The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
17 May 2021
Topics: COVID vaccination program.
Hi everybody and I’m delighted to be here at the Eramosa Family Medical Centre in Somerville joined obviously by Commodore Eric Young, who’s the coordinator at the Vaccine Operation Centre, and in particular here, Tess and Dr Siddiqui. Tess is general practice manager; Dr Siddiqui who’s just administered two vaccines to two of our over 50s, Lisa and Gregory.
And around Australia today, Australians are stepping forward for the over 50s vaccination program. It’s beginning in over 4,000 general practices. It’s providing more access for more Australians for earlier vaccinations, and I think this is a very important and significant step forward.
In particular, I want to acknowledge all of our GPs, but also all of our nurses, all those who are assisting in the vaccination program. As we look at that, I’m pleased to be able to say that our caseload today is zero cases of community transmission Australia wide. That’s an 87th day of zero cases this year.
And I think it is important to look around the world where we saw 572,000 cases yesterday, and agonisingly over 9,900 lives lost. In India alone, we’ve seen over 300,000 cases and an average, over the last seven days, of 340,000 cases, and approximately 4,000 lives lost per day. An almost unimaginable impact.
And I have seen the comments of the Victorian Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, and agree absolutely with Professor Sutton. When we look at jurisdictions such as Singapore and Taiwan, Thailand and South Korea and Japan, which have done so well, so well during the course of the pandemic, but to see outbreaks and lockdowns in those jurisdictions in different ways, shapes and forms, it reminds us that we’re not immune, and that it is so fundamental to protect Australians by giving them the opportunity to be vaccinated and encouraging as many Australians as possible to come forward for vaccination.
Indeed, as part of that, we also have our testing regime and we’ve now passed 17.58 million tests, and I think very hearteningly, over 38,000 tests yesterday. When it comes to the vaccination program, Commodore Young will set that out with the weekly report in greater detail, but I do really want to note these three things.
Firstly, we are now at 3,100,137 vaccinations around the nation. Secondly, we have now had over 436,000 vaccinations in the last week, and that is a significant national record. And to have 436,000 vaccinations last week I think is an important increase, but thirdly, to see a significant national increase is critical.
But now is the opportunity, as we have doubled doses from 100 to 200 in medium-sized clinics and tripled doses from 50 to 150 a week in the smaller clinics as supplies come on board, for more Australians to be vaccinated earlier and I would encourage as many people as possible to come forward. This is your chance and your time to protect yourself and to protect each other and to protect the community.
I’ll invite Commodore Young, then I’ll take questions from those on the phone. Thank you very much.
Thank you, Minister. Good afternoon, ladies and gents. As the Minister said, last week, we had 436,000 doses of vaccine administered across the country, taking our total to over 3.1 million doses administered.
Now that included a record day last Thursday of 83,495 doses administered in a single day. While we often talk about the complexity of the program, not only the logistics but the medical overlay, this milestone provides us with a valuable opportunity to reflect on what it means to get to 3 million, to think about where we’ve come from, and also what we need to do from this point.
It took 47 days to get to our first million doses of vaccine. It took a further 19 days to get to our second million, and it took 17 days to get to our third million doses of vaccine. So despite a significant recalibration of the program, we’ve continued to build capacity and we’ve continued to increase the rate of vaccinations.
It’s also important when we are reflecting to thank those involved in the program across the country – from our suppliers, Pfizer, CSL, and AstraZeneca, our distribution partners, DHL and Linfox, our vaccine service providers, Aspen, International SOS, HCA, and to also thank the thousands of healthcare professionals across the country undertaking vaccinations every single day, additional private and public sector involved in the remainder of the supply chain, and also our counterparts in the Commonwealth and the states and territories that have worked tirelessly together throughout the pandemic for the vaccination program.
And whilst it is a significant milestone, it’s also important for us to think about where we need to go to continue to increase the rate of those vaccinations to protect more Australians.
In terms of the operational update for this week, I’ll do that in three parts: the supply of the vaccine; I’ll talk about the distribution of the vaccine and then administering of the vaccine. In terms of supply, last week, 351,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine and 1,030,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were cleared for distribution.
In the coming days, another 352,170 doses of Pfizer vaccine, which arrived onshore this morning at 11.55am, and another million doses of AstraZeneca produced by CSL onshore will be sample tested and batch released by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
In terms of the administration of the vaccine, last week, more than 958,000 doses of vaccine were distributed across the country. Only three deliveries were unable to be completed on Friday and all three of those will be completed today.
This week, another 750,000 doses of vaccine will be distributed to more than 3,000 locations across the country, and an additional 3,000 deliveries of consumables will also be made. In terms of administration, again, the Minister talked about the number, 436,916 doses were administered last week, taking our total now to 3,100,137 doses administered.
