The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
The Hon. Alan Tudge MP
Minister for Education and Youth
27 August 2021
Topics: Updated COVID-19 Vaccine Advice.
Thanks, everyone, for joining us. I’m obviously joined by the Minister for Education, Alan Tudge; by the Head of Operation COVID Shield, Lieutenant General Frewen; and the Chief Medical Officer of Australia, Professor Paul Kelly.
We’re following up on the Prime Minister’s announcement in relation to the release of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation advice with regards to the vaccination of children, 12- to 15-year-olds, as well as an update on the national rollout.
In particular, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation has considered and recommended that Pfizer be made available to all children 12 to 15 years of age. We are following their advice and following the sequencing that they have suggested. And as a consequence of that, we will open up bookings for vaccinations as of 13 September for all children aged 12 to 15.
This builds on the fact that since 9 August we have opened up vaccinations for immunocompromised children, children with Indigenous heritage, and children in remote communities as well as the addition of those on the NDIS subsequently.
Importantly, what that means is that we’re in a position to ensure that all children and all families who seek their children to be vaccinated between the ages of 12 to 15 will be able to do so this year. We’re in a position to move from the 13th on the basis of the advice, and that’s a carefully sequenced plan.
We’re opening up, as you know, for 16- to 39-year-olds as of Monday, so that’s a very important step. And some states and territories have already done that, and we thank them and recognise that. And we’ll continue to work with all of the states and territories on that front.
In addition to that, if the Australian Technical Advisory Group and the TGA approve the provision of Moderna for 12- to 18-year-olds, we will also make that available.
These vaccines – and General Frewen will go into more detail on this – will be available through the usual channels: in particular, general practices, Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations, Commonwealth vaccination clinics, Moderna through the pharmacies, and in addition to that, as states and territories are in a position, they will make these vaccines available through both state vaccination clinics and, where they choose to run school-based programs, through school-based programs.
So I think that’s an extremely important next step in the plan and the rollout program. In relation to the actual progress of the program, 307,000 vaccinations yesterday. In particular, what we’re seeing is now almost 18.4 million vaccinations nationally that have occurred.
And of note is that primary care has now delivered over 10 million vaccinations. So to our GPs and our pharmacists, to those in Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations and, in particular, to our Commonwealth vaccination clinics, I just want to say thank you. You’re doing an amazing job.
The first doses are at 56 per cent or 11.55 million. There’s a very important point here, which I think we’re now in a position to reflect upon. In order to achieve the 70 per cent mark, we need to have 14.5 million Australians vaccinated – another 3 million Australians to get to the first dose 70 per cent mark.
In order to achieve the 80 per cent mark, we need to have approximately 16.5 million Australians 16 plus vaccinated. So that’s less than 5 million to go from where we are in order to achieve the 80 per cent first dose mark. And of course the second doses follow that.
But that is a sign that we are closing, that these goals are within sight. The capacity to achieve that 80 per cent is real and present, and we see that with what we’ve already been able to do as a nation with regards to our different age groups.
Our over 50s are almost at the 80 per cent mark for first doses – 77.2 per cent. Our over 60s are over that 80 per cent threshold at 82.1 per cent. And the over 70s are well over that threshold at 86.6 per cent. So these things are happening on a grand scale.
In one week, almost 1.9 million vaccinations, and so when you see that we need less than 5 million more first vaccinations to pass that 80 per cent mark, we can see that these goals are attainable, in sight, and closer every single day. So I think those are important signs of hope for Australia.
Well, thanks, Greg. This decision to open up Pfizer to the 15s, for the 12 to 15-year olds is clearly a very important decision. And it really provides that extra protection and peace of mind to kids, to parents, and to teachers, and particularly as we look to reopen schools in New South Wales, the ACT and Victoria, where they have been closed.
And I want to particularly make reference to the ATAGI advice and on the third page where it refers to the fact that vaccinating adolescents is anticipated to reduce disruption to their education by preventing disease and reducing potential transmission and outbreaks in schools.
And it also goes on to say that a reduction in the number and severity of outbreaks resulting in school closures and extensive public health interventions would also likely to reduce disruption to parents and family work with clear economic benefits.
So this will make a significant difference in terms of providing that peace of mind and ensuring that schools can again be reopened and ensure that- and ensuring that those schools which are already open can stay open.
Now, I also note that this becomes available on 13 September for those 12 to 15-year-olds, so I encourage all families to take advantage of that.
It’s a week before school holidays begin in the larger states on the eastern seaboard, just a couple of weeks before the school holidays begin in Western Australia. That also provides, of course, an opportunity to take your child down and get them vaccinated.
I’ll just also, while I’m here, just note that the New South Wales Government has announced their school reopening plan today, and I want to commend the New South Wales Government for that plan. What I think it does is provides confidence and certainty for parents and students, that they can see that light in the horizon, they know when the schools are going to be open, they can forward to that time, and they can plan accordingly.
And of course, I would love to see similar confidence and certainty being able to be provided to Victorian and ACT parents as well, in order to give them that peace of mind that schools can be opened, be opened safely, and for kids to be able to get back to school.
You know, getting back to school is just so important for kids. The mental health consequences of children not being at school has just been devastating.
We know that from the official statistics, in terms of the presentations to whether it be to Headspace centres or to Kids Lifeline, almost the doubling of the number of calls to the Butterfly Foundation, which deal with eating disorders, which are such an insidious condition.
If we can get these schools open again, we do so safely, get the community activities open again, and do that safely, then we can help address some of those mental health issues and, of course, enhance kids’ learning as well.
So I welcome the New South Wales plan and look forward to a similar plan being announced by Victoria.
Thank you, Ministers. Look, momentum in the rollout continues to build. We have additional points of presence coming online, additional GPs administering Pfizer. Soon, we’ll have the pharmacy network administering Moderna as well, and the numbers continue to grow, which is great.
And this inclusion of the 12 to 15-year-olds today is another important step in the program. We have already made arrangements to have 16 to 19-year-olds included from Monday, and of course, previously, we have made Pfizer available to the 12 to 15-year-olds with other either underlying conditions, Indigenous kids, and kids in remote and regional areas.
So these 12 to 15-year-olds now will broadly be able to make bookings from the middle of next month. I encourage everybody to get along. Parents, get your kids booked in, and to have a bit of patience while you get bookings as you can. But we look forward to getting the 12 to 15-year-olds through the door. Thank you.
Okay. And Paul.
Thanks, Minister. So, of course, the situation in Australia is different wherever you’re living today. Here in the ACT, we’re in lockdown, same throughout New South Wales and Victoria, schools are closed. So this is a really important announcement today.
We know that the outbreaks that are occurring in those three jurisdictions do include a proportion of children. The proportion is a bit higher than last year, partly because of the protective effect of vaccination in older cohorts, in adults. So a wonderful decision by ATAGI and we’ll follow through with that plan to vaccinate children in that age group.
An important point to make about children and COVID, whilst the numbers are there and we’re finding cases, most of those are in family clusters. Some of them have been related to school clusters, but almost entirely the disease in children is much less severe than it is in adults. So that’s an important component.
We have seen some hospitalisations in that age group. Most of those have been in New South Wales and most of those have been for social reasons rather than because they are severely sick. But there will be and there has been some more serious cases of COVID in those age groups. So vaccination, very important.
The question might come that why has this been, not been announced earlier? I think it’s been very important that ATAGI has looked at that risk and benefits analysis of vaccination. Minister Tudge has mentioned some of those wider benefits for society.
There has been some concerns about side effects in younger people for mRNA vaccines, particularly related to myocarditis and pericarditis, so the heart muscle and the surrounds of the heart muscle can get some inflammation.
There have been reports from overseas of that happening, particularly in young males. But the ATAGI has done their due diligence in relation to that and have made that decision, as they always do, looking at risk and benefit, and has fallen on the side of benefit. And so we will push ahead based on that advice in rolling out that program for adolescents.
In the meantime, very importantly, the parents and teachers are being protected by that announcement of increasing the availability of Pfizer to that 16 to 39 age group, so they have that secondary effect. This will add to that when it becomes available.
Thank you, Minister.
So look, I’ll start over here with Fi and then work across the room.
Minister, we’re hearing reports from overseas of kids under 12 ending up in ICU. Obviously, that age group can’t be vaccinated. What would you say to parents in Australia if you have kids in that age group who are worried?
Sure. So two things, and then I’ll turn to Paul. The best way to protect your child is to be vaccinated yourself. We know that most children who do develop COVID, catch it within the household environment from an adult. And so the best way to protect your child is to be vaccinated yourself.
Secondly, as we’ve had international evidence, we’ve continued to open up to different age groups, down to 16 year olds, and now down to 12 to 15 year olds. And as there are trials and as there are applications, we’ll consider those.
I’m not aware of any programs that are underway for children under 12. But I think Paul is best placed of anybody in Australia to address that.
Thanks, Minister. So, the Minister’s quite correct. There’s nowhere in the world that has a program for vaccinating children under the age of 12. There are clinical trials right down to a very young age happening in different countries, and we’ll be watching those very carefully.
I spoke to the head of the TGA this week, Professor Skerritt, to ask what the latest on that was, and he affirmed that no regulator in the world has received data in relation to under twelves.
So that we have to rely on that secondary effect. As the minister said, parents, please get vaccinated. These older siblings now from mid-September will also be part of that cocooning effect of protection.
Teachers, please get vaccinated. Anyone who has anything to do with young kids, please get vaccinated. I think I’ve made my point clear. Now’s the time to make that appointment and get that vaccination started.
The ATAGI advice says that 12 to 15 year olds are a lower priority than young adults who might be circulating more in the community and older Australians. And it notes that we still have constrained supplies.
So two questions. Will a 13 September start day be enough to ensure that the 12s to 15s don’t crowd out young adults from getting appointments? And secondly, will you follow their advice and give older Australians a choice of vaccine, so that some AstraZeneca hesitant older people can get Pfizer before a 12 to 15-year-old?
Sure. So two things. Firstly, we have followed ATAGI’s advice, which does explain exactly that sequencing. Yours is a very fair question, and I’ll let General Frewen address the capacity.
But we’ve based the date of the 13th on the ability to ensure that we have the commencement of the 16 to 39-year-old program.
We’ve also already seeing significant vaccinations in 16 to 39-year-olds around the country through different state based programs, through the fact of vocational roles, or through the fact of vulnerability.
The other thing in relation to this, we said from the outset that we have whole of population access to vaccines. We’ve already seen extraordinary levels of vaccination amongst our older Australians. I think I mentioned just before that it’s 77 per cent for the 50 plus, 82 per cent for the 60 plus, and 86.6 per cent. And those figures are increasing daily.
I follow the over 60s and over 70s on a daily basis. The over 60s are increasing by about 0.4 per cent a day. The over 70s are increasing by about 0.3 per cent a day. So what we’re saying is strong continuous demand and we’ll provide more advice on that later.
But we’ve always said it would be whole of population access during the course of the year. So we followed ATAGI advice to the letter.
I don’t know, JJ, if you wanted to add anything.
Sure, Minister. Thanks. So look, we’ve been balancing risk, supply, and the health advice in the prioritisation.
So the Minister’s just spoken to the very good coverage rates we’ve got in the most vulnerable, the over 70s and the over 60s – above 80 per cent first dosing. Since then, we’ve had the Doherty modelling now, which has raised the prominence of the high transmissibility group. So we’ve worked within supply to bring in the 16 to 39-year-olds now as an additional priority group.
As I’ve mentioned, we’ve already focussed on the most vulnerable in the 12, 15-year-olds in relation to the ATAGI advice that was provided on that earlier. And in this sequencing now, we have been balancing the additional points of presence that I’ve spoken about, the additional vaccines that we have coming online. And we have got in October, the very large amounts of Pfizer that are coming.
So bookings from the middle of next month from 13th, we think will sit very well with the available vaccines at that stage. And we’ve deliberately sequenced this to make sure that we do give people the best access in the best and most appropriate sequence.
Just a couple of questions. One on the 12 to 15-year-old age group, do we have any idea if there’s much hesitancy from parents? You obviously have a lot of data regarding hesitancy of different age groups. Do we know how parents are feeling about giving probably 12, 15-year-olds a jab?
And on the school based vaccination programs, we obviously have the September 13 date. Are we expecting schools at that point to be already giving out jabs to kids or is it in a few months? And is that very much between the states and territories and the school or are the feds involved?
Sure. So what we have developed is a youth vaccination program, and the youth vaccination program covers kids from 12 to 19. The 16 to 19s, their eligibility starts from Monday. And across the various jurisdictions, some of those kids have already been getting vaccinated.
So I know in a couple of the states, they’ve been taking year 12s in that 16 to 19 range to state hubs and the like. The- so we’re looking at school kids. We’re looking at kids in care circumstances, out-of-home care sometimes. We’re looking at youth that are in detention. We’re looking at disadvantaged kids who might be homeless and so on. So we’re looking at that broad spectrum.
The school-based programs, we will work in consultation with the states and territories. Of course, when it comes to private and independent schools, that’s a federal responsibility, the states have responsibility for the state school systems.
Some things are already happening. There will be more comprehensive programs, more targeted programs, in reach type programs into some of these facilities. It won’t all start on the 13th though. Some stuff already happening, but you’ll see these programs taking shape over the sort of next month or so.
