The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health
17 June 2020
INTERVIEW WITH TRACY GRIMSHAW
A CURRENT AFFAIR
Topics: COVID-19 vaccine rollout;
First, another shake-up in Australia’s controversial vaccine rollout. Tonight, plenty of people in their 50s who’ve had the AstraZeneca jab are nervous because the vaccine is no longer recommended for those aged under 60 due to the risk of blood clots.
Health Minister Greg Hunt joins me from Canberra right now. Minister, thank you for your time.
In the most recent 12 cases of blood clots associated with AstraZeneca, seven of them are in their 50s and five are 60 plus. That’s almost an equal risk. So how can you draw the line at 60?
So we had very clear medical advice, and I do appreciate the points. And the medical advice is that for those that are between 50 and 59, they will be moved from being offered AstraZeneca to Pfizer.
And those that are above 60, the benefits are still very much clearly in favour of being offered AstraZeneca. That’s from the medical expert panel. It’s one of the most conservative age ranges in the world.
AstraZeneca is offered to 40 and over in the UK, 30 and over in South Korea, and 18 plus in Germany.
And 65 and over in Sweden and Finland.
Sure. And it’s nevertheless the extremely cautious end globally. There’ve been over half a billion people vaccinated with AstraZeneca globally, and we’ve had four million AstraZeneca vaccines here.
But critically, it is cautious, it is careful advice. We’ve accepted it immediately. We’ve immediately opened up Pfizer for 50 to 59s.
And the advice also, which I think it is important to make, from Brendan Murphy, from Paul Kelly, from the Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, is if you’ve had a first dose with AstraZeneca, please complete the second dose.
It’s what I’ve done, and I’m in that 50 to 59 age group. And it’s considered to be safe and effective if you’re having that second dose.
But people who’ve just had the jab in their 50s and now being told that they’re running a high risk, a much higher risk than they thought they were running. They’d be feeling nervous tonight and they’d be wondering why you’ve taken so long to make this decision.
Well, in fact, we received the advice at 12.50pm today and stood up at that 1.10pm to share that advice with the nation.
So what we have is continuous review by arguably the best medical expert panel in the world. And the interesting thing is Professor Huyen Tran at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, one of the world’s leading thrombosis experts, thinks that we’re, because of our system, detecting more cases than almost any other country and being better able to treat than almost any other country.
But nevertheless, we are being cautious. And because of the fact that we’re in a low COVID environment, there have been zero people that have died from COVID caught in Australia this year, but there are two million worldwide that have lost their lives.
And so because of that, we are in the position to be cautious and then to move those in that age group from AstraZeneca to Pfizer.
You make the point that no people, no Australians have died of COVID in this country this year. Two Australians have died of complications from the AstraZeneca vaccine. And given that the risk of COVID in Australia is so minimal, it’s quite a hard call to expect people to roll the dice on this very unpredictable sort of, well, it’s impossible to know what your risk is, isn’t it, of blood clots?
Well, the risk has been set out in the advice from the Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation. And their advice is, of course, if you are over 60, you have far greater risks from COVID.
And as Brendan Murphy said today, if you’re over 70 and you catch COVID, you can have up to a one-in-10 chance of losing your life. And so to be vaccinated is an immensely important individual protection, but it’s also an immensely important national protection.
We now have over 25 per cent of the eligible Australians for vaccination who have been vaccinated. Over 64 per cent of the 70 and above. And so we’re seeing very high levels of vaccination, and that’s been growing.
But yes, right throughout the pandemic, whether it’s closing the border with China, whether it be closing the all the international borders, by following that medical advice early, that’s what’s kept us in a situation of zero lives lost this year as opposed to two million worldwide.
And that’s what we’ve done again today. And it is a challenge. It’s a challenge worldwide. Every day, there are challenges. It’s just that our challenges are mercifully far less than so much of the world faces.
Aren’t we getting to a point where we have 40 million Pfizer vaccines arriving in Australia by the end of the year, another 10 million Moderna vaccines arriving in Australia by the year. Can’t we give Australians a choice of what vaccine they take?
Well, what we are doing is making sure that the available vaccines are distributed in order to maximise the number of older Australians who are most at risk from COVID, having access to vaccine. The medical advice has been very clear that AstraZeneca is available.
Sure. I’m sorry to interrupt you. We’ve got limited time. That’s 25 million vaccines that are arriving in Australia by the end of the year. Surely, we can give Australians a choice of what vaccine they have. If they have a problem with AstraZeneca, we can say to them have this one.
Well, throughout the course of the acquisitions, we’ve said that there is a whole of population access. But right now, nobody should be waiting. That’s the very clear advice that Brendan Murphy and Paul Kelly, two of the world’s leading experts that have kept Australia safe, reaffirmed today.
It’s please do not wait, because if you do catch COVID, you could die. And by having people vaccinated, we know that COVID is out there. We know that it’s a risk to every country. We are in the fortunate position in Australia where it’s at the most minimal of levels.
Most days this year have been zero days, but any day, anybody could be at risk. And that’s why vaccination is so important.
It is important. Okay. Thank you for your time.