The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
1 July 2021
INTERVIEW WITH JIM WILSON
Topics: COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout
Joining me now is the Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt. G’day, Minister.
And good afternoon, Jim.
Okay. Let’s start with just clear this up once and for all. The mixed messaging around the AstraZeneca vaccine, is it safe for Australians under the age of 40?
So the advice is very clear. AstraZeneca is recommended by the medical authorities for the over 60s, Pfizer for the under 60s, but it’s approved by the TGA for people 18 plus. And the medical advisory group, the technical advisory group, said, and I’ll quote it, COVID-19 vaccine, AstraZeneca, can be used in adults aged under 60 for whom Pfizer is not available. The benefits are likely to outweigh the risks to that individual, and the person has made an informed decision based on an understanding of the risks and benefits.
So with that in mind.
Individual position. It’s the national recommendation is AstraZeneca recommended for the over 60s, Pfizer preferred for the other 60s, but the ATAGI advice is exactly as I’ve read it, where an individual can make an informed decision.
An informed decision in consultation with their GP. So, how disappointed, then, are you with the comments of the Queensland Premier and their Chief Health Officer, who basically said adults under 40 shouldn’t get the AstraZeneca jab because they could die?
I mean, it’s sending the wrong message and its fear mongering.
Well, I’ll take the high path. I’ll take the high road, if I may, and that is my job and our job is to provide that confidence.
And, you know, the really interesting thing that’s happened? The last 24 hours, record numbers of vaccinations, 161,390 people. And so, you know, you’ve seen that record number by almost 9,000 come forward in the last two days you were asking about AstraZeneca, 163,000 people, 69,000 of those for first doses, 93,000 of those for second doses.
We’re at 29.6 per cent of the population that’s been given a first dose and almost 70 per cent of 70 and above have been vaccinated. So these are very significant. Growing massively every day.
And, you know, we’re on that path, and I just want to say thank you to everybody for coming forward. I know it’s a difficult time, particularly in Sydney. And, you know, they’re coming forward. Sydneysiders are coming forward in record numbers to be tested and to be vaccinated.
There’s a lot of our listeners who are in the 20 to 39-year-old bracket who are saying that they’re happy to get the AstraZeneca vaccine. They’ll consult with their GP.
Do you feel like your advertising campaign just is still not resonating to the point where, for all age groups, that the whole safety message around AstraZeneca is just not cutting through, that people still have major concerns about it?
Well, our job is to provide that confidence. I remember there was some criticism at the start of the year that we didn’t take an emergency listing and bypass some of the safety programs, precisely because we ran through the full safety program, albeit at the fastest possible pace. We were able to determine one million doses in that there was a risk factor.
In the UK, it was 18 million doses in. Therefore, we’ve been able to treat people more effectively. One of the great global thrombosis experts is Professor Huyen Tran from The Alfred in my home town of Melbourne, and he said to me he said he thinks we’re doing it as well as anyone in the world, if not better.
That keeps people safe. So here we are. We’ve done the full safety. We’ve detected the issue earlier, and therefore, we’re able to treat people more effectively. We probably pick up a higher proportion of cases, according to Professor Tran, but therefore we have a much higher success rate in treating people.
And these vaccines, as we see, you know, ultimately this is about keeping people safe. And we’re in a country which has had, so far, and I say this always cautiously every day, no lives lost to anybody who’s caught COVID in Australia this year.
The world had over 2.1 million lives. So other health ministers say to me: it’s just unimaginable, Australia’s condition, and we desperately wish we were in your situation. The one exception is New Zealand, which is comparable. Their vaccine rate for first doses is not at our level, but they’re doing a great job. And others just look at Australia and New Zealand and say, gosh, we really wish we were in your position.
But the facts are that, as far as an OECD country goes, I think, in a list of 38, we’re last on that list as far as those people vaccinated or fully vaccinated right at this point of time. It’s just simply not good enough for a country like Australia.
