Topics: Australian COVID-19 epidemiology update; Australian vaccine rollout.
I am delighted to be able to provide the update in relation to both the coronavirus epidemiology and the rollout.
The important news, I think firstly, is another day of zero cases of community transmission Australia-wide. That makes some 61 days this year with no Australian lives lost, and at the same time, we look around the world and we see over 646,000 cases in the last 24 hours and over 9900 lives lost and an unimaginable comparison between the island sanctuary that is Australia and the position around the world.
Indeed, around the world this year, there have been 52.5 million cases and over 1.1 million lives lost. We’ve also reached 16.1 million tests, and I want to thank Australians for continuing to come out with remarkable consistency and be tested.
I think that’s just an extremely important sign of individual contribution but also community awareness, of looking out for each other. I’ve had many people, many people that have said I think I’m okay, but I want to make sure that for other people, I’m being tested. And that’s a great sense of Australian spirit.
In relation to vaccinations, there are two fundamental points. We have seen a significant increase in the number of vaccinations in the last 48 hours, and there is a significant increase in the number of participating general practices. Over 1,000 new general practices will join the rollout in the coming week.
And that is an extraordinary sign of confidence in the program, and yes, we have had additional advice and challenges in the last few days, but to see that increase both in vaccinations and in participating general practices, I think should give Australians a lot of confidence.
In terms of vaccinations, in the last 48 hours we have had 88,564, and in the last 24 hours, going over the weekend where numbers are generally lower, we’ve been quite positively surprised by 23,596 within that, and that’s 3,613 state vaccinations and 23,596 Commonwealth nations.
All up, that’s a total of 1,160,075 vaccinations, so 1,160,075 vaccinations. And from the states, and we thank them for this work, 558,568 vaccinations. And from the Commonwealth programs of general practice and aged care, 607,507 vaccinations.
And to give a quick rundown for the individual states, again, and the territories, I do want to thank them. The ACT, approximately 17,000 vaccinations; New South Wales, 151,000; Northern Territory 10,000; Queensland, 108,500; South Australia, 37,000; Tasmania, 25,500; Victoria, 143,500; and WA, 67,000.
Within the two Commonwealth programs, which have delivered over 607,000 between them, what we see is primary care, our doctors, our GPs, the heart of the program, 465,500, and aged care, 142,000. That makes 1,116 aged care facilities that have received first doses and 529 aged care facilities that have received second doses.
In terms of the participation and expansion in the rollout, very important to have the confidence that already Phases 1A and 1B are continuing. 1B of course is focused very significantly on the over-70s and over-80s. They are the heart of that program, and Indigenous Australians over 55. And then that will lead into 2A, which again is focused on the over-50s and the over-60s.
The additional vaccine purchases were announced by the Prime Minister on Friday, an additional 20 million Pfizer, taking our total number of vaccines that are available for Australians to over 170 million, or more than three times that required for two doses for the entire population.
Now, with regards to the expansion of the primary care rollout, this week we will have over 4,000 general practices, Commonwealth respiratory clinics, or GP respiratory clinics, as they are sometimes known, and Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations.
In particular, we have seen over 1,100 general practices join the rollout for the coming week. And so I have seen some reports about general practices, and there were some questions. The truth is general practices have flocked to participate in the coming week.
That’s the reality of the numbers, and the advice that I have is that the vaccine distributions for the coming week have already been completed, and I am very thankful to all of the general practices for the work they have done but to all of the general practices who are coming on board and providing additional options and points of presence for Australians around the country.
We’ve reached that figure of 4,000 slightly earlier than expected, and that’s because of the heightened level of participation of our GPs, so I really want to say thank you.
So I’m happy to turn to questions, but before I do I just want to thank Australians for coming out to be tested and vaccinated. And all of those, all of those involved in the GP rollout, the state and territory rollout, and the aged care rollout for their around-the-clock work.
I’ll start, if I may, with those that are on the telephone, and then come to the room. Tamsin, Herald Sun?
Thanks, Minister. Just two questions. Obviously there has been a rise in vaccine hesitancy and people feeling a bit nervous about potentially the AstraZeneca vaccine over the past week. What is the Government planning to do to combat this? Will there be some sort of public health campaign in addition to what’s already got planned?
And secondly, there’s been calls for the states to take more of a leading role in the vaccine rollout. Is the Government considering handing any more control over to states, or are you comfortable with where you’re at with that balance at the moment?
So, firstly in terms of vaccine confidence, the message is very clear. These vaccines are safe and effective, and we simply follow the advice on administration of our medical experts. And that has kept Australians safe, and we’ll continue to provide those updates.
I understand that the AMA is giving a very clear and strong statement today. I have had the privilege of speaking with the Head of the AMA, Dr Omar Khorshid, and I understand that the AMA is reaffirming their support and will continue to do the same.
And part of our role is to provide that confidence, and one of the things that Australia has done is it deliberately and consciously went through a full and thorough, rapid, but full and thorough, assessment process, and some were critical of that at the time. I think the wisdom of that process is now absolutely clear.
So we’ll provide additional advice and additional confidence and additional support to the Australian people. But I know that our medical officials are doing that.
I also had the pleasure of speaking with the head of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Dr Karen Price, again, a practising clinician in her own right, and she and the RACGP are also providing that reassurance.
So when our medical authorities, the doctors, the AMA, the college of GPs and the Australian Government provide that advice, the thing that Australians have recognised over the course of this year is that if we’re following the medical advice, then that is also a very good lead for Australians.
And I would respectfully note that the increase in cases over the last 48 hours of vaccination has actually exceeded our expectation, given that there were pauses in some of the state programs.
Now, on the state programs, there is a GP-led program, which has seen a quadrupling of vaccinations in the last 2.5 weeks. That is supported by the states, and there’s an open invitation for them to do what has been in the national partnership agreements with the state since the outset and to offer vaccinations to the broader public.
They would obviously be offering them where they have Pfizer clinics, they can offer them to the under-50s. Where they have AstraZeneca clinics, they could be offering them to the over 70s and those who are immunocompromised, who are over 50.
So I think that that is important, clear advice. And that invitation is open and existent and has been, indeed, since the start of the program.
Now, if I may turn to Josh.
Yeah, thank you, Minister. I know hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it’s not always helpful to look back and second-guess, but at the time that we were making vaccine deals and decision.
Hello, Josh? Sorry, Josh has just dropped out. If he comes back, we will get him. But I think the question was about at the time we were making vaccine deals, should we have considered others.
So I have seen some comments from the Opposition today, and I would say this. We followed the medical advice, and we followed the advice of Australia’s leading professionals, and these include people such as the scientific and technical advisory group.
The Opposition couldn’t name their medical advisors. I can tell you who is advising the Australian Government. Professor Brendan Murphy; the Head of the CSIRO, Dr Larry Marshall; the Chief Scientist of Australia at the time, Professor Alan Finkel; the Chief Medical Officer of Australia, Professor Paul Kelly; Professor Allen Cheng and Chris Blyth have contributed enormously through the work of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation; the TGA led by Professor John Skerritt; leading virologists and epidemiologists such as Professor Sharon Lewin and Professor Jody McVernon.
They’re the people who have helped advise Australia throughout the pandemic, and their advice during the course of the vaccine acquisition program has led to Australia having five different agreements, and what we’ve seen is that we have followed their advice.
And what I would say to the Opposition is who is advising you? And do you believe that we should be overriding and rejecting the advice of the finest medical professionals, not just in Australia but I would argue for whom there are no superiors around the world.
I think our medical leaders are as good as any in the world, and the results, when you go back to the very first things that I said today, zero cases in Australia, 646,000 cases around the world.
Jane Norman, ABC.
Hi, Minister. Just in terms of the negotiations with other drug companies, earlier this year (INAUDIBLE) was asked about Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. (INAUDIBLE) negotiation saying a contract takes two parties to sign.
I’m just wondering that in the light of this latest advice from ATAGI, are we now renewing negotiations with both Moderna and Johnson & Johnson? Is a deal a real possibility?
Well, I think we’ve just signed a new deal for 20 million doses for Pfizer, which we know is safe, which we know is effective, which we know is reliable, which we know is producing, and which we know is delivering.
So I think we need to stop and step back and say where does the advice come from? It comes from ATAGI, which is the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, and SITAG, which is led by Professor Murphy; it’s sometimes known as the vaccines taskforce.
And their advice we have followed every step and every element that they have proposed. And they’re the ones who are identifying the particular vaccines and particular quantities.
So I respectfully won’t and never have speculated on additional purchases, but we have just followed their latest advice, and that advice has been crystal clear. There is no existing advice that they have which has not been followed. I’ll just put it that way.
And it’s always about making sure we have safe vaccines and effective vaccines, and I’ll let others comment, but I can tell you who we’re following. I just can’t tell you who the Opposition’s following.
Thanks, minister. I was hoping to clarify something Dan Tehan said today. He said the Government is still aiming for every Australian to have their first dose of the jab by the end of the year. Can you confirm that is the goal?
And the other thing is, you know, we’ve got the AMA is coming out today and voicing its support, but we have the New South Wales branch of the AMA saying to doctors don’t give AstraZeneca to people under 50 except in exceptional circumstances in case you get sued.
So do you think there’s some confusion going on? You’ve got the states saying something quite different to the national body.
Sure. So look, I’ll leave that for the AMA, but I know from my understanding of what they are saying and in particular from my conversation with the National president of the AMA, they have a very strong, clear support for the vaccination program, for the medical advice of ATAGI, and for their members administering the vaccines precisely in accordance with the advice of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.
And to summarise it, there are two clear points. The AstraZeneca vaccine is encouraged for every Australian over 50 years of age, subject to of course any discussions they may have with their GP.
And whilst Pfizer is preferred for those under 50, AstraZeneca is available, subject to the medical discussion between a doctor and their patient.
On indemnity, I want to make something very, very clear. Australia already has vaccine indemnity agreements in place. The AMA and the College of General Practitioners have clear advice in writing from the Government to that effect, and they also have updated informed consent material, so no doctor need worry.
I am saying this on behalf of the Government but also on behalf of our legal advice: no doctor need worry. And as the AMA has said to me today, doctors want to take care of their patients. Their focus is not about other elements.
And so it’s a democracy and everybody is entitled to their views but the clear view from the President of the National AMA, from the Victorian President, from the ACT President, and I can leave other chapters to speak for themselves, is that the vaccines are safe, they are encouraged, and we want Australians in Phase 1B and 1A to bring themselves forward as quickly as they feel comfortable to be vaccinated, because it will protect them but it will also protect all Australians.
Sorry, just on the other point that I raised, just clarification over Dan Tehan’s remarks regarding the aim is for every Australia to have their first dose by the end of the year.
Sure. Look, there’s been no change in our position, as the Prime Minister said. And our goal is to ensure that every Australian is vaccinated as early as possible.
Thanks, Minister. You’ve stressed today and all through the pandemic the importance of the health advice from the TGA and from ATAGI. Will the Government seek a deal with any vaccine producer where that vaccine is approved by those bodies for use in Australia?
Yes, absolutely. For example, just this week, and the proof of that is just this week, we had advice from Professor Brendan Murphy and SITAG to seek additional vaccines from Pfizer. We were able to do that in just over 24 hours.
We did that because we had pre-contractual agreements already in place with regards to the capacity for options from our foundation contract. And so our commitment is very clear.
But I should put this in place, and I think it’s very important to say this. We have 170 million vaccines and the Opposition running around without medical advice, without identifying their medical advice, simply trying to create some sort of difference.
I think they ought to identify in writing the medical advisers and whom they’ve been relying upon to contradict probably the finest group of medical professionals Australia’s ever assembled. And they ought to be very cautious about trying to give their own medical advice if they can’t actually say who it is.
Thanks, Minister. Two questions. Firstly, returning to the point about the indemnity, just to be clear, are you saying that if a doctor fills out the informed consent form properly, a patient receives the AstraZeneca vaccine and has a blood clot, the doctor will not have to pay any money for the lawsuit, but the Government will pay that money? That’s the first question.
And the second is with relation to the Pfizer doses, are they guaranteed to be coming to Australia even if there are further supply restrictions from foreign countries where the vaccines are manufactured?
Sure. So firstly on indemnity, our advice is very clear that doctors are protected by the Government’s indemnity agreements against any flaw or side effects which flow from the vaccines themselves. And I think that’s very important.
Now, having said that, whilst there may be individuals that might be quoted, the fact that we’ve got over 1,100 new general practices coming on board, we’ve had over 80,000 vaccines, indeed, 88,000 vaccines administered in the last 44 hours, with general practise being the absolute heart of that, I think indicates the confidence and the professionalism that GPs have had.
Then- I apologise. You had a second question.
Yes, that question was in relation to Pfizer, are we guaranteed to get the additional supply, even if there were further overseas export restrictions?
So their commitment to us, their contract is that they will deliver 40 million doses in 2021. And there are no questions in terms of the fidelity or strength of the contract. And they’ve been perfect, perfect so far in terms of the timing and the quantity of the deliveries that they have predicted.
Now, it is an uncertain world, and I think we have to be really open about this right through the pandemic. We know that there are challenges and issues, but we also know that Pfizer has been delivering to Europe.
Europe themselves have no issue with Pfizer. They have had an issue with one company, with AstraZeneca, because AstraZeneca has had a global supply chain challenge. But at the same time, they’ve been very clear that they have no issue with this company and no issue with exports more generally.
Ray, and then Emma, who has been very patient in the room.
Minister, hello there. Look, this question is actually not on COVID, but it is related to the health portfolio in many ways.
It is about the Howard-era gun laws. Can you tell us why has it taken so long to introduce a national firearms registry, and when can we expect one?
Sure. So we’re approaching a very grim anniversary, a 25th anniversary of Port Arthur, late in April, that mark, which will bring a lot of pain to a lot of families, will be reached.
Obviously, the Howard-era gun law restrictions were difficult and challenging but changed the nation for the better.
Equally, we’re committed to the firearms registry. I know Jason Wood, Assistant Minister Jason Wood is leading that program. He’s an ex-copper. He’s not going to stop until this is done.
We have to bring on board all of the states and territories. But that registry is something that we’re committed to delivering. We look forward to all of the states and territories joining us in that.
And that’s the next step in honouring the legacy of all of those who fell at Port Arthur. And that was as you know, the most difficult of times for Australians. They were 35 Australians that lost their lives. They were 23 that were injured and countless thousands that were affected by the ripple as the waves moved out in terms of loss and emotion.
You’ve already offered some clarity on this, but if a patient was to successfully sue after suffering a rare adverse reaction to AstraZeneca, would the Government be paying that compensation? The doctor wouldn’t pay a cent?
Doctors will not be paying money for any effects from the vaccine themselves. Clear advice, our indemnities protect the doctors against the effects of the vaccine, and they also have their own professional indemnity in case of, for example, if somebody were to have an accident in the way in which they use the needle or something like that.
So there are double protections for doctors in Australia, and I can provide that calm, that reassurance. But I have to say the RACGP and the AMA in my discussions have been very clear. They know their doctors are protected, and, in turn, Australians are protected.
So we have already, as part of our agreements, entered into vaccine indemnities with the manufacturers for any possible side effects. And that, in turn, protects Australians, protects Australia’s doctors.
So Karen Price, who you referred to earlier, Dr Price said even she was considering not giving patients under 50 the AstraZeneca, but do you hope the advice you’re providing today will.
So, I know Karen very well, and I actually spoke with her today, and she was talking about the risk benefit, which is every doctor’s job, every day with every patient, where when they advise patients on any medicine, they have to make judgements. And so, Karen’s judgement and every doctor’s judgement will be for those under 50, what are the risks and benefits? And they advise, and then the patient makes a decision.
But at a general level, I know that Karen, the RACGP and the AMA are deeply supportive of two things. One is the clear medical advice provided by ATAGI this week. It was an abundance of caution, and that will be difficult for some people. For those that are under 50, they will be offered the Pfizer.
The 40 million doses of Pfizer means there’s enough for every Australian seeking Pfizer, plus, of course, we have a very large volume, over 50 million doses of AstraZeneca, which is available.
And the second thing they’re supportive of is the fact that we have strong, clear indemnity protection against any side effects of the vaccine for patients and doctors as a consequence of our agreement.
So, look, I want to thank everybody for today. What have we seen since the advice that came out this week? Our job right through the pandemic has been to present the advice, whether it’s difficult or heartening.
We’ve seen no new community cases at a time of over 600,000 cases a day in the last few days worldwide. We’ve seen a growth in vaccinations, and we’ve now seen over 1,100 GPs, in addition to all those that were in place, sign up to participate this week in the rollout.
So I think Australians and our doctors are putting themselves forward, and our message is simple: please continue to be vaccinated. It’s safe. It’s effective. It could save your life, and it could save the life of your friend, your family, or your neighbour. Take care.