Topics: Acknowledgement of ResMed; Vaccines for COVID-19; Oxford/AstraZeneca Vaccine; Qantas; Vaccine rollout; NSW Premier;
Thanks to everybody joining us here today, in particular to Brett Sandercock, the CFO of ResMed, and to Alex Hawke, who’s not only the local member, but he’s been responsible for our overseas program as Minister, and played a huge role to make sure that our region is supported with ventilation equipment.
We’ve had the privilege today of seeing the fruits of our national plan for COVID preparedness, which was developed in February.
And that plan identified that we had a containment task and a capacity task.
The containment task was to do what we had done, which was to bring our caseload down in Australia to, on most days now, zero community transmission.
And what we’re seeing is that, of course, there are threats and challenges, there will be outbreaks.
As we saw in South Australia, South Australians tested and passed that test.
As we’ve seen in many states and territories, there will be different tests at different times in a world with over half a million cases a day.
But the plan that we put in place as a nation outlined our containment plan, which was about flattening the curve right from the outset.
And this is an ongoing task, but Australians are doing extraordinarily well.
But it was also about building our capacity in case those numbers took off, as they’ve done in so many countries around the world – as we saw in Italy, in Spain, in France, in New York, where ventilation was the challenge, where lives were being put at risk, where triage decisions had to be made.
And I remember the early National Security Committee meetings with the Prime Minister, and he said to Brendan Murphy and myself, we are never, ever, ever going to be in a position where we have to choose who gets ventilation.
I want to know that we have got the capacity to meet with the worst possible circumstances – and that’s what we planned for.
And we were fortunate to have ResMed, a great Australian company, which was able to supply 7000 ventilators to the Australian Government.
And no, we didn’t need all of those. We never had the containment outbreak, which other countries have had, but we were ready and we were prepared.
And the importance of that to the medical community was fundamental – so that planning was critical.
Now, we’re planning for the next stage, which is for vaccination for Australians.
And firstly, I want to acknowledge, Brett, the work of ResMed, the innovation, the workforce, a multinational, multi-skilled, but singular purpose workforce, which is saving lives and protecting lives.
They worked round the clock at the moment Australians most needed it, and now they’re working around the clock, protecting lives and saving lives around the world.
But equally, we have teams at the University of Queensland, at CSL and elsewhere that are helping to form the next wave of our national action, which is the vaccine strategy.
And the news overnight from the United Kingdom is very good for Australians, it’s very good for the world.
What we see with the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is an effectiveness rate averaged at 70 per cent, but up to 90 per cent in what is increasingly likely to be the options that will be deployed.
I’ve spoken with Professor Brendan Murphy, I’ve spoken with our Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, and their belief is that this news will deliver Australia safe, effective vaccines that won’t just help in people being prevented from contracting the disease, but is likely – subject to more medical advice – likely to significantly, if not even further, reduce transmission.
And so that means we have a pathway to, not just a COVID-safe Australia, but a fully safe Australia, a return to normal.
So we welcome that news. And equally, we welcome the latest steps in Australia of more borders being opened.
And each new step is a step towards Australians returning to the normal but in a COVID-safe way. Alex.
Thanks, Greg. And look, on behalf of the Government, I really want to say a big thank you to every one of the 1500 workers that is here at this ResMed plant.
We thank them for adapting and dealing with some of the most difficult circumstances in 100 years on this campus here in Western Sydney.
The workforce came together; they worked overnight; they worked long hours; they adapted; they changed; they came together and they produced lots of ventilators – not just to help Australia, but to help Australians help others in the world.
So thank you to every one of the workers that have done their job here at ResMed, this great Australian start-up company that’s gone global today. Thank you so much.
And I want to thank Greg Hunt for coming out here. It’s important that the Federal Health Minister comes out and sees this on the ground because, from day one of the pandemic, Greg and the Government worked very closely with companies like ResMed, with their workforces, with their engineers, with their innovation teams to get this right.
And to come here today and say thank you to those workers and to see what they’ve done from the beginning to now, it just shows how Australians have come together during this pandemic to protect Australia, but also to help our neighbours and friends in our region. Thank you so much, Greg.
And, Brett, would you like to say just a few words? And then after that, I’ll be happy to take questions.
I’d just like to say for ResMed it’s a real honour, and a privilege, and really humbling to be able to serve the Australian community, the Australian Government, also the world community in the fight against COVID-19.
And we really appreciate Minister Hunt and Minister Hawke coming out to visit the campus to really show their appreciation for the contribution we made.
And it means a lot to our employees and we certainly appreciate them visiting today, we certainly appreciate your time today as well. So, thank you.
Great. Happy to take any questions.
Minister, you said, as of today, there are no Australians on ventilators due to COVID-19. How significant a milestone is this?
Australians being- without a single person on ventilation, that is an immensely important milestone.
It says that Australians are winning. We haven’t won yet because this disease is still abroad internationally.
We’re still on the watch every day for community transmission, but Australians have done an incredible job in what I think has been our finest year since the Second World War.
Where are we at with the timeline for vaccinations in Australia now?
So our vaccine timeline is beginning to strengthen.
The news from overseas means that we are on track for first vaccines in March. So that will obviously start with the health workers, and, if approvals are granted, for the elderly.
The work of the medical expert panel, not surprisingly – it’s common sense in Australia, but it’s also common with what’s happening around the world – identified health workers and the elderly as their priority.
And our expectation is that all Australians who seek it will be given access to a free vaccine on a voluntary basis during the course of 2021.
So can I clarify then your policy on vaccination? Should they be mandatory?
Ours has always been that vaccination, from a government perspective, is voluntary.
Does the news out of the UK mean that Oxford vaccine is now the preferred option and most likely to be rolled out?
We have four vaccines that we purchased, and we’ve done that A). To make sure that no matter what the outcomes of particular vaccines were that we were covered, but we also covered three different classes of vaccines.
So we had the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, 33.8 million units, that’s a viral vector vaccine. We have the Novavax vaccine, which is 40 million units, so it’s more a classical protein vaccine. As is the Australian-made CSL molecular clamp, we have 51 million units. And 10 million units of the Pfizer mRNA.
So we’re covered for the Australian population and we have enough to vaccinate the Australian population three times over and it’s likely that different vaccines will be used in different circumstances.
I spoke again with Brendan Murphy just this morning and he’s very heartened by the news. What it does mean is that we’ll have a variety of options and that we’re on track to deliver first vaccines on the latest advice, having just spoken with the AstraZeneca CEO for Australia last night, in March.
Minister, the research for the Oxford vaccine has found that it only needs to be refrigerated unlike the other successful trials. What will that mean for its potential transport to Australia?
What the vaccine means for the Oxford one, or what the results mean for the Oxford vaccine is that our plans are being reinforced.
It strengthens what we’re doing. We have 33.8 million units of the Oxford vaccine, 3.8 million units which are scheduled for delivery to Australia from overseas, and 30 million units which are being made at the CSL plant, another brilliant, innovative story, in Victoria.
So we’re on track to deliver. It means that it’s easy to provide.
But whether it’s a vaccine with a very significant cold chain logistics requirement, we’ve got that covered or whether it’s a vaccine which doesn’t require that cold chain logistics such as AstraZeneca, we’ve got it covered.
What does all this mean for the Australian people? We’re closer than ever to a vaccine and we’ll be able to vaccinate every Australian that wants to be vaccinated.
What are your thoughts on a vaccine passport for international Qantas flights?
Look, we’ll leave that to Qantas.
As a Government, our responsibility is to make sure that our vaccine is available to every Australian.
They’ll obviously, consult, we’ll consult on those individual cases, but we’ll leave that to the firm to outline its policies.
We haven’t made any decisions and the Prime Minister and I think have been in contact and reaffirmed that today.
But our task is to provide the vaccine to all Australians.
As we move forward, and this is a conversation within the community, the medical advice will primarily inform the circumstances and the way in which that will be delivered.
When could we possibly see the first vaccine rolled out?
So we’re expecting, again, on the latest advice just from this morning from the vaccines taskforce, is that we are on track for first vaccines to be delivered to our health workers and other priority groups such as the elderly beginning in March.
And Minister, so is it possible Australians could get a number of different types of vaccines with different doses? Are you concerned that could create some confusion in the community?
No. We’ve done very, very significant planning.
I’m meeting with the AMA this week. I want to thank the AMA and their President for their extraordinary leadership and strength of work.
And we’re planning to rollout through hospitals, through general practice clinics around the country, respiratory clinics, state-based clinics.
And so, we’re using a variety of sort of distribution mechanisms, but one common national platform so as every vaccination is reported.
We do that with childhood vaccines now and we have one of the best vaccination systems in the world – a near 95 per cent rate for five-year-old childhood vaccinations.
But underpinning that is arguably, what I believe, is the world’s leading vaccination tracking and reporting program.
And that’s what will allow us to make sure that these vaccines are delivered, delivered safely and consistently.
Obviously, we’ve got the variety with those vaccines, which is your preference?
That’s always a matter for the medical experts. Our hope is that all of the vaccines provide the coverage that Australians need.
We’re used to this though; in any one year, there may be a variety of different types of flu vaccines.
This year, we had a number of flu vaccines that were available. The Australian public didn’t really notice the difference. Some were more suited to the elderly; others were more suited to the general population.
And so, that’s why we have a taskforce of medical experts to look at the vaccines.
But the view of Brendan Murphy and Professor Paul Kelly is pretty clear that the four vaccines we’ve selected, they’re all tracking well and they’re all on track to provide protection for all Australians.
Minister, just in light of what’s happened with the Premier here, does someone awaiting a test result for COVID, who does not believe they have any symptoms, should they self isolate.
So there are two different things here and I think it’s important to make the distinction.
I won’t comment on any individual circumstances. I don’t think that would be appropriate for me.
Where somebody has symptoms, then they should isolate.
Where they’re doing asymptomatic testing, and it is quite common that we do asymptomatic testing around the country, we do it with trucking, we do it with aged care, we do it with transport, logistics and also in test programs and in other circumstances, with critical workers, and I imagine the Premier would be an absolutely critical worker, then asymptomatic testing doesn’t require – under the reference guide that New South Wales has on its own website – asymptomatic testing doesn’t require isolation.
But Minister, is a scratchy throat and a loss of voice asymptomatic?
One of the things that Brendan Murphy said to me very early on, I’m the doctor, you’re the policy adviser and the decision maker; don’t give medical advice, Greg.
Does it set the wrong example?
I’m not going to be giving medical advice. I have to say that it’s hard to imagine a more critical worker than the Premier.
But do you expect state leaders to set a better example?
No, I think that Gladys Berejiklian has been a shining example to the nation in the way in which she has led New South Wales with its COVID management, and I’m really privileged to be able to know her.
But people at home today waiting on test results, if they think they feel fine, should they pop down to the shops or?
Rules are very simple. As we’ve said, symptomatic, New South Wales guidelines say: stay at home. Asymptomatic for sentinel testing for critical workers, New South Wales guidelines say there’s no requirement to isolate.
Back to the when the borders are re-opening and we get to travel eventually. Will the Government want overseas travellers entering Australia to be vaccinated? How is that going to work?
So there’s been no final decision, but we’ve been clear, and I’ve given guidance previously that we would expect that people coming to Australia whilst COVID-19 is a significant disease in the world will either be vaccinated or they will isolate. That’s early guidance.
It’s not a formal decision that we’ve taken because it’s still not at that time. At this stage, everybody who comes has to quarantine.
The likely course of events during 2021 is if somebody comes to Australia and a vaccine is widely available, either they’ll be vaccinated with verification or they’ll have to quarantine.
All right. Last question.
Just back to immunity passports. I know you mentioned that it’s not something that you would apply to firms. But do you think that that’s something that should apply to certain sectors that are vulnerable, for example, aged care?
Look, we’ll continue to follow the medical advice, I think one of the very important things and indeed the hallmark, hence my point before, is that we have worked very closely with our medical firms, with our medical advisers.
When we made the decision back on the 1st of February to close the border with China, other countries were critical. The World Health Organization disagreed. But we strive to follow the Australian medical advisors.
We developed a plan which has protected the nation.
Today, we’re seeing what that plan has delivered.
We’re also in the next phase of that plan, which is about the rollout of a universally available, voluntary and free vaccine to all Australians.
And so, we’ll continue to follow the medical advice; it served us well, and it will continue to keep Australians safe.