The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
13 July 2021
INTERVIEW WITH JAMES GLENDAY
Topics: COVID-19 vaccine roll out, mental health support for people in NSW.
First of all, I will ask just briefly about the mental health toll that the lockdowns in Sydney are taking. Actually, first of all, how long do you expect the lockdown in Sydney to take? There are some reports that it may be another four or five weeks at least.
I’ll obviously leave the, the lockdown to the Premier and the Chief Health Officer.
But we do know that any prolonged lockdown can have a mental health impact and, and that’s why we’re supporting mental health with a $17 million package alongside the New South Wales Government.
And that’s Beyond Blue, Lifeline, Kids Helpline, Headspace in particular, but also support for eating disorders through the Butterfly Foundation and for young parents.
And this is all about making sure that people have the best access to have the support, and especially non-English speaking backgrounds, where, in the south west, there are a lot of people who are doing it tough, but we know that them staying at home is critical,
Just on to vaccines. Would this have happened, would this lockdown be in place if your Government had procured enough vaccines?
Well in fact, what we’ve seen is over 9.3 million vaccinations in Australia. In the UK at the moment, there are over 30,000 cases a day. And so there are multiple defences that are required, borders, testing, tracing, distancing and vaccinations.
And what we’ve seen is that in aged care, for example, where it was three cases of people who were infected in Victoria, all three are back at home now, they’ve all been vaccinated, that’s protected them.
We’ve seen five residents who were vaccinated at the SummitCare facility who are all, at this stage, asymptomatic despite catching the disease.
So, by focussing on the most vulnerable we’re protecting and saving lives. And you know, we’ve now had over 73 per cent of the over 70s vaccinated around Australia, the most vulnerable groups, and that’s protecting Australians.
And I want to thank Australians for coming forward. If you think a 154,000 vaccinations in the last 24 hours, in the US on a per capita basis that would be the equivalent of two million vaccinations a day.
Just on some of the Government’s advertising around this, in particular the advertisement that showed a young woman struggling to breathe and in respiratory distress. Do you think that was appropriate, given that people under the age of 40 cannot get the preferred vaccine at the moment?
Well, I think what we know is that these are conscious, clear, strong messages. It’s about staying at home. Any young person can both catch the disease or they can spread the disease.
But the advertisement finishes with get jabs and, you know, go and get your vaccine. And for many young people, they can’t. And we’re hearing all sorts of stories of people being turned away and not even being able to get the AstraZeneca vaccine when they try to.
Well, we know around the country that we have had, you know, just as an example, over 900,000 people under 40 who’ve been vaccinated across the country. And that could be those that are immunocompromised, it could be health workers, it could be those who are involved in quarantine.
But also it’s making a very clear point, stay at home, be tested, and if you are in an eligible group please be vaccinated, do not wait.
Can I ask about the, the ATAGI advice? There’s some substantial frustration within your Government. There was a view, I think it’s fair to say, amongst some of your colleagues that ATAGI might change its advice, given the outbreak we’ve seen in Sydney regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine, that hasn’t happened. Are you disappointed by that?
No. I think what ATAGI has done is set out very clearly that the basic position for Australia remains the same, and that is that AstraZeneca is preferred for the over 60s, Pfizer for the 60s. But any person can seek informed consent, and consult their doctor, and make a decision.
We know that already there’s over 1.1 million people under the age of 60 that have had an AstraZeneca first dose. But it also emphasised that if you are outside of an eligible group and you are in a hot zone in an outbreak area, you should consult your doctor and, and consider whether or not you wish to have a vaccine other than Pfizer.
And in addition to that, if you have not had your second dose yet, to people in an outbreak area, it’s perfectly reasonable and appropriate to come forward between four and eight weeks rather than having to wait 12 weeks. So, earlier is recommended in an outbreak situation.
Sure. But I mean, yeah, ATAGI only exists to provide public advice on the safety of vaccines and to make recommendations. But these latest recommendations, although the advice hasn’t changed, the recommendations seem to effectively be, people should make up their own mind.
What is the point of ATAGI, if the body only exists to make recommendations and to advise people, but it simply says people should make their own informed choice?
Informed consent is one of the absolute foundations of contemporary medicine. It’s one of the basic principles.
And we’re blessed, even though, you know, like every country, Australia has had to battle through the pandemic. The reason why we’ve had just over 900 lives lost, agonisingly, rather than 9,000 or 90,000, or 125,000 as in the UK or 600,000 as in America, is because we followed the medical advice.
I think we have the best medical advisers in the world and they’ve been very clear: preferred vaccine for over 60s, AstraZeneca, for under 60s Pfizer. But if you are in an outbreak zone, then you should consider whether or not you wish to take the AstraZeneca vaccine and consult your doctor.
And if you wish to do that, then have informed consent. And also, if you are in an outbreak zone, consider bringing forward your vaccine to between four and eight weeks rather than having to wait for the (INAUDIBLE) protection.
Sure. Just for you personally, when you look back over the past 12 months, are there things you would change in Australia’s vaccine rollout? And do you think things are actually going well?
Well, I think we’ve now got 9.3 million vaccines that have been delivered. If you look at the last week, 894,000 vaccinations, that’s more than one in 25 eligible Australians. More than one in 25 Australians over 16 who were vaccinated in just one week.
But with respect, Minister, I mean, my question was, do you think things are going well? And would you have changed anything looking back over the past year?
Well, one of the great myths that has been put about is that somehow there was earlier access to large volumes of Pfizer. There wasn’t. There simply wasn’t. And there was nothing that would have changed that access.
What we did, and probably the most important thing we did, is recognising that in a deeply constrained international environment, where Europe and North America were, understandably, keeping the large share of vaccines for the mass death that they were facing on their doorstep.
One of the most important things we did was set up sovereign vaccine manufacturing here in Australia. And as we speak, there have been 5.5 million AstraZeneca doses delivered in Australia. There’s another at least 3.5 million second doses that will come due over the coming weeks and months.
And we wouldn’t be able to do that without having set up and made a difficult decision to do what seemed impossible and to create a sovereign vaccine manufacturing industry.
So every country has had its challenges. It’s just that Australia’s challenges have been mercifully far less in terms of the human loss than we see overseas. To imagine that our great friends in the UK, over 125,000 deaths, 30,000 cases yesterday, more cases in one day, even now, than Australia’s had throughout the course of the entire pandemic.
Do you still expect all Australians to be vaccinated by the end of the year?
We believe that we are on track and that view is strengthening, that every Australian who wishes to be vaccinated will be offered a vaccine this year, and we want as many of them as possible to take it up.
And what would be a level of vaccinated Australians that you think we need to reach to open up and to not have lockdown’s anymore? Is it 50 per cent? 60, 70, 80?
There’s no one figure. And this is being analysed as we speak by the Doherty Institute. What we’ll see is likely a graduated staircase of elements where as you reach certain levels, you’ll be able to achieve greater outcomes.
But above all else, our goal is for as many Australians as possible to be vaccinated. We are a great vaccination nation and we’re seeing that now. Australia’s last 24 hours, 154,000 vaccinations. On a per capita basis, that’s the equivalent of two million a day in the US.
And so all of these things, I think, provide a very important perspective. As the supplies become available, both our domestic supply and our international supply, Australians are coming forward in record numbers.
Alright. Is there anything else you’d like to add, Minister?
Okay. Thank you so much for having a chat. I really appreciate it.
Thanks a lot.