The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
10 May 2021
Topics: Vaccination rollout, COVID-19 cases
Well welcome everybody to the Commonwealth Department of Health and I’m delighted to be here with Commodore Young today, and we’ve been working this morning, not only with the vaccines teams, but also with the Budget branch in preparation for the Health Budget tomorrow, which will be a very, very significant investment, and I’m at liberty to say, a record investment in the health, safety, aged care of Australians.
In terms of giving the weekly update for the Commonwealth vaccination program, I’d like to begin with a very simple message. This week has been a record number of vaccinations. The vaccination program is accelerating.
Commodore Young will provide additional detail, but it’s suffice to say, that we have, for the first time, passed 402,000 vaccinations. So we’ve passed the 400,000 mark over the course of seven days – a significant increase on previous weeks – and we are now at 2.663 million vaccinations, and each day, every day, those numbers are climbing.
More Australians are coming forward to be vaccinated. More Australians are being vaccinated and that’s greater protection for them and for the nation.
In addition to that, I’ll also mention that there have been, as part of that, 937,938 vaccinations from the states, and we appreciate the work that the states and territories are doing. And at the Commonwealth level – and Eric will give you more detail on this – 1.725 million vaccinations, and that’s obviously being driven by GPs and our aged care providers. So very important developments.
As I say, a record number of vaccinations by a significant amount. The first time we’ve passed 400,000 and that’s before we’ve begun the second dose strategy or the full rollout to the over 50s.
So both of those, I think, are very, very strong indicators that Australians are stepping forward and stepping up.
Now, I would also like to speak briefly about cases. We know that we are in a fortunate position in Australia. The global pandemic continues to rage outside of our borders, and yet, we’ve, again, had zero cases of community transmission today. That’s 81 days this year of zero cases.
And there will always be challenges, and I think it’s very important to understand this, that there will be days where there are cases and we’ve seen them from time to time. Unless we were to completely rule ourselves off from the world with nobody coming in, nobody going out, no trade going out, no trade coming in, then nobody, nobody can guarantee there would be zero cases.
But what we are seeing is with arguably the strongest quarantine system of any in the world, we’ve now had 81 days of zero cases of community transmission. And when there have been cases, we know how to deal with it.
Incredibly strong responses. In recent days, we have seen New South Wales and Western Australia have their challenges. Other states and territories on different occasions will also face the challenges and we’re very confident in every state and territory’s testing and tracing programs.
But these have to be supplemented by these four rings: quarantine, testing, tracing and distancing; and ultimately, we have vaccination to prevent the spread of COVID. So that’s the strategic environment.
Globally, on the same day that we’ve had zero cases in Australia, 695,000 cases worldwide, 10,500 thousand lives lost.
And in India, where there’s such immense distress, over 400,000 cases again, over 391,000 cases on a rolling seven-day average, and agonisingly, 4000 lives lost in the last 24 hours earlier, and over 3800 lives lost a day on a rolling seven-day average.
And so, we have already provided an initial humanitarian provision, an airlift in terms of ventilators and in terms of oxygen concentrators. And as the Prime Minister has previously indicated, we are working with India on their additional requirements.
So, if more is required, more will be provided, and we’re working with India. And we just want to acknowledge that with over the half the world’s cases on a daily basis, that the challenge that that nation is facing is unprecedented, and extraordinary.
It is, sadly, the very worst of the pandemic that we had feared a year ago, coming to pass in a country which is facing enormous challenges. But we’ve made one humanitarian contribution and we’re working with the Indian Government and Indian people on their additional requirements going forward.
I might invite Commodore Young to set out in more detail and then we’re happy to take questions.
Thank you, Minister. Good afternoon. Last week, we had a major boost to our vaccination program, in which we substantively implemented the direction from National Cabinet, which predominantly limited the use of the Pfizer vaccine to those under 50.
Now, that included bringing forward our next phase of vaccinations to those aged 50 and over, while also ensuring that other cohorts were offered the vaccine as soon as possible.
In doing so, as the Minister said, last week was our largest week, with 400,066 vaccines administered.
This week, we are further increasing the allocations of vaccines to states and territories and our general practices, with 130,000 additional doses of Pfizer vaccine going to the states and territories, nearly doubling their allocations, and an additional 270,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine going to primary care.
That will allow us to triple the allocations of doses from 50 to 150 doses, for our nearly 3000 low-volume general practices, and double the allocations from 100 to 200 doses for our 1000 medium-volume practices.
Today I’d like to give my operational update, and again, I’ll do that in three parts: the supply of the vaccine, the distribution of the vaccine, and the administering of the vaccine. In terms of supply, this week, the Therapeutic Goods Administration will conduct sample testing and batch release of 351,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine which arrived onshore at 6:50 this morning.
They will also conduct batch release and sample testing for 1 million doses of the onshore, CSL-produced AstraZeneca vaccine. For the first time this week, CSL producing four batches of AstraZeneca vaccine.
In terms of distribution of the vaccine, last week, we successfully distributed 560,000 doses of the vaccine. Only one out of the many thousands of orders from last week was unable to be completed and it will be completed today.
This week, on the back of the additional allocations and amid growing supplies, we’ll be distributing over 900,000 doses of vaccines, with more than 5000 orders going out across the country. That is our biggest week by far.
So this week, we are focused on delivery and ensuring that every one of those vaccines gets to where it needs to. In short, we’re now providing more vaccines to protect more Australians.
In terms of administering of the vaccine, last week, again as the Minister said, we had our largest week with 402,606 doses of vaccine administered, taking our total now to 2,663,221 doses of vaccine administered.
An analysis of that data indicates that the rate of administration is increasing. Last week, the weekday average was 73,000 doses per day, which was up 7000 doses per day from the week before.
That comes with a growing use of the Pfizer vaccine for those aged under 50, and already a positive uptake in those aged 50 and over.
Last week, 252,000 doses of vaccine were administered through more than 4600 primary care sites across the country. Coupled with the sites from the states and territories, we now have 5200 sites administering vaccines across the country.
For our vaccine workforce service providers, again, as has been the case the last couple of months, our focus continues to be on those most vulnerable in our population, those older Australians in residential aged care facilities.
We’ve now conducted 1909 first dose visits to residential aged care facilities that accounts for 74 per cent of the facilities. We also conducted 1330 second dose visits or 52 per cent of all residential aged care facilities.
This week, we continue to focus on making sure all eligible Australians know how and where to access a vaccine through a combination of targeted communications but also through ongoing updates to the Eligibility Checker and the Vaccine Clinic Finder.
We’ve now had more than 4.3 million visits to the eligibility checker. But every single day, our focus remains on ensuring the vaccines we have are available across the country when and where required to protect those most vulnerable Australians.
Great. Thanks very much. I’m happy to take questions. I’ll start with Claire and Tom, and then work around to Josh and Rachel. And I can see the two of you are sending each other messages.
Minister, you previously said 100 per cent vaccination doesn’t necessarily mean borders will be opened. That seems to have changed over the last few days.
Does this mean that we are getting more information to suggest that Australians who vaccinated will be able to travel more early or in way that is easier than the hotel system? And should that be an incentive to people to get a vaccine?
It should certainly be an incentive to be vaccinated. The position is I think quite clear, and that is we’re developing a roadmap based on three principles for the opening of Australia. And it’s progressive, and that’s the honest answer.
And the point before, which I made some weeks ago, was would you all of a sudden open all the doors immediately or would you keep them all closed immediately? And the answer to neither, is yes.
It’s about progressive opening, and I think that’s very important for hope and understanding in Australia, and that’s based on evidence and the science.
And so the roadmap, as I mentioned yesterday, is built around the three principles. Firstly, around the notion of green lanes, with New Zealand initially where that’s working well, and where each country has to adjust for the circumstances in the other.
We’ve been doing that and doing that without any fuss, and doing it very collaboratively between the two nations. That capacity exists to be expanded to the Pacific, possibly to Singapore, possibly to other countries.
Secondly, there is the vaccination program itself and the spread of vaccination, the growing numbers that we’re seeing.
And then thirdly, what we’re also looking at with regards to the opening of borders is that progressive capacity based on medical advice for those that have been vaccinated to have easier passage out and easier passage in.
Now the circumstances of that will be determined by the global medical evidence. We know that there’s near universal prevention of serious illness, hospitalisation and loss of life. We know there is a high prevention of infection and re-transmission, but clearly not universal.
We’ve seen that in Australia and we’ve seen that worldwide with cases that have come through quarantine, even though people have been vaccinated. So that’s the plan and that’s the program. We’ll provide next steps as we have the medical evidence and advice.
But to your baseline question, is travel an incentive for people to be vaccinated? Absolutely.
Just quickly on aged care funding. The Treasurer said that tomorrow’s Budget tomorrow is going to include more than $10 billion for aged care. The reports of newspapers this morning is going to be around $18 billion. Which one’s correct?
And secondly to that, given the sector has asked for $40 billion over four years, how disappointed is the aged care sector going to be left tomorrow night?
Well, I think it will be a record investment in aged care. And it will also be a record response to any Royal Commission on Australian history.
So the largest investment in aged care and the largest response to any Royal Commission in Australian history. Obviously, the Treasurer has set out the baseline tomorrow, and I won’t pre-empt the final outcomes respectfully, but it’s perfectly appropriate.
Now I will say this, that we called the Royal Commission precisely because we wanted to make a fundamental and material difference.
Australia has seen an understandable change over the course of the last decade. We all know about the ageing population, but what has also changed as the preference for people to stay at home.
And that means more support for those who are in home, but it also means residential care has been facing the challenge that people are coming in later. Sadly, they don’t stay for as long, and they are coming with higher needs, particularly with a much higher proportion of dementia than had previously been the case.
That means higher costs and therefore we have to recognise that with our support for the residential sector. So support for the residential sector, support for the homecare sector, working to a five-year plan across the five pillars of homecare, safety and quality, services and sustainability, workforce, and governance will underpin it. And this will be transformative.
To follow up Claire’s question, these things you’ve been speaking about, and the Prime Minister as well has spoken about in the last few days, around people who have been vaccinated might be able to do some things, or be exempt from certain things. People who aren’t vaccinated might be subject to certain things and won’t be.
I imagine this is all still being worked out, but has this sort of, I guess, some of the concepts people have talked about under a vaccine passport, so called.
Will we get to a point where for instance if you want to board a plane, you have to show your myGov on your phone to the person at the check-in counter?
Will there be these sort of, not two class, but sort of two categories where people who are vaccinated are able to XYZ, and people who aren’t have to do ABC?
Look, it is conceivable that vaccination will make it easier to travel and certainly easier to return. And I have said that for some period now.
And all of our advice of course is that whilst vaccination is not an immunity to receiving the disease, it’s a significant prevention.
What it does do, of course, is give a near universal protection against serious illness, hospitalisation and death. So that’s the safety and protection side. But then there’s the prevention side.
And vaccination, of course, is very important. But as we know, it’s so far has not proven to have been a universal protection against at least contracting the disease, and there are some examples globally of re-transmission.
So the medical advice will determine that, but it is foreseeable that there will be lesser requirements on those who are coming into Australia if they have been vaccinated. And I think that’s a very important incentive, and a point of hope, and a pathway to normalisation.
If I can ask two questions. What is the reason Premiers took for not releasing figures on the second doses, the second doses that have been administered so far?
And would the Federal Government be open to that being released after Friday’s National Cabinet meeting?
No. No problem at all at our end. So they’re discussions for National Cabinet.
But I think of it this way, the AstraZeneca vaccine so far has roughly two-thirds of those administered. I think 66 per cent. Pfizer’s about 34 per cent.
AstraZeneca, as yet, hasn’t yet entered the second dose phase yet other than a few individuals who for their own personal circumstances have had to do that.
And Pfizer, it’s occurring three weeks after the distribution. So there’s no barrier, no prevention at our end. It is not a major issue.
All up, as I say, 2.663 million doses delivered so far. And I think you had a second question?
I did. So will we see a full response to the Royal Commission tomorrow?
Yes. So we’ll be responding in full to the Royal Commission. There are 148 recommendations, I believe 123 were joint recommendations. 25 of them were discordant or split recommendations. As is often the case with the highest court in the land where judges of the greatest capacity will have differing views.
So we are comfortable with the fact that in many cases the commissioners have provided alternatives and we respect that that is the case.
And it’s actually quite constructive. Some have said gee; this was a problem that they did not have absolute unanimity. We actually found it the opposite. We found that that was valuable for us to look at options and by definition there are places where they have very differing views, we have to make some choices.
But I do think all of our three commissioners, Commissioner Pagone, Commissioner Briggs and of course Commissioner Tracey, who has passed, have contributed enormously to our ability to chart a long-term course for aged care.
And this Royal Commission, I think in years to come, will be seen as a fundamental line in the sand for aged care. It’s a moment where we’re saying not only is it about investment but it’s about the deep, profound respect for older Australians. The deep, profound moment of valuing elders, that concept of elders which the Prime Minister has talked about.
And if we can produce not only the support, but respect and care and dignity then I think we will have achieved something.
I’ll take one more from Claire.
Just a logistics question that maybe the Commodore wants to weigh in on as well. New South Wales has obviously just launched its mass vaccination hub; we’ve seen great success with that model in Victoria. Do you see value in other states like Queensland, now that we have this regular supply and they’re getting more doses, opening up those kinds of sites?
And as well New South Wales has opened an expression of interest for 40-49 -year-olds, which is obviously even younger than the cohort you that you’re focusing on. What do you make of that? Is that a good way to address potential leftover Pfizer doses at the end of an expiry period?
I might start and then I might hand to the Minister if he wants to add anything on. But I think we’ve said right from the outset that this has been absolutely a partnership between the states and the Commonwealth. And to borrow a Navy term, it’s all hands on deck to make sure that we get the maximum number of vaccinations in peoples’ arms.
We’re seeing, to great effect, Victoria’s use of a mass vaccination clinic. We’ll be looking very closely in New South Wales this week and I look forward to visiting them later this week.
In terms of your comments around your use of Pfizer, again the use of Pfizer has been recommended for those under 50 and there are plenty of people under 50 in the Phase 1A and 1B bracket.
Yeah, so look I will just add something very briefly. We welcome all of the vaccine outlet options. So the more options the better.
The states are doing a great job and they’re tailoring their approaches to their respective needs and circumstances, and there are larger clinics and smaller clinics.
There are mass vaccination clinics and localised clinics at Commonwealth and at state level. And we’re in the fortunate position with sovereign vaccine manufacturing capability and the supply from AstraZeneca, and the secure supply from Pfizer to be able to accommodate that.
402,000 this week, as you mentioned a record week, obviously we’re still constrained by issues around supply and that sort of thing. At the same time, we’re starting to get the million doses a week from CSL and AstraZeneca.
Would you envision a point where that starts to get more towards half a million a week or a million a week that we start getting to? I mean obviously as the Commodore said, as many as possible but how would you see that sort of ramping up?
So we’d like to see it continuing to increase. I won’t put a figure on it because if I do, if it’s above or below then of course there could be a point of some commentary.
What we are seeing is that the numbers are increasing and we’re seeing Australians come forward. And as Claire asked, there are creative programs to make sure that doses are not left unutilised.
I think that’s a great thing. We always wanted unutilised doses to be used. And we’re seeing Australian creativity. I’ve seen it in the small general practices in Lalor, in the medium to large general practices in Hastings, in my own electorate where I was last week.
They were, both practices, doing an amazing job. And then in some of the larger GP respiratory clinics where I was at Prahran Town Hall only a week and a half ago.
And so that capacity to use the general practice network, supplemented by the states, is allowing us to grow the numbers.
The Pfizer numbers are coming in and growing and they’re a reliable supplier. The AstraZeneca numbers have come in, which has allowed us to provision for the future and then be able to expand.
We’ve tripled the number of doses for general practices that are at the smaller end, from 50-150. And we’ve double the number of doses for the medium volume programs from 100 to 200 a week and that should provide opportunities for as many Australians as possible.
You said they were a reliable supplier. How far in advance are you seeing those dose numbers? Are we going to see that ramp up significantly in the weeks ahead or hover around that 350,000 mark for some time?
So look, to give best guidance, that’s likely to be the case for May. We then have a distribution- they’ve brought forward at our request some of those numbers, and smooth them over two months, and 300,000 a week during June.
Then we will get our distribution figures in the coming weeks for July through to September. But we’re expecting over that period of time, over 7 million for the third quarter of the year but they’ll provide the final figures.
And then in the final quarter we’ll have the 20 million plus the remaining balance of our initial first 20 million.
So we know that final quarter will be where up to, to paraphrase Eric, all hands on deck and we’ll be using every possible distribution channel in that time.
So we’re making progress and every day more people are being protected. I’ll finish with that. And I’m off to visit the Vaccine Operations Centre on and to talk with our budget branch and there are amazing Australians.
You know, when you look at 695,000 cases worldwide in the last 24 hours, zero cases in Australia today. It will be a real privilege to thank everybody who has been involved in the National Incidence Centre and the Vaccine Operations Centre on behalf of the rest of Australia.
Thanks very much.