The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
13 July 2021
INTERVIEW WITH JOHN STANLEY & JOE HILDEBRAND
Topics: AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccine rates in Australia; COVID-19 effects on mental health;
Look, and I want to just quickly, because I’ve got people, and I’ve seen, for instance, there’s this, there’s a narrative this evening. And there’s a few people, I’ll give you some examples.
One of the reporters at Nine, Tiffiny Genders, she was on social media today saying she’s gone in, she had a talk to a couple of her colleagues who were also in their 30s, and so she then decided to go. She’s had her first shot of AstraZeneca.
Good on you, Tiffany.
She’s 32. There’s a couple of others who’ve done that publicly as well. There’s another person, Jan Fran, who’s on the- she’s a media person.
She’s gone on social media and gone through a narrative of where she tried – she’s under 40 – to go and get the AstraZeneca. She couldn’t find a GP. Finally got in front of one, and the GP kind of talked her out of it. And she was quite frustrated by this.
Yeah, I’ve heard cases of people’s GPs talking about it.
And that’s one of the reasons- we’re going to talk to the Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, who joins us on the line now. He’d have heard all of us and I guess the frustration people have, and there’s also people in rural areas.
I noticed someone from the Lake Macquarie area to the north of Sydney, another person who was a bit frustrated at getting vaccinated, younger people.
Minister, good evening to you.
Good evening to John and Joe.
Yeah, we want to talk a bit- you’ve made a big announcement about mental health, and our listeners do raise this consistently.
Before we go into that though, this broad question of younger people, some are able to get vaccinated, others are dealing with GPs who are less willing to do it because of the confusing messages.
What would you say to those people?
So, consult your doctor. And we had advice just today from ATAGI, which is the Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, that said AstraZeneca remains the preferred vaccine for over-60s, Pfizer for under 60s.
But it’s always been a matter for individuals to seek informed consent. And particularly if you don’t have access to AstraZeneca, then you should consult to Pfizer- you should consult your doctor about AstraZeneca.
Just to put it in context, there are 900,000 people who are 50 to 59 that have had AstraZeneca. I’m one of them. And then there are 100,000 between 40 and 49, and 139,000 under 40 that have had AstraZeneca over the course of the vaccine campaign. So that just puts the numbers in place, so as people have the facts.
And the key thing is, consult your doctor, and you’re making a decision, you’re doing it with informed consent. And that advice has been reaffirmed by ATAGI, that it is a matter of individual informed consent.
And Minister, is it not a problem that it has taken this long for ATAGI to make that absolutely clear? If indeed they are saying, well, it’s always been the case, you can go to your doctor and consult it?
Well, couldn’t they have been making that very clear from the very start, so you wouldn’t have people, including the Chief Health Officer of Queensland and the Premier of Queensland spouting misinformation about how, you know, under 40s shouldn’t get it because they might die, or it’s not allowed to be given to under 40s in other jurisdictions.
It does seem that the messaging on this has not been as clear as it could be, to say the least.
Yeah. So, the medical expert advice has been written and presented by ATAGI. The Federal Government has followed it.
There may have been one or two voices elsewhere that have presented now an alternative view, but I think that’s been thankfully cleared up.
And, you know, that remains very simple. AstraZeneca is recommended for the over-60s. Pfizer is preferred for the under 60s. But if you don’t have access, as the Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation has reaffirmed today, then you should consult your doctor. And it then becomes a matter for informed consent between you and your doctor.
And as I say, you know, now it’s about 1.1 million people all up under the age of 60, and 900,000 in my age group, 50 to 59 that have had AstraZeneca. And then a 100,000 between 40 and 49 and 139,000 under 40.
So people are making their choices, they’re making their decisions. And this has been the backbone of the UK program. Sometimes people point to the UK. AstraZeneca has been the backbone of the UK program.
What’s the percentage we’ve got now overall across the whole country?
So we’re now at 33 percent. So we’ve just passed today, 9.3 million vaccinations, and that includes about 6.8 million individuals who’ve had their first shot.
Actually, today’s figures were exactly 33.3 per cent. Interestingly, 154,000 in the last 24 hours, so on Monday – not just the highest Monday, but sometimes people compare with the US – on a per capita basis, that’s equivalent to 2 million vaccinations in one day in the US.
So that, I think, just puts into perspective some of the comments by others in recent days. If you think of it and said, well, the US had 2 million in a day, Australia’s just had that equivalent with 154,000.
And last week with over 890,000 vaccinations, that’s over one in 25 adult Australians who were vaccinated in just the one week. Over one in 25. So, you look around the room and, you know, for- obviously not in Sydney but elsewhere, if you’ve got 25 people there, one of them on average will have been vaccinated in just that one week.
When the Prime Minister says that without the restrictions, and the ones I guess we’ve talked about our border restrictions, closing our borders, and the response to COVID, that without that, we’d have had 30,000 people die. Is that based on modelling or evidence? Where does that come from?
Because our listeners would probably hear that, and it’s an impressive number in terms of what we’ve avoided. But where is that number from? Where does it come from?
So that’s by comparison with the per capita rate across the OECD of lives lost. If you were to compare it with the UK, it would be closer- and the US, both of which have had a very similar, tragically loss of life, it would be closer to 45,000.
The Medical Journal of Australia, in the middle of last year, looked at Australia and at that stage, said, by comparison with the UK, we’d saved 13,000 lives. But since then, the UK has rocketed up agonisingly to over 125,000 lives lost. So, you know, each life in Australia has been a tragedy.
But the comparisons with overseas countries that- the devastation. And just talking with friends, as each of you would have in the US or the UK, or people in France or Germany or Italy, they’ve had a once-in-a-century mass death event, which has just been catastrophic because families and.
And Minister, obviously, on top of the effect of COVID-19 itself, we know that there’s been a massive increase in instances of self-harm caused by the disease, and more often, the lockdown and the restrictions surrounding it. Can you tell us what you’re doing to alleviate that in New South Wales as we go into another lockdown?
Yes, so look, this is very hard. And I’ve seen it in my own city of Melbourne, when people went through a long lockdown here.
So, there’s a $17 million package with the Commonwealth and the New South Wales Government.
And that’s focused on really practical things. Lifeline, expanding services, expanding services for SONDA, which does a lot of the work for people who are in isolation, in particular, it works with people who don’t come from an English-speaking background. Beyond Blue, a big package of seven million for Headspace, especially to support, you know, kids and teenagers in the southwest of Sydney where the lockdown has had a very strong impact, because we know the cases are stronger there.
We know that means that we’ve really got to work on people staying at home. So Lifeline, Beyond Blue, Headspace, Kids Helpline, The Butterfly Foundation.
One of the things that you mentioned there, self-harm, one of the most insidious and devastating forms of self-harm, not that it’s controllable, is eating disorders. Anorexia is the most prominent. They have risen during the course of the pandemic.
And so, The Butterfly Foundation works with people with eating disorders of all ages, but it particularly affects younger women and teenage girls.
And so, to be able to support all of these organisations simply says to people in Sydney, we get it, we understand, and these supports will help you reach out and get the help you need.
Alright. Speaking of reaching out, just before I let you go Minister.
Oh no. Oh no.
I don’t suppose you want to put in a call to the chairman of Pfizer.
Where this is going.
Well, it’s easy. Every other government in the world has been on the phone to the chairman of Pfizer.
Maybe it’s time for us to jump the queue, get a little cosy, take him out for dinner.
Look, we’ve worked very, very closely with Pfizer. I speak with the Head of Pfizer Australia, Anne Harris. I spoke with her today, I spoke with her on Saturday. That’s allowed us to be successful in bringing forward the doses to July and August and through September, to go to a million a week, starting later this month. That will really help the rollout.
Now, the world has been struggling for vaccines up to, and obviously those that make them in Europe and North America were focusing in their own backyard. We’ve made them in Australia, and we’ve had AstraZeneca, which has allowed us- which is where our conversation began, to provide that supply, and to have the additional Pfizer coming on board, that’s great news for Australians.
And so, Australians keep coming forward to be vaccinated. If you think of a 154,000 in the last 24 hours, or the equivalent of 2 million a day in America, that’s a pretty good start. But we know it’ll get bigger and bigger.
I hope so.
I think he’s trying to get you to say the name of the former prime minister.
Ah. Well, I did chuckle, I have to say.
I know. You didn’t mention his name. Can I ask you a trivia question?
It’s the Rudd that they’re not.
Who was the prime minister that was defeated by Tony Abbott to win that election in 2013?
Oh, well, look, I was very happily part of the Coalition.
But what was his name?
With Tony Abbott that defeated Kevin Rudd.
There you go.
And very, very happy to do that. Look, I look forward to Mr. Rudd’s letter to Gustave Eiffel proposing, no doubt, that there be a lattice tower made of metal that could celebrate the Paris World Fair, because I’m sure that he contributed to that as well.
Well, you’ve added to the memes that we’ve had in the last 24 hours. Minister, I thank you for that.
Alright. Take care fellas.