this right now? And we’ve already seen evidence of it here, particularly around quarantine hotels in Australia.
So the Medical Expert Panel or the AHPPC has been meeting yesterday and today around the new variant.
And they are looking at what they believe to be the risk, and they’ll provide advice.
And I understand professor Kelly and the Prime Minister will address it tomorrow after National Cabinet. And also the response.
So there are a range of activities that are being considered, and I actually haven’t got that- the outcome for that, because they’ve been meeting as we’re speaking.
But, in particular, it could be things such as pre-flight testing, strengthened (inaudible) arrangements, I know the option was being considered as to whether or not a pause should be put in place on flights, but I haven’t heard the outcome.
But we’ve given them the freedom to give honest, clear, medical advice through the year.
Sometimes that’s provided inconvenient pieces of advice.
Minister, again, thank you for giving us your time.