But this is, of course, the very thing you were talking about, AstraZeneca. AstraZeneca, the optimal period, the advice we have is 12 weeks. We’re using that as the workhorse is how Professor Brendan Murphy has described it of the Australian vaccination program but with a doubling of Pfizer in the coming months and then another 32.5 million over the last five months of the year.
And that’s 12 weeks. The first of those people are only now coming on to have their second dose. And they’re coming through in, as I say, very large numbers. What we’ve seen is 93,000 AstraZeneca second doses alone in the last two days.
And so, if you haven’t had your second dose and you are due to have it, please come forward. It can save your life. It can protect the spread of the virus. It can help the country open up. It’s a way of doing something for each of us, our families, and our country.
As Federal Health Minister, do you feel like right at this point of time, July 1, middle of the year, that we’d be further down the track as far as having jabs in arms?
Well, it’s a yearlong program, and what we’re seeing is the acceleration. And yes, there’ve been challenges, the change in ATAGI advice to the recommendations for AZ to be the over 50s and then the over 60s.
You mentioned international supply, but we’ve got lots of domestic supply, exactly as you say. And for everybody over 60, we’d really encourage you to come forward as soon as possible. 61 per cent of the over 60s so far, almost 70 per cent of the over 70s, but we want to encourage more to come forward.
These vaccines are fundamental. I’ve had it myself. I’ve had both doses with AstraZeneca. I was with three of the leaders yesterday at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute who had the AstraZeneca vaccine, including Professor Kathryn North and Professor Melissa Little, and they were saying, look, it’s just an immensely important part of our national protection.
And over the course of the year, we want to make sure that every Australian, not only has the opportunity to be vaccinated, but it is the course of the year. So we need to keep that in perspective and that they, as many as possible, come forward because every vaccination helps the individual, but it also helps the nation.
Our listeners are begging for these lockdowns to end. I mean, the 12 million, basically half the population. I mean, can you tell them that if they get more vaccines in arms that these lockdowns and border closures will end?
Well, this is something that the Prime Minister and myself are absolutely pushing for. The PM, as you may have heard in the past, has said, and then I’ve said it myself, that we really want to encourage some of the states to consider that for those people who are vaccinated, perhaps if you get to a certain percentage, then the vaccinated would not be subject to.
And if you’re in that situation, then it will help everybody. It will make the spread less likely. And it will make the consequences where, even if somebody’s vaccinated and they contract the disease, as has been the case, for example, with three aged care residents in Melbourne, you know, they’re a few weeks in, 79, 89 and 99-year-old.
We’re very hopeful that in the near future all of them will return home from hospital. And that outcome, unvaccinated, could have been dramatically different than tragic consequences.
What percentage of the Australian population will be fully vaccinated by the end of this year?
Well, we want to make sure that everybody’s offered the opportunity, everybody’s given the chance of all the eligible population. So I’d like as many of them as possible to do it.
What do you think is a realistic figure, Minister?
So I’ve respectfully not predicted what would be the take-up. I will say this, that we are one of the world’s great vaccination nations. And I think the important thing is to reaffirm that. In the last couple of days, I know there’s been some, as you mentioned at the outset, some noise elsewhere.
Our job is to provide that reassurance and to provide the means to be vaccinated, but also to reaffirm that, of all the countries in the world, we have one of the highest childhood vaccination rates, one of the world’s great flu vaccination nations. And I’d like to see us ultimately have one of the higher, if not one of the highest, vaccination rates to COVID.
Now, that’s a program. You know, it’s true that you understand that where there was mass death overseas and vaccines are being produced in those countries, they were prioritised for those countries.
And, you know, one of the CEOs said to me, you know, if I’m producing in a country where there is mass death, I have to provide that support, not just because of nationalist reasons, but because if my vaccine is there, it can save lives.
But we’ve get our fair share and those numbers are increasing, with 40 million Pfizer to be delivered this year and 10 million Moderna on top of the AstraZeneca. And we’ll make sure that everybody has the opportunity to be vaccinated this year.
As always, Minister, thank you for your time this afternoon.
Good on you. That’s Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.