And on the hesitancy Minister?
I haven’t seen any figures on those.
Just on the COVID outbreak in that community, Wilcannia. There’s no ventilator in that community. What efforts are being made to boost capacity to deal with that outbreak, and do field hospitals need to be set up?
Sure. On field hospital hospitals, Paul.
So firstly, Wilcannia. There was an event, unfortunately a funeral, where there were a lot of, a large proportion of this small town were at this event. So it appears that many people have been affected at that event. So, there’s a lot of work going on in Wilcannia right now, literally door to door engagement with the community.
It’s a fantastic example of collaboration between the New South Wales State Government, the Local Health District, the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and AUSMAT team on the ground right now offering door to door vaccination and or testing. And so all of these things are working in concert.
So, whilst there may not be a ventilator in town, but there are ventilators, of course, in Broken Hill and from Broken Hill to other areas if required, but the most important thing now is testing, tracing, isolation and quarantine and vaccination.
I think Paul’s covered it. Rachel.
Thanks. Minister Tudge said before that vaccinations in 12 to 15 year olds will help disrupt the transmission of COVID in schools. Obviously we’re not going to have vaccinations with kids under the age of 12 for quite some time given the trials, all that sort of thing.
So what sort of a plan is there to keep kids in school into next year when we can’t vaccinate those primary school kids? What other sort of mitigation processes are in place?
And also to Professor Kelly, could you just explain a bit more about the ATAGI process, why it’s taken them a month from the medical regulator approving the vaccine for those kids, for them to decide for it to be used?
Can I say something on a target first and then I’ll turn to Paul and Alan respectively? In terms of ATAGI, when I first announced the approval by the TGA, I indicated that they would do this in two phases. One was for immunocompromised children, and we expected within a week that they would be able to provide that advice and they did.
And then we also indicated the latter half of August was the time frame because they wanted to look at emerging international data. So it’s entirely consistent with the very thing that ATAGI advised us in which I announced just over a month ago.
It’s just might be a bit confusing for people for the medical regulator to say it’s okay but then we have to wait for ATAGI?
It is a double green light process in Australia. Protecting our kids is absolutely fundamental. And at the heart of that is not only the medical work to ensure that it’s safe, but the confidence of the public that the best medical regulators in the world – in our view, the TGA and advisory body ATAGI – have worked together to provide that reassurance.
And that is actually, to go to Sarah’s point, the strongest defence against hesitancy: to know that the best medical regulators in the world have considered this and found it to be safe and effective.
Thanks, minister. Just to explain the difference between TGA and ATAGI, so the TGA advice was based on three things. They always look at the quality of the vaccine itself, the way it’s been manufactured and making sure that that is high quality. They look at effectiveness. Does it work? And finally, safety. So those three things, they got the tick.
The next part of that process for our vaccination program – and this is the same for all vaccinations, not just for COVID vaccinations – ATAGI, our medical expert group that advises the Minister, appointed by the Minister for that task, looks at that risk and benefit equation.
So we’ve got familiar with that in the last few months in relation to other vaccinations and other age groups. And this was an important part of the consideration for children, and particularly in relation to this myocarditis issue. So they’ve been able to look at what’s happened in the US and other places in the real world.
And the other question was about schools and staying safe. Minister, do you want to talk to that or should I start?
You can start if you want.
Yeah. So, in terms of school safety, so the AHPPC, the other expert panel in this space that I chair, did look at schools last year in relation to keeping schools open or when they should close or how they should reopen in relation to the original virus that we were faced with at that time.
We’ve twice this year looked at it again in relation to the Alpha strain, now to the Delta strain. We have some new things to consider now in relation to something that will protect the kids, which is this vaccination program. And so that’s work that is being undertaken at the moment.
I pass to Minister Tudge, if there’s anything else you would like to add.
I’d just simply add that the best way of protecting kids is for all adults to be vaccinated as well. And that’s what the Doherty advice was to prevent the transmission. And it was suggesting we have this minimal disruption once we get to 70 to 80 per cent vaccination rate, and that means that schools can be open then.
For primary aged kids, I’m not aware that a vaccine has been approved for primary age kids anywhere in the world. But I’m aware that, and again, look to the Chief Medical Officer here, that while some primary aged kids can get the virus, the likelihood of them getting very sick is low compared to other segments of the population.
Yeah, but they could still spread to like their parents, their other friends. You know, there’s still a risk of it spreading in primary school, so how are we going to reduce that risk and then keep them open?
And hence, the overall vaccination rate being important, which we’ve been stressing for a very long time now. And we want to get the schools back open again. We have to get the schools back open again, not just so that their learning isn’t disrupted, but so that their social interactions can occur for their mental wellbeing.
I mean, both Greg and I are from Melbourne, and we would get calls into our electorate offices every single day, emails every single day about- from parents who are in distress from young children.
I just had a report this morning from a mother with a nine-year-old child who has now got suicidal thoughts because she hasn’t been able to see her friends for so long and isn’t seeing hope on the horizon.
So we are providing that hope today, and we’ve been providing that hope with the national plan that once we get to that 70 per cent figure, once we get to that 80 per cent figure, that communities can be open again, we can to be back to normal again, where there aren’t the outbreaks.
And then today, with the 12 to 15-year-olds being able to be vaccinated, it’s just that extra peace of mind, for the kids, for the parents and for the teachers.
Just on the 12 to 15-year-olds, appointments open on the 13th of September, when do you expect the first vaccine will actually take place for that age group?
And just picking up on something the General said earlier about state versus private education, should parents be concerned their child might have different access to a vaccine, depending on whether they go to a state school or private school?
Sure. So firstly, in relation to vaccinations, so bookings commence as of the 13th of September and vaccinations can commence as of the 13th of September.
So, what we’ll see is, thanks to the work of J.J. and his team, the work that we’re doing every night, I promise you every night, around the world, we’re in a strong position with the bookings we’ve already got, with the orders we already have, but as the Prime Minister indicated, making very good progress on other bring forwards.
So, Australia is in a strong position with vaccines, not just Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca. AstraZeneca is not recommended for these children in these age groups. But most significantly- and nor is it available, it’s 18 plus.
But most significantly, a large proportion of the population are vaccinated. More vaccine is coming, and therefore the capacity. So it will be as each provider is in a position to make them available. We’re very confident there’ll be large numbers of vaccines available.
On the difference between schools, remembering this, the primary vaccination network is the existing vaccination network: GPs, pharmacies, Commonwealth clinics, state clinics. Do not wait for a school program. If you can have your child vaccinated, get them vaccinated.
Do not wait for a school program because different schools will be at different places. I’ll have, no, I think we’ve pretty much covered it. Up the back.
Craig Kelly, I just want to give you, Professor Kelly, a chance to confirm or refute. Craig Kelly has sent out a series of group emails talking about a ground-breaking study from Oxford University, saying vaccines, while moderating symptoms at first, the jab allows a higher viral load in the nose, which then creates super spreaders. Is there any evidence of those who have been vaccinated becoming super spreaders?
And I would wonder if that’s the case when you’ve got a large vaccinated population in Western Australia and they currently have no cases. So, Professor Kelly, is there any evidence of those who’ve been vaccinated having a higher viral load in the nose and becoming super spreaders, or is it nonsense?
So, I won’t go to that second part, but the first part. Look, I’m not aware of that particular study. I’ll look for it after this.
What I can say, and I’ve said often here, is that there are issues related to infectious diseases and how they’re spread. It’s the way people move about and how they interact. There are people issues, there are virus issues, and there’s the environment in which the virus and people live.
So all of those things are very much related to super spreader events. We’re seeing super spreader events. We have seen those from the beginning. But what the influence of vaccination on that is in terms- and particularly how much virus is in the nose would be potentially part of it but it’s not the major part.
I think the key message I have is vaccination is safe, effective, and really, really important for us in relation to reopening Australia. And as the Minister has said, that’s the hopeful message. We are moving towards that.
Could it be spreading the virus?
Could it be spreading the virus?
It wouldn’t be spreading the virus, no. I mean, the only thing I could imagine just thinking here now is that if people are asymptomatic and they have, and that’s more likely. If you’ve been vaccinated, then it could spread, but I don’t think it’s a reason to not get vaccinated. And so quite the opposite.
I’ll finish on this, because both Paul and J.J, so Paul and J.J. have to brief the Prime Minister before the National Cabinet. The simple answer is that vaccines save lives and protect lives. Vaccines save lives and protect lives. And they are doing that.
And we see that with the dramatically different outcomes in aged care in New South Wales as opposed to Victoria. So, the message to Australians is thank you. Over 18.4 million vaccinations, each one of those is saving lives and protecting lives of the individual and of the community.
And so, as you’re eligible, please come forward to be vaccinated. Do not wait. It can save your life. It can protect your life.
Thank you very much.