The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
12 November 2021
INTERVIEW WITH JIM WILSON
Topics: vaccination rollout; booster shot program; vaccine for children, Novavax vaccine; WA’s COVID roadmap
Well, a major milestone in the national vaccine rollout. Today, we officially reach 90 per cent of the 16-plus population with at least one COVID vaccination in their arm. That is incredible.
I’m absolutely so proud of all Australians for rolling up their sleeves. 90 per cent first dose. It’s at 96 per cent fully dosed in the ACT. New South Wales is going gangbusters. So congratulations.
And well, once those nut jobs over in WA get their house into gear, who knows how high our vaccine rate could get. We can only just hope and pray that Mark McGowan can get his house in order.
Well, Greg Hunt is the Federal Health Minister, and on a very important and exciting day as far as reaching that 90 per cent first dose rate, he joins me live on the line. Minister, welcome back to Drive.
And thank you very much, Jim. And look, thank you, New South Wales. There you are with 94.1 per cent. Imagine that. Our most populous state, 94.1 per cent first dose; 90.8 per cent, almost 91 per cent second dose.
You’ve absolutely lifted the national rate and done a great job. Kept each other safe, kept yourself safe, and then provided a national model.
The 90 per cent first dose milestone, which it’s an amazing milestone. Is it beyond your expectations?
It’s at the absolute upper limits of what I’ve been hoping. I always had a range in my mind. But I think we can still go further now. I won’t put a figure because that becomes either a ceiling or a floor, but I just want us to keep going.
And as you say, in the Northern Territory, Western Australia, Queensland, they’re all approaching 70 per cent first dose, so they should happen within the, second dose. That should happen within the next week.
And we get them to 70, we get them to push on to go as high as possible – they’re all in the low 80s – and that can help each of those states and territories, but it helps the whole country.
Booster shots are also underway, Minister. How’s the uptake been so far?
Booster uptake is well ahead of our expectations. About 236,000 people have had boosters so far. So, that’s really flying, and again, thank you everybody for coming forward.
And if you haven’t had your booster, it is a booster. It improves the protection. So the very reason why you had the first dose and the second dose, the booster is the same thing. It can help keep you safe and it can help reduce the risk of catching or transmitting the disease.
And all of that just means that we’re now one of the most highly protected countries in the world, one of the highest vaccination rates, one of the most recently vaccinated countries, and now, after Israel, one of the first whole of nation booster programs in the world.
Just on the booster program, are you confident that we’ll have enough fresh supply to cover all the demand?
Yes, absolutely. We have huge volumes of supply. We’re working our way through the 40 million Pfizer. We have plenty of AstraZeneca and Moderna. We are looking to have Novavax arrive once they’ve filed and have completed their approval.
That’s program they’re starting around the world now, which is great. And then we’ve got another 60 million Pfizer that are available next year. So we’re in a really strong position.
Supply is not an issue. We achieved our target of every Australian who wanted the vaccine, having access to first and second doses before the end of October. We beat that by about a week.
And we were able to achieve, in the first week of October, the 80 per cent double dose rate and now we’re 90 per cent for first doses.
So, Australians have outperformed. They’ve been magnificent. And this is one of the many reasons why we’ve had one of the lowest rates of loss of life in the world, one of the best economic outcomes, and now one of the safest populations.
What about vaccines for children? The vaccines approved for over-12s, but where are we at for the under-12s, Minister?
Yeah. So the first of the applications, which is the Pfizer one, they’ve put in their initial data. There’s more to come.
ATAGI, their double green light’s needed here. The Therapeutic Goods Administration, our medical regulator, and ATAGI, which is the advisory body, the Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, is very clear they’d like to see US real world data because the US is the only country that’s registered the Pfizer so far, on an emergency base, of few thousand only children’s trial doses.
So they want to see good data, but they’re working towards that by the end of December. And we’ve got the supply. We’ve got the distribution mechanism, exactly as we did with 12 to 15-year-olds.
