The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
6 June 2021
Topics: COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout; Record Bulk Billing Rates; Perinatal Mental Health Support
Thank you very much for joining us today. I am joined by Professor Roderick McRae, who is the new Victorian Head of the AMA, a practising anaesthetist. I think he’s participating in an open-heart surgery tomorrow. And so that’s the level of skill that we’re blessed to have amongst our medical professionals.
With Roderick, I want to address three things today. Firstly, progress and an announcement in relation to the vaccine rollout. Secondly, some brief updates on record bulk billing figures, and thirdly, a very important message on mental health.
In relation to the vaccine rollout, I want to thank Australians. They have come forward in record numbers again. Yesterday, Saturday, was a record Saturday with over 88,000 Australians being vaccinated.
It’s already a record week, six days into the week, so at this point it’s 772,752 Australians who have been vaccinated. So over three-quarters of a million Australians vaccinated in six days. And Australians have done a great job, and I particularly want to thank them.
This means that over five million vaccines have now been delivered in Australia; 5,016,000 vaccinations have occurred, and that’s an important step forward, a critical milestone, but we have to keep going forwards.
Now at the moment of momentum is the time we ask Australians to keep coming forward to be vaccinated. You’re doing an amazing job, but please keep booking. Please keep attending. Please come forward for your first doses. Please come forward for your second doses.
Another important health outcome is that I’ve been advised by the National Incident Centre that at this moment there are no Australians in ICU or on ventilation with COVID-19. While soever any Australian contracts the disease, there is always the risk of serious illness, hospitalisation or loss of life, but at this moment, we have no Australians in ICU, and to this point in 2021, no Australian has caught COVID in Australia and lost their life to it.
We have had one Australian who was diagnosed in quarantine, having contracted it overseas, and lost their life, but it is an extraordinary and important public health achievement to date.
Having said that, we know that in Victoria in lockdown, this is a difficult and challenging time, and so that’s why in response to the way in which Victorians in particular have stepped up, we are now at over 58 per cent of over 70s in Victoria who have been vaccinated and over 42 per cent of all people over 50 who have been vaccinated.
The Australian Government will be releasing additional vaccines for Victoria. We will provide an extra 100,000 Pfizer vaccines to the Victorian Government over a three-week period, commencing from the 14 June.
This week will allow them to work through some of their existing inventory, and we’ll provide that extra 100,000 doses, which will support 50,000 individuals receive vaccines over the coming weeks. That’s recognition of the very strong work being done here in Victoria and the strong demand.
We want to see other states and territories have that same degree of public support and confidence. It’s going well around the country, but always we push for more.
In particular, I want to acknowledge in Roderick’s presence that the Australian Government will double doses for GPs in Victoria for each of the next two weeks from 115,000 to 230,000 AstraZeneca. This will help drive forward the vaccinations for the over 50s, important critical steps going forward.
The next thing I want to mention is that in relation to general public health, it’s vital that people continue to see their doctors, continue to go forwards and in that respect, Telehealth has been a critical service.
It’s fundamental in Victoria at the moment. Please keep going to your doctor. But what we do know, is that we have seen record numbers of bulk billing, which means that more people than ever as a percentage of the population are able to attend the doctor for free.
That has seen 88.7 per cent of people year-to-date receive their GP services for free. That is 6.7 per cent higher than when we came to Government. So 6.7 per cent higher than in 2012-13, for the first nine months of that financial year. So record bulk billing, record access without having to make any contribution.
Then finally, I’m very pleased to announce over $16 million for perinatal mental health. We know that mental health is absolutely fundamental during the course of the pandemic. This is funding in particular to assist with prospective and new parents. It’s for rural and remote parents, it’s for Indigenous parents, it’s for young expectant mothers, it’s to support the Gidget Foundation and to support research.
But, on that, I’ll invite Rod to talk about the rollout, testing, and also, in particular, mental health. Thank you very much, Roderick.
DR RODERICK MCRAE:
Thank you, indeed, Minister.
AMA Victoria very strongly welcomes the announcement of increased provision of vaccines, particularly to the over 70 age group, but clearly it’s also the over 50 age group.
We’re delighted it’s following the medical model. GPs are trusted, they’re good, they’re efficient, they have been able to deliver vaccines safely for decades. They know what they’re doing so please, routinely make an appointment.
Ultimately, we want our GPs to be undertaking their vaccinations at maximum pace, as much as they possibly can, because tragically, this is a real virus. It’s highly infectious, it’s spread by aerosol, and it occasionally kills people.
As age advances, we actually know that over 70 years of age, the mortality is about 70 per cent. This comes from the observations; the northern hemisphere has done all the experiments for us. We’re relying on our local and national experts to analyse the information and get it out there.
I cannot over-emphasise how important it is that people get vaccinated. Following this, if you have a symptom, please get tested. If you’re in the presence of a person who has a symptom, call it to their attention and both of you get tested. It’s extremely important so that we can track this down.
Everybody knows that in Victoria, we’re managing in a lockdown. It’s a stressful at every level. It’s across physical health, mental health, and also economic health. The Minister is correct. If you have any particular issues, please, contact your general practitioner. They’re good, they know, they understand.
Also, what we all can do as team Victoria, as an important player in team Australia is, please, minimise your movement. We’ve seen some of the events that have occurred as a consequence of a lot of movement, and we’re very fortunate that due to the management of a lockdown for one particular virus, another apparently more infective strain has also been caught. So we can track it down.
This is what we like to do, we rely on our experts. But all of the information the Minister just presented is very, very welcome across a whole bandwidth of physical and mental health. But we cannot overstress, get vaccinated. If you have an illness requirement, seek appropriate attention and please, minimise your movement and any symptoms, get tested.
Thank you, Minister.
Great. Thanks very much to Rod. I’ll start with Tom from the Herald Sun.
Thanks for taking our question, Minister. Just on these new doses to Victoria, is this a recognition of second doses now being due, and therefore supplies from the Commonwealth are needing to increase? Will we see these increased levels of Pfizer for the state government and AstraZeneca to GPs, now sort of be extended longer from just the two to three weeks, given we’re sort of needing those second doses to be delivered now, on top of the massive ramp up in the rollout that we’ve seen in the state as well?
No, this is additional doses. All states and territories in conjunction with the Commonwealth have a schedule, and within those amounts they’re provided allocations for first doses and, as they come due, allocations for the second doses.
There is an inventory in Victoria, my understanding is that Victoria has received 980,000 doses to date, has administered over 613,000 doses. But this week, they will work through some of that inventory, and so therefore we’re providing the additional 100,000, which is for 50,000 people to have both first and second doses.
All of the states and territories are managing their inventory well. And so that’s the recognition on that side.
And then in relation to the AstraZeneca, the GPs are doing an incredible job. They do have demand, and whilst that demand is there, and whilst we have the capacity to meet that demand from within the existing national orders.
In some states and territories, they’re having doubled and tripled GP doses. Those GPs are working through those doses over the next couple of weeks. That gave us space within the total volume, without taking away from anybody, to be able to meet that extra GP demand in Victoria.
Olivia from 7.
Thank you. Just firstly, New South Wales says it’s happy for a federal quarantine facility to be built in the state, provided the Commonwealth builds and runs it, saying it’s already done more than its fair share. Is the Federal Government open to that?
And also, given the UK is marking that 40 million people have received at least one vaccine dose, do our figures here not pale in comparison?
Look. Just in relation to the UK, I spoke with the UK Minister in the last few days as part of the G7 discussions.
I think what came out of that is when you look at the fact that the UK has had over 125,000 lives lost, when comparing that with Australia having had nobody who has caught COVID in Australia and lost their lives this year, we are in a fortunate and blessed position as a nation, thanks very much of the work of our amazing medical staff, but our overall national approach.
And it’s also a function of, of course, the production that is occurring in country, and the vaccines that are made available. When we see a record seven-day period, on a rolling average, when we see a record week already achieved inside the first six days of, at this point, over 772,000 vaccinations, we see that the vaccine program is accelerating. Australians are stepping forward, and as supply becomes available, the public is stepping up and doing their part of the job.
The second thing is in relation to New South Wales, they have done an amazing job. The Prime Minister has been in contact with the New South Wales Premier, who’s indicated that they are not at this point in time seeking any such additional facility.
They have done the heavy lifting on behalf of the nation, they have done an incredible job in bringing people home, and bringing people home safely. So the PM has confirmed with the Premier that at this point they’re not seeking any additional quarantine facility in New South Wales.
Hi, thank you, Minister. Just on that agreement struck in National Cabinet on Friday around the criteria for standalone quarantine facilities, doesn’t that now represent an acknowledgement by the Commonwealth that hotel quarantine is not fit for purpose? We have had 21 outbreaks associated with hotel quarantine and that the Federal Government really does need to step up and play a bigger role in this process?
No, that is not at all what was the implication.
What we see is when you look at Australia compared with the rest of the world, looking just today at the numbers in Malaysia, the outbreak in Vietnam, the challenges of Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, what we see is that the Australian system is vastly safer than almost anywhere else in the world.
This is a global pandemic, over 400,000 cases in the last 24 hours, over 10,000 lives lost in the last 24 hours. The thing which has protected Australia, the first ring of containment, is arguably the strongest quarantine system in the world, but it was always the first ring of containment.
Some will perhaps present the case as if there could never be the possibility of a case coming from overseas. That has never been a position which fits with the most contagious disease in 100 years in terms of its impact at a global pandemic level.
What has been achieved is an extraordinary outcome, but it involves multiple rings of containment, of which the strongest and most significant and first ring is quarantine. But there’s also exactly as Roderick has set out, testing, and then we have tracing, and then we have distancing, and we have vaccination.
All of these are the things which have worked to keep us safe. And the ultimate test of a comprehensive national system is how many lives have been saved. And we know that, as the PM has said, that if we had developed world averages it would have been 30 times greater, 30,000 lives, additional lives lost in Australia.
If we had the same rate as the UK or the United States, it would be over 50 times the loss of life that we have had in Australia. And so all of these things work to protect us, and we’ll continue to refine those every day. It’s about continuous improvement.
Andrew? Andrew Tillett from the AFR. Sorry, there are two Andrews.
Yes. Cool, thanks, I’m here. Thanks, Minister, for that.
Yeah, the announcement of the extra 100,000 Pfizer doses for Victoria plus the National Cabinet announcement last Friday, of sort of opening up vaccinations to 40 to 49-year-olds, who are mostly Pfizer people. Does that sort of suggest that we’re getting more and more doses of Pfizer quicker than you had sort of anticipated on the revised scale? I think you were sort of saying it would start accelerating from July, but are we actually getting a bit more sooner than we thought.
And secondly, on an unrelated matter, just about Craig Kelly and his employee, Frank Zumbo, do you think Mr Zumbo should still be employed by Mr Kelly and are you comfortable with the Liberal Party sort of accepting Craig Kelly’s vote in Parliament on these sorts of matters given his employment of Mr Zumbo?
Look. I don’t have any details on that, I apologise, and so I won’t comment. But I would have to say that it’s absolutely critical that Parliamentary standards are maintained at all times, and I think
the Prime Minister made that absolutely clear on a previous occasion. But as to this, I don’t have any further details, I apologise.
Then in terms of doses, what we’re expecting, as we’ve said, is that from July, we will move from a 300,000 to approximately 600,000 a week on average over July.
We’ll actually build up during the course of July, start lower and build up higher over the course of July. That will be maintained, and then during October, November, and December, we will have approximately 27 million doses of Pfizer, and so if we can bring some of those forward, we’ll work to it.
But in addition, we will be receiving in the coming week 500,000 doses from the COVAX facility of Pfizer. That’s now been confirmed, and that goes into our ability to do this, and to support states and territories, and general practices going forward.
Minister, thanks for your time. I’ll take you to the medical benefits schedule and the changes that will be coming in shortly.
The AMA has described those changes as chaos today, they’re saying that it’s going to give doctors in the private healthcare sector little time make changes.
How will you make sure patients won’t be affected? Can you guarantee they won’t be worse off, and also guarantee they won’t be paying thousands of dollars more, or forced to delay any procedures?
Sure. Look, we’ve worked very constructively and want to thank the medical profession for that.
These are medical changes based on medical advice, in particular from the Medicare Benefits Taskforce, as well as the Medical Services Advisory Committee.
Many of them date back to last year’s Budget, so there’s been a long lead time. But for example, there are new procedures in bone grafting, new orthopaedic procedures which will open up more opportunities for patients and at the same time as that, what we’re also seeing is an additional investment of $26 million in Medicare services.
All up this year, Medicare services are expected to increase by $6 billion over the course of the Budget cycle that was announced only a few weeks ago in the Treasurer’s Budget.
So we’ll work very constructively with the medical groups. It’s followed medical advice from the Taskforce, and what’s called the Medicare Services Advisory Committee, and it’s focused on patient safety, patient services, and patient outcomes.
Alright. I’ll thank everybody, and finally just reaffirm record bulk billing numbers, but record vaccination numbers, most importantly, 772,000 vaccinations over the course of the last six days with more people stepping forward today.
Commodore Eric Young will give the update for the full week tomorrow, but I want to thank everybody and echo the advice of Dr Roderick McRae: please be tested if you have symptoms, and please continue to come forward to be vaccinated at the earliest possible time. Take care.