The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health
19 October 2021
INTERVIEW WITH STEPHEN CENATIEMPO
Topics: COVID-19 treatments; COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
Well, a lot of talk around, of course, about vaccines for the coronavirus at the moment, with the ACT now surpassing the 80 per cent mark of double vaccinated people. Apparently, we’ve cut off the recording of the first dose because we’re over 100 per cent. I don’t know how that happens. But the vaccine rate, while it’s lagging in some states, it is actually starting to ramp up right across the country.
So, we now need to turn our minds to treatment of coronavirus as we accept that we have to live with this virus. There are two new drugs that have been developed to treat COVID 19; 15,000 doses of something called Ronapreve – it’s a rather original name – and half a million doses of Ritonavir have been secured by Australia.
To talk to us more about this, we’re joined by the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.
Minister, good morning.
And good morning, Stephen, how are you?
Very, very well. Now, tell us, what do these drugs do and when will we actually start seeing them administered?
So, there are two different drugs that have been purchased. One is, as you say, Ronapreve, which is a hospital-based IV or intravenous drug. So, there are 15,000 units of that.
That’s what’s called a monoclonal antibody. But to put it this way, it prompts the body’s immune response. It has, on the clinical trials and the early data to date, it reduces the risk of hospitalisation or death by up to 70 per cent in patients with confirmed COVID-19.
Now, it won’t work for all patients, but for those who are perceived as being at risk, it is provided, it’s determined by the medical professionals.
And then the second medicine is a pill, an oral treatment, and there are 500,000 courses of Pfizer’s new oral antiviral drug and that’s expected next year.
The Ronapreve will be arriving this month, and only yesterday it got approval from our Therapeutic Goods Administration.
What is the demand for these going to be, though, given that our vaccination rates are as high as they are?
Well, we do know that what vaccination does is it reduces significantly your risk of getting the disease, but it doesn’t prevent it. And then it reduces again very significantly your risk of serious illness or hospitalisation.
The best-case study, 47,000 people in New South Wales and the ACT between the ages of 16, and I believe 65, have been diagnosed. Of those, only four per cent have been fully vaccinated. And of those sadly that went on to pass away, only one per cent was fully vaccinated.
And so, the vaccine is your frontline. But these treatments also work to help reduce the risk of hospitalisation or death for those who are vaccinated or unvaccinated. And so, it’s a very important part of the process that we have. As we do with every condition, we are always looking for prevention or treatment.
Minister, the vaccine rollout was criticised in the early stages, but we’ve now surpassed many other countries with where we’re at at the moment. But there are still some states lagging behind, and by my assessment, they’re the ones that tried to take pot shots at the Federal Government and deliberately derail the vaccine rollout.
What are you doing to try and ramp that up?
So, look, we’re working with the populations, in particular, I suspect you’re referring to Queensland and WA, and it’s very important messaging that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are. The expectation is that at some stage, everybody will be exposed to the disease.
That doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily get it, but everybody will be exposed to the disease. And I think that is, you know, an honest assessment.
And so, we have to prepare and say nobody’s immune. Everybody is ultimately at risk and you protect yourself and your family.
Now, we’re starting to see some good pick up in Queensland and especially in WA. The WA vaccination rate has significantly outstripped Queensland in the last two weeks.
Now, we want everybody everywhere to take the vaccine. And, you know, as a country, today we’ll pass 85 per cent of people with first doses. The ACT, as you say, is world leading now.
And this week, by the end of this week, we’ll pass 70 per cent of people with double doses or fully vaccinated amongst the eligible population of 16 plus. So, these are huge steps forward.
So, we’re working with the public, we’re working with the states, we’re working with the territories, and working with the medical professionals in particular to focus on those who might be disconnected from the health system.
Well, I want to touch on that because there was concern about the uptake of the vaccines within Indigenous communities. And we know that in Indigenous communities, there’s a considerable rate of underlying health conditions that might exacerbate the problem.
Are you happy with the way that’s progressing at the moment?
Look, so as of yesterday, we were at 59 per cent uptake in Indigenous communities and it’s quite binary. You can have a community with a very high uptake or a community where there’s been a very high level of resistance.
This is where going deep with Indigenous leadership on what’s the message that will work in each of these communities is important. Many of these communities have felt because our Indigenous rate of loss of life is one sixth of the national rate and our national rate’s one of the three lowest in the OECD or of the key 38 economies, that they were by definition, safe in their community.
And it’s a hard message to say we’ve done really well, but nobody is safe or immune. And so, we’re seeing that pick up. In the last two weeks, the Indigenous rate has accelerated. Everybody has had access.
In terms of Indigenous Australia, the advice I have is I think that there are literally about 300 people around the country who so far have not been in areas with access, and they’re being covered off immediately.
And so, you know, that is a whole of nation access, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to go back and back and back to build that confidence.
Yeah. Well, we certainly seem to be getting there. Greg Hunt, I appreciate your time this morning.
Thanks very much. Take care, everybody. And well done Canberra and the ACT, you’re literally a world leader in vaccination. It’s an amazing achievement.
Indeed. Thanks for your time this morning, Minister.
Greg Hunt, the Federal Health Minister.