If it’s approved, we’ll roll it out. And on balance, I’m very confident that it will be.
I know some of my listeners are waiting for the Novavax vaccine. When will that become available?
So Novavax is in process of putting in submissions around the world. The UK, I believe, was there first and they’ve indicated Australia. So we’re hoping that in the coming weeks, they’ll be putting in their application to the TGA for approval.
And if it’s approved, we’ll have that supply at that time. So we’re ready to receive supplies as soon as they are ready to put it in. So I think it’ll make a difference for 1 to 2 per cent of people.
It may not be full 2 per cent exactly but we do know that there are some people exactly as you say, who are waiting. Whilst we would advocate they don’t wait, I know that some will nevertheless make that decision, and I respect that.
So we have the Novavax as well, which is coming. For those that don’t follow the fine detail, which is completely understandable, Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines; AstraZeneca, the viral vector; and the Novavax is what’s called a protein vaccine.
So that’s the one we haven’t had, but nobody in the world has started administering it, we’ll be one of the first.
I’m speaking with Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt. Minister, I want to talk about Western Australia. Premier Mark McGowan’s roadmap is, I think, a disgrace. It’s not worth the piece of paper he wrote it on.
What was your reaction to him not setting an opening date, but keeping the doors shut until 90 per cent of the over-12s getting two jabs? I mean, that goes completely against the national plan.
So, look, I am hopeful that they will be able to set a date, and for the certainty of the people, to actually provide an incentive, so as people don’t hold back if they’re worried. It actually gets over the perverse incentive.
And the best reason to have a vaccine is to keep yourself safe, but also to keep everyone else safe, but then, in the case of WA and other areas, to open up.
And what we really want at the earliest possible time, particularly now that WA is on the cusp of 70 per cent in the coming week of double dose and is already at 80 per cent for first doses, for families to be able, to reunite, for people to go to weddings and funerals, for grandparents to hold their grandchildren for the first time, for somebody to be there for a family member who’s in palliative care.
All of these great human experiences, you know, the great moments in life, which are being denied people. Well, that’s what we’re hoping for.
Well, it’s cruel, isn’t it? It’s cruel and it lacks compassion. And, you know, you see that and Cathy from Campbelltown can’t get in, who might have a dying relative in WA, but it’s no problem letting some famous cricketers from England waltz in for an Ashes Test match and only having to quarantine for five days.
It reeks of double standards.
Well, I hope that the families of people with cancer and cardiac conditions have the same treatment as cricketers.
I want the Perth Test to go ahead. I really want the Perth Test to go ahead. I want to see the Ashes played on our fastest pitch. I really hope it goes ahead. It may be the decider.
But I want Australians to be able to visit Australians, of grandparents to be able to visit children. And so, out of a sense of compassion, I’ll frame it that way. I want people to be able to reunite.
And in WA, they’re pushing ahead. Their vaccine rate is lifting and I welcome that. But please keep being vaccinated, and we would like to see them set a date, and for our cardiac and cancer patients to have the same rights as our cricketers.
Well, it’d be nice to have a date pre-Christmas, wouldn’t it? I mean, that would be ideal. I mean, Annastacia Palaszczuk has come to the party. She’s saying mid-December.
The earliest possible time is what I’d say.
And as I say next week, they’ll be by this time next week, they should be well over 70 per cent double dose. They’re already well over 80 per cent at 82 per cent single dose. So, we want to be one country. That’s what people think. We want to be one country.
Yeah, absolutely. Well, well done on helping us get to 90 per cent first dose. Here’s to getting the 95 per cent now. And we appreciate your time, as always, this afternoon, Minister.
Thanks very much. And if you haven’t been vaccinated, please come forward, and if it’s your second dose that’s due, please come forward.
And if you’re due for a booster, it’s just what the name says. It will boost your immunity and it will strengthen your protection. But thank you everybody on a brilliant achievement.
Good on you, Minister. You have a good weekend.
Take care, Jim. Goodbye.
That’s the Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt.