The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
28 June 2021
INTERVIEW WITH JIM WILSON
Topics: State Lockdowns, COVID-19 Cases, Vaccination Rollout.
And the Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, is on the line this afternoon. Minister, welcome back to Drive.
And thank you very much, Jim. And I realise it’s a difficult time for the people in Sydney, as in my home state in Victoria has experienced, so thank you to everybody is doing it tough by being at home. But, you know, it’s what set Australia apart.
Just on Sydney and the decision by the Premier and the COVID Crisis Committee to announce the lockdown, should they have announced it earlier?
Now, I think it was entirely appropriate. They considered the cases they have, we think, you know, arguably the best contact tracing system in the world or the equal of any, and they did that.
And what they discovered is that there had been a super spreading event, obviously based out of Bondi that had a ripple effect across parts of Sydney, as you well know. And in order to make sure that everybody was protected, I think they made the right decision at the right time.
Would you agree, though, Minister, that if more people had been vaccinated, we’d be in a much better position right now; we might even be avoiding lockdowns?
Well, I think we’re vaccinating to the maximum number of the vaccines we have, and I continue to thank people. I would say this. Sometimes people mention the UK. The UK, in its last two days, has had 18,000 cases and 15,000 cases. They have a first dose rate of over 80 per cent.
So I think it’s all the things that go to making up the national defence against COVID, the containment plan, remember flattening that curve, borders, testing, tracing, distancing and vaccinations. And in the last two days, the UK has had more cases than the entire last year and a half in Australia.
I know a lot depends on supplies, in particular, the Pfizer vaccine from overseas, but 4.7 per cent. You’d think on June 28, you’d think that we’d be much better off than 4.7 per cent of the total population who have fully vaccinated.
Well, in fact, because we’ve been using AstraZeneca and we’ve had over 4.15 million people who’ve had first dose AstraZeneca, that’s a 12-week turnaround. In the last week, we saw 220,000 people have their second dose.
So we’ve actually got 28.5 per cent of people who’ve been vaccinated amongst the eligible Australians from 16 and over and over 50 per cent of 50-year-olds, almost 60 per cent of 60-year-olds, and almost 70 per cent of 70 plus.
So, you know, that’s protecting the most vulnerable groups. And the reality is 28.5 per cent of people have been vaccinated in Australia and that’s 5.9 million people. That number will have gone up again significantly today.
And in the last week, 60,000 more people were vaccinated than in the week before. So, the numbers are growing, and you know, 780,000 people in a week, that’s a very, very significant number.
But you’d like to think at this point of time, even as Health Minister, I know it’s the Federal Government’s responsibility, this vaccine rollout, but you mentioned the 28 per cent who have had their first shot. 4.7 per cent, only 4.7 per cent have been fully vaccinated, we should be better than that.
Seven per cent of the adult population.
And that’s growing.
We should be better, though, shouldn’t we? For a country like Australia.
No because it’s the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been the base. Pfizer vaccine, what we’re seeing is that we have almost a million people that have had two doses of the Pfizer. And so that’s a three-week turnaround.
For AstraZeneca, it’s a 12-week turnaround. And so that’s deemed to be, by the medical experts, the optimal period to get the optimal coverage. And hopefully, the fact that we’ve now had, we’re approaching a third of the population, probably a little bit more time and we’ll get there, that have had their first dose.
But very significantly, where the vulnerabilities are, over 50 per cent of 50s, almost 60 per cent of 60 plus, and almost 70 per cent of 70 plus, that’s what’s keeping people out of hospital and that’s what’s keeping people out of ICU.
And the great comparison here is that there’s not been one person that has, touch wood, caught COVID and passed away in Australia this year in a world of over 2.1 million lives lost officially, and that’s our ultimate task as a country.
Joey, one of our listeners, just asked this question on the text line: when will Pfizer be available at the local GP? It can be stored safely in a freezer. The earliest booking at a nearby hospital is one 1 January 2022, which is not good enough. I feel safer at my local GP.
This is the sort of frustration that we’re getting from a lot of our listeners, Minister, as far as just not being able to get and get bookings at these hospitals for the Pfizer vaccine.
Sure. So we’re moving from 300,000 doses a week on average in June to 600,000 doses a week on average in July. We’ll start with 500 general practices and grow to 1,000 then grow 1,300 over the weeks of the 5th, the 12th and the 19th of July.
The broad inclusion of all of the GPs as we move to a vastly higher number of doses, between 1.5 and two million doses a week of Pfizer will be in October, if not earlier. But at this stage, the start of October.
So we have to follow that supply. AstraZeneca, if you’re over 60, please do not wait. Please join the more than 4.15 million people, myself included that has had AstraZeneca, and over 4.5 million doses of AstraZeneca when add in the number of second doses.
So do not wait if you’re over 60, and if you’re if you’re under 60, the number of doses doubles in the coming months. The GP programme to Pfizer opens up. We have to work within the globally available supplies and it’s always been a process during the course of 2021. But as soon as you are eligible, please come forward.
How about the 20 to 40 year olds? The so-called super spreaders are out and about in the community. Do you agree that they should be a priority as far as getting jabs in arms?
No, the advice is very, very clear that the order of priority is absolutely related to the risk of harm. And so around the world, overwhelmingly, it started with the oldest and worked down through the age groups.
That’s been overwhelmingly the international approach, not the universal, but overwhelmingly. And it’s also the medical advice that we’ve received here in Australia. And when you are dealing with scarce resources, and that’s the global challenge because the whole world is looking to be vaccinated at the same time, then our first task is to protect people.
The example being in the aged care facility in Victoria, there were three elderly residents that have caught it. A 79, 89, and 99-year-old. All were vaccinated. All have been in hospital for observation, but all progressing well.
And you know, if you’d had an aged care outbreak previously, then we would have feared for the absolute worst. At this stage, all of the residents are in a very stable and solid situation. I think that’s the evidence for vaccinating the elderly.
Just one before I let you go, what about offering incentives for the vaccine? I mean, I think we need to start talking about these things to encourage people to get the jab. Things like quarantining at home after an overseas trip. Are these things your Department and the Government would consider?
Well, there are two parts. First, the number one incentive is to help save your own life. That if you catch COVID and you haven’t been vaccinated, you could die. Sorry to be so abrupt and plain about it.
The second thing is, of course, it helps protect your family, your parents, your grandparents. And then for individuals, we have absolutely talked about in the future. Not yet. We don’t think there’s any support yet from within the states, that as people are vaccinated, the capacity to be free of lockdowns, not be subject to lockdowns.
We’ve talked about that previously. There’s nothing new. We want to make sure that there’s confidence amongst the medical authorities to that effect. But that is absolutely something that’s on the horizon.
National Cabinet in 30 minutes, in a little bit over, or just under an hour, in fact, at 5.30pm. How much pushback and frustration will you get from the states as far as vaccine supplies are concerned? Because they’re pretty frustrated.
Well, with respect, there’s enormous volumes of AstraZeneca that are out there. Pfizer, it’s exactly the volumes we said at the outset. And those volumes have been delivered on time and in the amounts that they’ve said.
And we’ve always said that it’ll be 300,000 a week during June. And the fact that this doubles in July to over 600,000, that will mean more people have more vaccinations. It’s part of a national rollout in the middle of a global pandemic.
And so, you know, as a country, we fight every day to see what we can bring forward. We’ve been able to bring forward an extra 400,000 doses to July compared with what we’ve been previously expecting. But that’s by fighting every day to do that.
And so we work with the states. And what we want to do is make sure that there’s a common understanding and a common approach. And we always have to share the available resources. But it’s a global rollout, not just a national one. And it’s a reality that the manufacturing companies have prioritised themselves, which is why we made sure there was manufacturing in Australia.
Well, I know you’ve got National Cabinet approaching. So, we really appreciate your time this afternoon, Minister.
That’s all right. It is hard. But when you think of that simple comparison, in the last two days, the UK has had more cases than Australia has had throughout the entire pandemic. And then secondly, the world having had over 2.1 million lives lost this year alone, and yet Australia not having lost anybody to COVID, having caught COVID in Australia this year.
So Australians are doing a magnificent job. And, for Sydneysiders, I know it’s immensely hard and I just want to thank them and say we’ll get through it. We really will. The news today, I think we’ve seen a beginning of turning of the tide in Sydney.
Minister, thank you for your time this afternoon.
Good on you. That’s the Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt.