The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
6 September 2021
INTERVIEW WITH RAY HADLEY
Topics: Approval of Moderna for 12 to 17-year-olds; Australia swapping vaccines with the UK; Australian vaccine rates;
The Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, is on the line. Minister, good morning.
Good morning, Ray.
We’ve got a bit of territory to cover. Now, Moderna, it’s been approved by Australian health authorities for children as young as 12. What’s the situation on Moderna arriving into the country?
So, we’re expecting our first arrivals during the course of next week. It then gets assessed by the TGA and shipped out to pharmacists. And so, we’re expecting the first pharmacists to have it in the week of the 20th, which I think is another really important step forward.
TGA has approved it. So, Therapeutic Goods Administration, our medical regulator, for everybody 12 plus. It will be available, we now have ATAGI, Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation. We’re expecting the advice from them before the end of the week. But the advice is, the early advice I have is that they are likely to be supportive of a 12 to 17 inclusion.
And either way, a 12- to 15-year-old start next week with Pfizer from the 13th; immunocompromised kids and Indigenous and remote kids are already doing that, as well as NDIS.
And then finally, what that means is, as of next week, 12 to 15 will have at least the Pfizer. And they may well have the Moderna option as of the 20th.
I reported late last week, and you’ll correct me on the dates, but I think I reported that we swapped the AstraZeneca for Pfizer with authorities either in the UK or Europe. Is that factual?
Pfizer, we swapped with the UK. So, what’s happened is the UK has given us four million Pfizer that they didn’t need immediately and they would have expired at the end of November, the first of those flights, two flights with 450,000 doses have arrived over the weekend. They’re now being assessed by the TGA. And then we will pay them back in December when we will have, you know, we’ll have more than enough vaccine, but they’ll be looking at what they need for their booster programme.
So, it works for both countries. It preserves the doses, it gets them to us at an earlier time, and it means that we’ll now massively increase our GP Pfizer rollout. As of this week, 1900 GPs. As of next week, a greater 3000. And the week of the 20th, which, you know, is a really significant week for Australia, we’ll have over 4500 GPs.
So, it just means multiple points of presence or access for people. Some may not be near large state hubs or Commonwealth hubs. So, your GP, your pharmacist, you can go, you can get it.
I spoke with the Treasurer last week about where we’re up to in relation to, you know, the poorer vaccination rates. And I know Queensland today, published in the Courier Mail, are lagging behind everyone else. And their own reasons for that, the advice from Dr Young and the reluctance of Annastacia Palaszczuk to push the issue.
But the suggestion was and it’s been made again today, and I know this is not your portfolio, but unless these states start to pick up the vaccination rates, when other states come out of lockdown, but the others may be still in lockdown, well, the flow of cash might be turned off. The tap might be turned off was the expression that was used.
Is that an accurate encouragement to get people vaccinated in the various states that are lagging behind, including Western Australia and Queensland?
Oh, look, we want them to be vaccinated for their own health and for the collective health of everybody around them. The economic measures, I’ll leave to the Treasurer, but that’s about recognising emergency support for emergency situations. Once we’ve got to those 70 and 80 per cent marks – and as of this morning, New South Wales is at 73.50 per cent first doses and Queensland’s at 53.1 per cent first doses.
But as of those figures, you can see that we’re making huge progress, that we’re on that path, that the nation’s on the path to 70 per cent and the nation’s on the path to 80 per cent. But we do need, for their own safety, their own sake, Queensland and Western Australia to really push the vaccination program.
I know that, in particular, unfortunately the, perhaps Queensland Government, the Premier, have been somewhat cooler on AstraZeneca. Well, there’ve been over 10 million doses of AstraZeneca; there’ve been over six million first doses of, of AstraZeneca. And it’s been the backbone of the UK program, it’s in over 170 countries, and it’s saving lives here in Australia.
It has excellent longevity in terms of the, the length of impact on the studies that are coming out of the UK. And so all of these vaccines, it’s, they’re approved by the TGA, they can save your life.
You see, the fact that you tell me today New South Wales at 73.5 first dose, that means in six weeks, at the latest – so, we’re talking about, I guess, the middle of October – we will have in New South Wales, 73.5 per cent fully vaccinated? Because people, by their nature, if they’re prepared to get the first vaccination they’ll get the second when it’s due, and it’s due in about six weeks’ time.
So, that’s why that uptake is so important for the first vax because it narrows the gap between being fully vaxxed and starting the process?
