The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
17 September 2021
INTERVIEW WITH CLINTON MAYNARD
Topics: COVID-19 Vaccination Rollout; Home Quarantine.
I think the last two weeks, there has been a significant change in the feeling of the public about the pandemic.
Yes, there is still division about vaccination. But because at least in this city, we now have a finish line. We now have a roadmap out of this mess. And whether you like vaccination or not, that is because of vaccination. When we’re at 70 per cent in this city, life is going to start returning to normal.
The Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has kindly joined us this afternoon. Mr Hunt, welcome to the program, and thank you for your time.
Oh, it’s a pleasure. Thank you for having me on.
In New South Wales, in the last half an hour or so, we have been informed that we now have 50.6 per cent of the adult public vaccinated. That’s pretty impressive considering the slow start we had.
Look, it’s a magnificent result, 81.2 per cent for first doses in New South Wales, leading the nation. As you say, 50.6 per cent of second doses.
And they just follow the first. And so, you know, you’re in a very strong position for that to accelerate quickly to second doses and to get to that 80 per cent coverage. But we do want it to go further, as many people as possible.
Just looking at the age groups in in New South Wales, every age group above 60 is above 90 per cent, until you get to the 95 pluses where they’re at 87 per cent. But every age group 60 and above in five year groupings is above 90 per cent.
And the 75-year-olds and the 80-year-olds are at greater than 95 per cent. So that that says that people will come forward to be vaccinated. So right now, you know, even the 16 to 19-year-olds, that hasn’t been open long. They’re at almost 60 per cent, so we can still get it considerably higher.
The fact that WA and Queensland, the Queensland figures sitting around 40 per cent, so they’re 10 points behind New South Wales. And this isn’t a race, obviously, but it’s critical the country moves as one if we’re going to fully reopen.
What do we do about increasing states that are trailing New South Wales?
So we’ve been pumping vaccines in. The Moderna, which is the other mRNA vaccine, the first shipment arrives tonight, the second shipment over the weekend.
More than a million doses. That goes into pharmacies next week, 1,800 pharmacies around the country, and that’s helping in WA, and South Australia, and Queensland. It’s supporting every state, every territory.
We move from 3,000 to 4,500 GP’s that are delivering Pfizer around the country, and more for the states and territories and vaccines with the UK supplies.
So all of these things mean that right now, I’m hoping and expecting that we’ll see an acceleration in WA and Queensland, and this is their chance to really move through and pick up high numbers of people.
Mr Hunt, I still get messages from our listeners, not all, but some, aged over 70 who are not happy that they don’t have access to Pfizer. I know in Queensland, they will be, but in New South Wales, they don’t.
Are you, in hindsight, do you regret that, and let’s be honest, that the Federal Government maybe lost control the message about AstraZeneca early on in the piece?
Look, we made sure that Australia had AstraZeneca and Pfizer. We’ve got the maximum international supply as we could in terms of recognising that they were understandably focussing on the countries with mass death. But with AstraZeneca, we knew we could make it ourselves, deliver it ourselves.
But your message that it was safe was almost hijacked by some elements who weren’t happy with AstraZeneca.
Oh, there have been critics, and some may have legitimate views, but some may have had political views of just trying to undermine what was occurring.
But we’re now at over 6.5 million first doses, or 6.5 million people that have had AstraZeneca as their first dose. And, you know, well over 10.5 million total AstraZeneca doses.
So without that, we’d be nowhere as a country. With that, we’re in a very strong situation. And we’ll end up, I think, with a higher vaccination rate than many, many, many other countries.
See what I don’t quite understand, Minister, is that when we get a flu shot, I had my flu shot in a pharmacy this year. My parents, I think, went to a GP. I’ve got no idea. Maybe, I should, but I don’t.
There are different variations, but most of us don’t really concern ourselves with what brand or what type of vaccine we have, but we’ve let the narrative change in this particular vaccination debate.
Look, this is something that has been strong. You’re right, nobody would know what flu vaccine they get, and we have a variety of different flu vaccines for different age groups and other things.
And the best vaccine is the one that’s available, because it’s been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, I think the best and the toughest medical regulator in the world. And then it’s been recommended by the Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.
So, you know, they’re fair comments. Our job, and you remember that the PM in June made a very strong case for AstraZeneca. We’ve seen the number of the first doses rocket by more than three million in AstraZeneca alone since the PM stood up and did that. And that’s what’s allowed us as a country to be where we are now.
And in New South Wales, the GPs have done an unbelievable job and the pharmacies, in getting AstraZeneca out to the public. It’s the vaccine I had, Brendan Murphy had it. Julia Gillard had it with us. We did it on a bipartisan basis.
So, look, we’re getting there as a nation. And today we put out a review of 2021 loss of life across the 38 OECD or the key economic nations of the world. And Australia have the second lowest per capita loss of life from right across those 30 nations for 2021.
We knew we did well in 2020, but in 2021, we’ve relatively done even better. You know, each of those lives lost is a tragedy and an agony for the families. But the fact that we’ve saved tens of thousands of lives as a country, something we should reflect on and recognise the achievements of every single person who’s helped.
Well, there’s the proof Minister. Just briefly, a couple of other points. Today is the deadline for aged care staff to be vaccinated. We are expecting there will be thousands who still won’t be. What happens to those staff and will aged care still be able to function properly over the next few weeks?
Well, I can give you very good news at that. We’re 96.9 per cent of staff. We think that’s one of the highest rates in the world, if not the highest rate. Other countries don’t have readily available figures.
And we’ve worked with every facility. They’re all continuing on. We expect that between now and Wednesday when we get the final figures from this week, because aged care facilities report on Tuesdays, figures will be even higher.
And so what that has done is it has meant that lives are being saved in aged care homes. So it was a difficult decision, but we have continuity of work and care right across Australia. We’ve spent immense amounts of time. Probably the two biggest areas of where my time has been focussed in the last few months have been on getting to this, you know, 97 per cent mark now, but it will go higher, and then on the international vaccine deals.
But we’re also now working with all of those that haven’t taken it up to really encourage them. The midwives will be working with so many of the remainder. They’re not being rostered on (INAUDIBLE) the general position of the industry, that gives them time to make a decision. But I think by next week we’ll have an even higher number.
So this is one of our great national achievements, that of all the countries in the world, we’re right at the top of the tree on protecting aged care.
That is very positive, Minister, just another couple of quick ones, we’re almost out of time. Novavax; a question from one of our listeners, Roy: when will Novavax be available?
So the latest advice we have is November. That’s a global question. They’re just completing their clinical trials. And so our first doses are due to arrive in November.
We don’t have a schedule from them yet, but I’ve met with senior global leadership recently and that was what they advised me.
So we have 51 million of those. They are what is called a protein vaccine. And if they’re not needed in this year’s round, they make an excellent booster in case we need this next year.
Which is going to be critical for us next year. Big announcement from both the Prime Minister and the Premier of New South Wales on home quarantine. Obviously, it’s a trial at this stage. Would you like to see that spread across the country?
Yes, I’m in home quarantine myself as we speak in Victoria, and I’ve done two rounds of home quarantine in the ACT, just with parliamentary business. And so, I’ve done six weeks of it.
I’ve got to say, the ACT is a model as to how it can be done around the country. The way they do the check-ins, the way they do the compliance. There’s a South Australian app, which is very, very good, which can assist.
I want to see everybody be able to return to their home state. We want to be able to see people return to Queensland and Victoria as soon as possible. New South Wales has been very good at letting people back.
So to get people home to WA, Queensland, Victoria, home quarantine is critical. And it’s also a pathway for the vaccinated to come back to Australia as quickly as possible from overseas.
And just lastly, Minister, talking about spending some time at home, we will face a federal election next year. Will you recontest your seat?
Yes, I am preselected and running.
And you want to stay on as Health Minister into another term?
As long as the PM would allow me to do it. You know, it’s as important a role as I’ve been privileged to have.
Fairly important at the moment, that’s for sure. Minister, I appreciate the amount of time you’ve been able to spend with us this afternoon. Thank you.
Thanks, Clinton. You take care, everybody, and well down to everybody in New South Wales.
I know it’s been hard and I know it’s been tough. But really, what you’ve done with vaccinations and the difficult decisions to stay at home, you’ve saved lives and you’re on the way back.
The Health Minister Greg Hunt, very generous with his time there.