The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health
17 June 2020
INTERVIEW WITH JIM WILSON
Topics: COVID-19 vaccine rollout;
Now, I mentioned this in my opener. ATAGI, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, has today recommended the AstraZeneca vaccine only be administered to people aged 60 and above, and the Government has followed this advice.
Now, I want you to listen to these statistics surrounding this vaccine because there’s been a great deal of scaremongering around the AstraZeneca shot. Okay here we go. Australia has delivered more than 3.8 million first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Out of those 3.8 million doses, there’s been two deaths, a 48-year-old woman in April who had multiple severe medical conditions; and a 52-year-old woman who passed away in the last month. Now it goes without saying our deepest condolences go out to their friends and families.
But it’s important to remember, out of the 3.8 million people given the AstraZeneca vaccine, only 60 people have either definitely or probably developed blood clots, and only two people have died.
To be honest, I believe this change of advice from ATAGI today is over the top. I will always back our health experts in, but I think when the risk is so low, you have to put things into perspective.
Well, for more on this, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt joins me on the line. Minister, welcome back to Drive.
And good afternoon, Jim.
I applaud the way you’ve managed this pandemic, but I’m concerned about this new development, Minister. Can you understand what I mean? I mean, I’m worried that this new advice will make the elderly more afraid than ever to get the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Yeah. Look, I do respect your views. And as you’ve said, there are 3.8 million individuals, four million doses of AstraZeneca that have been delivered when you include the second doses, which have only just really started.
And in particular, this is what’s been allowing us to get very high numbers of our older Australians vaccinated. So, as we speak, 64 per cent of the over 70s have been vaccinated in Australia.
So what is the advice today do? It lifts the age range for AstraZeneca from 50 and above to 60 and above, but it also opens the access for Pfizer from the 40 to 49s to 40 to 59s. And so, we’re making sure that people have options.
It will take a little bit of patience to ensure that we have the space for all of the bookings but we’re bringing forward, over the course of the next months and a couple of weeks in this month, 3.4 million Pfizer vaccines.
So, we’ll make sure that everybody’s got access. We’ll get through it and we’re doing it in as safe way as possible. We do follow the medical advice and sometimes that’s challenging and difficult, but what we’re doing is making sure, you know, in a world of two million deaths this year, we’ve had none from anybody catching COVID and dying in Australia.
So we’ll continue to keep the country safe. And thank you to everybody who’s been vaccinated. Please keep coming forward to do it. The medical advice is probably some of the most cautious in the world, but that protects Australians.
So there’s concerns for the elderly, but how about those, us in our 50s? I’ve had my first AstraZeneca shot. You’ve had AstraZeneca. The Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has had AstraZeneca.
So I’ve had a lot of mates of mine who are in their 50s contact me since your announcement today saying: right, maybe we should look at our second shot. They’ve had their first AstraZeneca. Maybe our second shot should be Pfizer or another vaccine.
Yes. So very, very clear advice today from the Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, the vaccine medical expert group, and that says, just to read it to you, ATAGI support completion of a two-dose schedule with AstraZeneca based on the current evidence.
The risk of TTS, which is the thrombosis, following a second dose of COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca is much lower than the risk following a first dose, an estimated rate of 1.5 per million. And then the results, even in those circumstances, have been dramatically milder.
So, if there isn’t an impact on the first, all the medical advice is absolutely to go ahead on the second. And that’s been reaffirmed with, you know, millions and millions of vaccinations in Europe, in the UK.
And, yes, it’s a conservative recommendation, but that same group that’s made the very conservative recommendation is saying the second dose is something that everybody should do. It’s what I’ve done. It’s what Brendan Murphy’s done. It’s obviously what you’re planning on doing. And so, please proceed with confidence with the second dose.
So then why lift the ages then to 60 with all that, you’re encouraging all of us in our 50s who’ve had the first AstraZeneca shot. You’ve had your two AstraZeneca vaccines. Why lift the age cap to 60?
So what they found is that, given the fact there is a, you know, a challenge with the fact that we’ve had nobody lose their life in Australia to COVID from catching COVID in Australia this year whilst the world had two million.
Given the absence of that, and the capacity to provide the Pfizer for the under 60s, they felt that the balance of risk had moved in favour of Pfizer for under 60s and AstraZeneca for over 60s.
But the risk is very much lower again for the second dose with AstraZeneca. And so that’s why if you’ve had the first, please go and get the second.
And, you know, all up around Australia, as you say, we’ve had 3.8 million people have first doses. Of those, about 200,000 have had second doses. Please do as I did, as Brendan has done, and come forward. The second dose will help protect you.
So it’s part of our national task. And if you are over 60, please keep coming forward and if you are under 60, the time will come for you to be vaccinated and continue to book in.
Look at it this way, over a quarter of Australians who are eligible from 16 plus have already been vaccinated and you know, it’s 6.2 million vaccinations, Australians have done an amazing job but we just need to keep going forward.
Are you concerned about supplies? I mean, we know that AstraZeneca can be made in Australia. I mean, the Pfizer is now the preferred vaccine for those under the age of 60. I mean, does Australia have enough doses of the Pfizer vaccine available to make up for the change in advice and will this delay the rollout process?
No, it’s not likely to change the finishing line. We have 40 million doses of Pfizer which have been secured. They have been just an incredibly reliable partner. They’ve never overpromised. And so they’ve delivered what they’ve said they would deliver.
We’ve had 3.4 million Pfizer from February to May. We’ve got another 1.7 million coming in June, 2.8 million in July, and another 32.5 million to the rest of the year.
So that means that there’s whole of population coverage. So we built in multiple options because no one knew a year ago which vaccines would be successful. We contracted with five different companies as well as the international agreements.
So six agreements, one of them, the molecular clamp from Australia, ultimately didn’t prove to be successful. This one has been one of the global backbones in terms of AstraZeneca, over 500 million doses given worldwide.
Other countries have been perhaps less conservative, the UK’s an over 40 age range, Korea, South Korea’s an over 30, Germany has an over 18 age range. But that’s what the medical advice here has been.
So we are really emphasising safety. But then we’ve got 40 million Pfizer, 51 million Novavax, 10 million this year and 15 million next year, Moderna. So we’ve got a really strong supply of vaccines coming in.
As a government have you considered just giving up on the AstraZeneca vaccine, just pushing ahead with Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax?
No, no. We’ve got very clear medical advice that the benefits of being vaccinated for the over 60s are strong and clear. That was reemphasized today in the ATAGI written advice which has been published.
And so all we can do as a country is continue to be at the forefront of following the medical advice. How is it that of all the countries in the world, we are one of the few that’s had not one life lost to COVID caught within that country in this year with over two million people that have that have passed to COVID?
And that’s because we’ve acted early, we’ve acted quickly, and sometimes it’s difficult and challenging and inconvenient and, you know, I do apologise for that challenge and inconvenience.
But equally, to have rejected that advice, whether it was closing the borders with China, to have made the broader international closures, whether it was to secure the ventilators, all of these things are what’s made Australia close to the envy of the world, both economically and above all else on the health side.
So the great test here is are we saving lives and protecting lives in Australia? And that’s what we’ve been doing.
Before I let you go, and we appreciate your time this afternoon.
Talking to Health Minister Greg Hunt. Minister, I’ve got to ask you for the elderly. I have my mother, who’s 81, who contacted me after this announcement earlier today, who said I told you so, the AstraZeneca vaccine is not safe.
And she was already apprehensive. Now she’s even more so. You can understand with our elderly how their confidence around this vaccine, in light of this advice this afternoon, it’s further eroded.
Well, look we had a change initially and then there was a moment of pause. And then what we’ve seen are record results in recent weeks. And so that confidence was renewed.
You know, to put it in terms of my own family, my 89-year-old mother in law is due for her 12 week second dose of AstraZeneca tomorrow and is heading down to the GP Respiratory Clinic, the Commonwealth Vaccination Clinic. So as a family, that’s what we’ve done.
And she listens to her son in law sometimes, but she absolutely listens to Brendan Murphy and Paul Kelly on medical advice. She really trusts them. And the fact that, you know, you’ve got an 89-year-old that’s so aware and alert to that advice and she feels that she’s protecting herself and she’s helping to protect the country.
And you know, these vaccines save lives and that’s part of our national process. And I can understand any concerns that people may have. But please be reassured that because we’ve taken such a conservative and cautious step that we are right at the leading edge of global safety on this.
And we’re probably better able to detect and treat any side effects in almost any country in the world on the advice of medical experts such as Professor Huyen Tran from Alfred Hospital in Melbourne.
Minister, as always, appreciate your time this afternoon.
Thanks Jim. Take care everybody.