That’s exactly the maths that the PM and I do every day. The thing that is most significant to us is getting people through the door for the first vaccination because Australian’s are doing a fantastic on job on them turning up for their second vaccination. And, and New South Wales has, has led the pack. They’ve done a, a great job on their vaccination program.
And I know it’s a stressful time, which is one of the reasons why we announced the, announced and commenced as of today the, the 10 Head to Health pop up mental health clinics across Sydney, the Central Coast, the Illawarra. You know, it is a difficult and stressful time.
But the vaccination is the best possible protection, as well as sticking with the difficult rules. But there’s a pathway out, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel – that’s what vaccination is. And that’s what we’re seeing in different places around the world.
Okay, one final thing. I – you wouldn’t be aware of this – I spoke to a mate of mine, Keith Todd, and his wife Di. For compassionate reasons they were allowed to leave Australia and go and see a grandchild in London and they’d been there for about two weeks last Tuesday when I spoke to them.
They, and they’re from the Gold Coast. They couldn’t believe the difference when they arrived there, and they said: look, we’re still getting 30,000 cases a day, but hospitalisations are way down, mortality rates are way down. And it’s as if Freedom Day happened and everything’s back to normal.
And that’s on the back of a few things. Obviously, you know, up to 80 per cent of people being double vaxxed. But they also pointed me towards this home testing, which is supplied by the National Health Service – you go and pick it up at the local pharmacy. And before you got the dinner, before you invite guests to home, everyone checks themselves with a fairly accurate testing regime.
Now, I know that while we’re still lagging behind the UK in terms of double vax, surely to goodness the Government must be looking at these home test kits as we draw closer to the double vax figure that you’re, you’re aiming at? And I heard last week, the TGA has not approved it.
Can we have that fast tracked, surely? So when we get to 75 per cent, or 73.5 in New South Wales for a start, we can have the home test kit so people can check before they go anywhere?
Yes, we are. We’ve approved, these are called rapid antigen tests, there’s, the home tests that they’re using in the UK, we’ve approved 28 of them. And then what I’ve asked the, the TGA to do is to examine now moving that from under the supervision of a health care worker to being able to do that on the home front. And that’s exactly what they’re now doing, that’s the next step.
There hasn’t been the support from some of the state chief health officers to do that. They prefer the what are called the PCR tests – they’re the ones that we all know, there have been 32 million of those done in Australia. But right now, I think, we’ve got that momentum. We’ve approved 28 tests.
They’re being used in workplaces in aged care elsewhere, and then the next, the next frontier is to, to move for approval in the home front, on the home front.
Okay. Given you and I have spoken about the TGA and how slowly they move, almost glacial like, can you give me some sort of guarantee?
It’s good that you’ve approved 28, but I can’t get the GP at a home to test me. I mean, these tests in the UK proving quite successful done by yourself. When will we get that approval for the home testing to be done at home, by yourself? As opposed to calling a GP, come over and give me a home visit? I mean, that’s just silly.
When can we get it done as they’re doing it in the UK?
So, they’ll make a decision. I’ll never pre-empt their approvals, I apologise, that’s, that’s their legal duty. My, my job is to ask their jobs to make the legal decisions off the back of the science. But we’re expecting that within the coming months, if not weeks, and that is an important step forward.
I’d, respectfully, disagree on the pace. These guys worked all through the night, all through the weekend, to batch test the 500,000 Singapore doses. They got there two days early, they’re now being distributed around the country for 500,000 additional Pfizer. They’re now doing the same with the UK doses. So, they’ve been working incredibly hard on that front.
There hadn’t been the support from the state chief health officers for the testing at home, but I think we’ll get there. I’m very confident on that.
Okay. I hope they’re not my, by description as glacial like. But the simple fact of the matter is, we’re about six weeks away from that 73.5 per cent? I’d like to know that on that day people can test at home – and that’s all I’m asking, that’s all I’m asking.
That they make sure it’s done by that period. As we reach, as a nation, 73.5, or 75, or 80 per cent, that we can actually test at home and we’ll be a much freer society because of it.
As we move into the coming phases I am very, very confident that this will be available for Australia. I won’t put a day, that’s not my job.
No. No. But, but you could just, you could lean on them a little bit, Minister. You could just- I know they’re independent, but you could just say: boys and girls, is it’d be really good to have it done on 20 October?
Oh well. Again, I won’t pick a day. I can say, this is absolutely where the nation’s heading.
So, we’ll have not just the workplace tests, not just the PCR tests – the ones where you go to the, the clinics – but the, the home tests are on the way.
Alright. Okay. I appreciate your time, as always. Thanks very much.
Thanks, Ray. Take care, everyone.
Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt.