The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
21 October 2021
INTERVIEW WITH JIM WILSON
Topics: Vaccine milestone, WA vaccination rates, booster shots, international students.
A major vaccine milestone for Australia has been reached. Our country now officially has 70 per cent of the eligible population fully vaccinated. It’s a great effort. And under the Doherty Roadmap, 70 per cent double dose means we’re supposed to move into Phase B of the National Plan.
So, things like saying goodbye to lockdowns, border controls, allowing international students back in, and reducing quarantine arrangements for vaccinated residents.
The National Plan is all about moving together as a nation, as one. But even though we’ve hit 70 per cent as a country, some premiers, in particular Mark McGowan, seem hell-bent on ignoring the plan and going their own way.
Well, the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt joins me now for more. Minister, welcome back to Drive.
And good afternoon, Jim. And firstly, congratulations to New South Wales. You’re at an extraordinary 92.7 per cent of first dose vaccinations and roaring along at 83 per cent second dose vaccinations. Really lifting the whole country, and protecting the whole country.
Yeah, it’s been stunning, as far as people in this city, in Sydney and around the state rolling up their sleeves.
And it’s a pretty, it’s been a significant 24 hours, Minister. Seventy per cent double dose for Australia, and more than 85 per cent single dose. It’s a great achievement, and you must be very, very proud of where we are as a nation.
I’m honoured to be in the role, and proud of the work of the Australian people, as you say. And even since the figures you were given were put in place, they’ve jumped to 85.8 per cent for first dose and 70.8 per cent for second dose.
And so, they’re just continuing to grow. And in New South Wales, there’s still, to those people who haven’t had your second dose yet, please come forward as soon as you’re eligible. Don’t wait, we know that the disease is about.
But, what this has done is it’s given us some of the highest first vaccination rates in the world. And that will continue to follow. We just know that the second doses will follow those first doses, and that provides immensely important coverage and protection.
And we do want people in other states to continue to come forward, and we want to encourage the governments in Queensland and WA in particular.
Northern Territory passed 60 per cent double dose today. Victoria passed 70 per cent double dose. Tasmania got to 70 per cent yesterday. So, you know, all of these are coming forward at a rapid rate.
Queensland and WA, we’re encouraging the governments and urging them on to get to the 60 per cent second dose, and then the 70, and then the 80 per cent mark.
Do you feel like you’re banging your head against the brick wall, though, with Mark McGowan? I just can’t believe that high risk workers don’t have to have their first shot until December 1. Critical workers not till December 31. He’s dragging the chain, Minister.
Well, it’s going at a different pace, let’s put it that way.
Different or disappointing pace?
Well, I’ve got to say New South Wales has been a model, but to Victoria’s credit, Victoria has done really well. The ACT has done really well. So they’ve dragged those numbers forward. Tasmania is right up there, and South Australia is approaching the 80 per cent figure.
So I think the messaging is really important. And the messaging – it doesn’t matter whether you’re in outback Western Australia or parts of Queensland, everybody is likely to be exposed to the disease at some point.
And the Queensland Chief Health Officer this week, Jeannette Young, said exactly that, that her expectation was every Australian at some point will be exposed to coronavirus. And therefore you need that protection.
But the messaging has been poor by Mark McGowan. I mean, it must be terribly frustrating when you look at these national numbers, which are going- you’ve mentioned about figures skyrocketing in Sydney and New South Wales. Victoria is getting up there, have reached 70 per cent.
WA is a disgrace right now and the messaging from the WA Premier is just wrong.
Well, my message to the people of Western Australia is: For two reasons. One is to protect yourselves and your friends and your family. Please be vaccinated. Two, it will also allow you to reunite, and to see your loved ones.
Exactly in terms of the case that you mentioned before of the gentleman who came to see his mum. And then, for people to be able to have their natural right of moving around this country the way it was created as a federation, with trade and movement between the states. Intended to be free from the outset.
And these are extraordinary measures that are emergency in nature. We cannot have a permanent state of biotocracy. What we have to have is people returning to their right to move across borders, to see their loved ones, to be at births, to be at funerals, to be at weddings, to- for grandparents, to meet their beautiful young grandchildren, for mums to support their daughters as they’re giving birth to a new generation.
All of these things of human, you know, the great elements of human life and the journey, that’s what being a full whole country is about.
And so I’d be encouraging, irrespective of what some in authority may or may be criticised for having done or not done in Western Australia, I’d be encouraging everybody in WA to think, I need to do this for me, and I need to do this to make sure that we can be whole as a nation and that friends, families, loved ones can reunite.
Just let’s talk about the vaccine rollout on a national basis. Are we moving into, officially into Phase B now, now that we’ve reached the 70 per cent threshold?
So we moved as a nation into Phase B yesterday. There are some individual states and territories, exactly as you’ve said, that need to meet those marks.
But Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales, The ACT, they’ve all crossed those marks, and you know, New South Wales of course is more than 90 per cent first vaccinated at 92.7 and more than 80 per cent double dosed at 83 per cent.
And people are still coming forwards. You know, there were more than 70,000 vaccinations in New South Wales yesterday. So people are coming forwards and I’d urge you to continue to do it and what it does do, is it builds on the fact that we’ve had one of the three lowest losses of life across the entire OECD.
So 38 nations in the OECD, and we’ve had one of the three lowest losses of life this year and across the whole of the pandemic, and that’s 30,000 lives saved.
So the pandemic has not gone away, and I think it’s really important to say that. But how we live with it has changed and vaccination is absolutely critical.
When do you think we’ll start allowing students and international tourists back into the country?
So on international borders – and all credit and thanks to the New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet for his actions – three steps.
One is to open up for double vaccinated Australians. We’ve endorsed that and that’s happening. The second step, and we’re looking at this now, and would like to do this certainly before Christmas, if not earlier, is to have double vaccinated students from selected countries, if not a broader range of countries being able to come to Australia and then after that double vaccinated general tourists.
Those are the stages. We’ve been working, for example, with Singapore on an expedited process to have students come from Singapore. That’s right at the front of the queue, they’re very keen, and other critical workers who are double vaccinated.
And so this process is moving very quickly now that we’ve achieved the 80 per cent nationally first doses and the 70 per cent nationally second doses, and we’re on that way.
You know, within three weeks, if not sooner, we’ll be at the 80 per cent, 80 per cent.
Okay, I want to ask you about COVID boosters. When will we be getting our COVID boosters?
I know the immunocompromised have already started getting their third injection. When will that start happening for the rest of us?
So next week, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, our administrator is reviewing the final data from Pfizer on their application for a general population booster.
And so by the end of next week, we should have the process of their evaluation, their engagement with the company and if they say if they say yes and it certainly- it’s our expectation that we’ll be providing a whole of population booster.
It’ll depend on how- what their time frames are in terms of between a second and a third dose. But we’re ready to roll that out, just as we did with 12 to 15 year olds, just as we’ve done with the immunocompromised.
And we don’t need to prioritise because time is the natural form of prioritisation. We started with the immunocompromised, we started with frontline workers, we started with aged care and we’d be in a position to begin that process immediately.
But before the end of the year?
Yes, absolutely. My expectation is not just before the end of the year, but during November.
Okay. Just, I’ve had two shots of my double vax of AstraZeneca. Will I get an AstraZeneca COVID booster or is AstraZeneca off the radar as far as COVID boosters are concerned?
So the advice on the immunocompromised, because I’ll wait to have our formal advice from the TGA, but the advice on the immunocompromised was Pfizer was the preferred third dose.
But if you have had AstraZeneca, it’s perfectly fine to have AstraZeneca. It’s just that their advice on the optimal third dose was an mRNA.
And then once we have Novavax, which is a third class of, a fourth vaccine but a third class of vaccine, that’s a protein vaccine that will in particular be considered as a booster. But that’s still going through the global clinical trials.
So right now, we’ve got enough Pfizer for everybody to come forward, have their boosters. If you don’t have access to that, you can easily access the AstraZeneca if you’ve had the AstraZeneca, if that’s what is recommended.
So we have plenty of boosters that have been ordered, 151 million doses and that would see the population have multiple options and the ability to just continue the vaccination programme running, which is, you know, it has been doing between 1.8 and two million doses a week for nine weeks now, just unimaginable numbers.
And that’s allowed us to bring forward by two months, you know, our whole of population access. So during the course of October, every Australian that wants to be vaccinated can be vaccinated. There’s enough vaccine in the country to do that.
Well done on the 70 per cent, the national figure. Let’s charge towards 80 per cent. We appreciate your time as always, Minister.
It’s great to see people in New South Wales A) having brought their cases down, but B) getting their lives back, their jobs back, their small businesses back and just the chance, you know, what did a friend say to me? What was he looking forward to? He’s looking forward to driving across town to see his mum.
His mums in her 80s, but she’s able to live, you know, well and to take her out to a café. And that was what mattered to him, and to go bowling. That’s his thing.
Very good. Absolutely. Good on you. Thanks for your time this afternoon.
Good on you. Thank you. That’s Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt.