The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
20 January 2022
WITH DAVID LIPSON
Topics: Kids vaccinations, anti-viral COVID-19 treatments.
The Federal Health Minister is Greg Hunt and he joins me on the line. Greg Hunt, thanks for your time.
Good morning, David.
Nationally, just 20 per cent of five to 11 year olds have had their first dose. Is it safe for schools to reopen in a matter of weeks?
Yes, it is. And what we see is that, in fact, 492,000 schoolchildren in only a matter of days, starting with the program last week, have already had their doses.
Yesterday, 56,000 children came forward with their parents and the fact that we’ll pass half a million today, and that number is increasing by approximately, well, over 50,000 a day on weekdays, shows that Australians are coming forward.
They are protecting their children and they’re helping to protect the school environment.
That’s a lot, but it’s clearly not going to be all children vaccinated by the time school starts. And even those that are vaccinated, well, they will only have had one dose.
Should the interval between shots for kids be reduced from eight weeks?
So that’s entirely a medical question. The Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, or ATAGI, considered and established what they believe to be the optimal dosing period for the effectiveness of the vaccine and the safety of children.
And so we’ll continue to follow that medical advice. If they suggest changes, then we’ll follow them. But at this stage, they’ve been very clear that that’s the optimal period.
I think it’s important to emphasise two things. Firstly, that over the course of this month, there are 2.4 million vaccines for children that are in the field. As of last week, it was 1.2 million. As of tomorrow, it’s 1.8 million, and the week after, 2.4 million.
So enough for every child who wishes, or their parents wish them to be vaccinated, to be vaccinated.
What if they can’t get in with their GP? What should parents do?
Look, I think that’s a very important question.
There are vaccinations available through general practises, through pharmacies, through Commonwealth clinics, and in particular, we know that there are very significant numbers of vaccinations available in many state clinics.
And so the state clinics have been operating at between 40 and 50 per cent of their total capacity. The general practices and the pharmacies are delivering up to 250,000 vaccines a day at near full capacity.
So what we’ve seen with some of the changes in state clinics yesterday is they want to make use of that capacity.
So for parents, please come forward. And if your GP has all of their places filled, please approach the state websites and look to bring your children through the state clinics.
It’s looking likely that rapid antigen tests will form a key part of returning to school safely. What’s your advice on how they should be used and how often, and whether they should be used just for teachers or for students as well?
So that’s being considered by National Cabinet over the course of this week and next week.
The states are leading, with the support of the Prime Minister’s Department, and so they’re formulating the optimal use and that is to make sure that we have a safe environment for teachers and students. So vaccinations first and most important thing.
You don’t have a view at this point on an optimal use?
No, we’re following the medical advice on that. And that has been one of the hallmarks.
How is it that we have a 95 per cent vaccination rate as a country and one of the lowest rates of loss of life in the world? We’ve really focused on that medical advice, and that’s the process that’s now being very carefully applied to preparation for schools.
But we’re seeing massive vaccination amongst young people. As I say, over 56,000 yesterday, and up to 492,000 in total.
Yep, we did hear that. Just, because time is brief, the TGA has just announced approval for two new treatments. What can you tell us of that?
Sure. So, two new treatments: paxlovid and molnupiravir. These are the oral antivirals, or a course of pills. They are for vulnerable Australians.
We’ve acquired 500,000 of the Pfizer paxlovid and 300,000 units of the MSD molnupiravir.
They will help people who are at risk of going from mild to moderate symptoms, and deemed by medical professionals to have the risk of progression to more serious conditions.
They’re expected to arrive in the coming weeks, the first of those doses, and so builds on what we’re already doing through the intravenous or hospital treatments, those are called monoclonal antibodies such as sotrovimab.
So oral pills, a course of them, will help the most vulnerable, particularly some of our older Australians who have always been at more risk from COVID.
Health Minister, thanks for your time this morning.
Thanks very much, David.
And thanks to everybody. Please keep coming forward, getting your boosters. We’re at nearly six million boosters, and at nearly half a million children.