An analysis of the data shows a significant increase in the rate of vaccinations, with our weekday average now up an additional 5,000 from the previous week to now more than 78,000 doses per weekday. This is on the back of increasing administration of Pfizer for those under 50 and ongoing positive uptake in those 50 and over age bracket.
Last week, 255,000 doses of vaccine were administered through primary care from more than 4,680 sites across Australia. And of particular note, the states reached nearly 150,000 doses of vaccines administered for more than 600 sites, significantly increasing their rate of vaccinations and surpassing one million doses through the channel.
In terms of our vaccine workforce providers, we continue to focus on those most at risk in our population, those older Australians in residential aged care facilities. We have now completed more than 2,163 visits, first dose visits, to aged care facilities, accounting for 84 per cent of those facilities, and 1,538 second dose visits, or 60 per cent of residential aged care facilities.
Also, as we now look to complete those aged care facilities, start to ramp up on other vulnerable cohorts including the disability sector, who have now completed 172 visits to disability in-reach residents.
This week, as we have every week, we continue to focus on making sure that all Australians know how and where to access a vaccine. That’s through targeted communications, and last week, more than 80,000 direct messages were sent to people who have previously registered their interest to get vaccinated.
Now, we also have targeted communications across the country, and we continue to update the Eligibility Checker at health.gov.au, with now more than 4.8 million visits to that site. But every day and today, we care to focus on making sure that all vaccines are available across the country, when and where required, to protect our most vulnerable Australians.
Thanks very much to Eric. If I may, I might start with Rosie.
Thanks, Minister. I wanted to ask what advice Paul Kelly gave the Government to underpin the budget assumptions regarding the reopening of the international border in mid-2022?
And also, Scott Morrison has flagged, for the first time yesterday, vaccinated Australians could travel domestically without restrictions once we reach a certain level of herd immunity. Could you explain how this would work in practice and whether states are open to such an approach?
Sure, there are two elements. The Treasury advice reflects the health advice and so it’s consistent with and based upon the health advice. That comes from the Chief Medical Officer as the leader of the government response on the clinical front.
Secondly in terms of domestic travel, obviously at the moment people are able to travel freely unless there is a hot spot or other related issue. Actually, that’s been one of our great successes as we look at jurisdictions such as Singapore and Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Thailand that have done incredibly well, and to see them having outbreaks and in some cases lockdowns is to recognise that this disease continues to find its way around the world.
Now, in terms of our domestic travel, it will of course be a matter for National Cabinet and the states, but the point being, and something that would be under consideration for them and which we would strongly support is that where there are outbreaks or issues relating to state borders, that
there is the potential for those that have been fully vaccinated to be exempt from some of those restrictions.
So, that’s the goal. And we are seeing this in places such as the United States where they have had prodigiously difficult lockdown laws in some states and territories, and I say that with recognition of the absolute need given the catastrophic levels in January of case numbers.
But we are beginning to see now a different regime for those that have been fully vaccinated. And I’ve spoken with friends in America myself, as well as obviously we study very closely what is occurring there, and there is strong support on the advice that I have for those that have been fully vaccinated to have lesser requirements with less imposition when there has been the need to take action.
So, I think that the PM is absolutely in the direction that we’re looking at as a nation. Madura?
Thanks Minister. I just had a question about dose utilisation. I haven’t seen the latest weekly figures, but we see certain states having dose utilisation of about 62 per cent or 56 per cent. We know that the states have been told not to stop because the Federal Government has set aside the second dose.
Have you been pressing the states to fully utilise the doses they have on hand or pressing them, if they cannot use that in their state run programs, to perhaps open things like mass vaccination hubs or finding better ways to efficiently give the jab to people?
Sure. On utilisation I’ll ask Commodore Young to speak. So, the question was about utilisation rates in the states. But we are encouraging all the states and territories whom we believe are universally doing an excellent job to continue to use their vaccines. And where they feel that they have more capacity to open up more channels or where they feel that they are using their capacity to adjust their ordering as they have done, but I will invite Commodore Young on utilisation.
I don’t’ have much more to add than what the Minister already said. What I will say is that we saw utilisation drop slightly through the recalibration of the program. We are now starting to see that increase again and utilisation figures will be released formally this afternoon. We expect those to be around 76 per cent.
Great. Now I will just turn to Josh.
Thank you, Minister. The Disability Royal Commission this morning quoted evidence, sorry, quoted data from the Commonwealth which they said showed only 834 people in disability residential care had had their COVID vaccinations yet.
Could you please first confirm those numbers are correct, and what is the government doing to fix this? The counsel assisting, Kate Eastman, called it an abject failure. Do you agree with that?
As Commodore Young said, now we are moving to the next phase of our in-reach rollout. So, the primary focus has been aged care based on the vulnerability guidance that we’ve had, and now we’re moving the next area.
We should make the point that in a world of zero cases, Australians remain safe, but we have to encourage Australians to be vaccinated. In terms of the figures, the latest figures that I have, so as of midday today, that across disability residents and workers, 999 residents, 1,527 workers, 2,526 on the in-reach supply. And that’s, as Eric said, 172 first visits to facilities, an extra 22 second visits. So, 194 visits to facilities.
Then of course there are not just one but four channels for people to be vaccinated, so you have the in-reach through the providers, these are the provider numbers figures such as HCA and Sonic and Aspen in particular. Secondly you have the in-reach through the primary health network, where PHNs are now beginning that process of providing in-reach for the over 50s.
Thirdly, you have the outreach where the over 50s can of course go to their general practice or to relevant state clinics or GPRCs and the under 50s can now go across the country to the state based Pfizer clinics.
So, all of those have opened up. What we’ve seen is a significant opening up in different states and territories which allows that to accelerate. And also for those numbers to be provided in addition to the ones that I’ve outlined going forward.
So, I will then go to Rachel.
Thanks, Minister. The Prime Minister this morning rubbished Queensland’s alternative quarantine proposal. On the health front, are there any health issues with that proposal? What sort of detail would you need to consider that?
And on the disability residents and workers, given they were in Phase 1A, do you have a planned timeline on when you want you want to see those vaccinations completed?
Sure. Just in terms of the Queensland one, obviously the critical thing in terms of health is to have full details and plans. And it’s clinical governance and oversight.
What has been the difference between successfully keeping the disease out of Australia, it’s not just the numbers of people coming in, but it’s the clinical governance and oversight.
The Howard Springs model, for example, where AUSMAT has been in the lead and now being transferred to the Northern Territory. We’ve seen 99.9 per cent success around the country. We’ve seen 100 per cent success to date in Howard Springs.
So, the critical thing is to have a clinical governance and oversight model that is at the highest levels. Now we’re moving into the next phase with disability. As I’ve said, we have not only the in-reach which is ramping up as the aged care, which was the highest vulnerability and risk group because of age, because of the direct correlation between the capacity for the disease to spread, but also to bring tragic consequences.
And as that is being completed, now those teams are being redeployed into disability in-reach, but also the disability outreach has been opened up for the over 50s that have disability; for the under 50s that have disability, to now attend state Pfizer clinics.
So, that next phase has already commenced, and that’s appropriate. It’s sequenced, it’s an intended sequential process, and it’s based on risk and we are following that advice.
If I may now, Tom.
Thanks, Minister. Just a couple of quick questions if I may. At the end of April, the Government told the Senate COVID committee about 37,000 aged care workers had been vaccinated. What is that figure now, and when you are anticipating that they will all be vaccinated?
And just quickly also on the Pfizer supplies, you flagged that there would be quite a significant expansion on the number of Pfizer doses we were getting during May. How many doses are we now getting from them in each week on average?
Sure. So, in terms of aged care workers, the formal in-reach is 60,914, and that’s through the in-reach programs. In addition to that, there are aged care workers that have also attended state clinics for Pfizer, if they are under 50, and we thank the states. They have the vast bulk of the Pfizer supplies which are being given to them. And aged care workers that are also attending the general practices and the GPRCs, or the state AstraZeneca clinics, where they are in operation for the over 50s.
Now, in terms of the Pfizer supplies, I will ask just Eric to join in.
Sorry, can you ask the question again?
Sorry mate. Just on the Pfizer supplies, the Minister had said recently that there’d be quite a significant expansion of the doses we were getting from Pfizer during May. I was just wondering how many we’re actually receiving from them now on average.
Yeah. So, as per my report last week, we had 351,000 doses of Pfizer. This week, landed on shore this morning, 352,170.
There you go, it’s as precise as that. Claire.
Thanks, Minister. Just picking up on a couple of these disability residential care points. The data that the Royal Commission heard about was dated May 6. Does that mean that in the last 11 days, there’ve only been about an extra 150 disability care residents vaccinated?
Is that considered a ramping up, given there are 26,000 Australians living in residential disability care? And also just picking up on what you are saying about them now going into outreach to get the vaccine. Is the expectation now that Australians living in these facilities go out of them to get the vaccine rather than have the in-reach that they were promised by effectively the middle of this year, which is only next month?
Firstly, it’s about appropriate circumstances. People have very, very different circumstances. Some are very mobile. And just as a local member, one of the things that we are most proud of is when you have independent or semi-independent living, people who are in supported accommodation who are able to move out and about in the community.
That’s a very important part of it. It’s about making sure as many Australians are vaccinated as early as possible. So, it’s ensuring that everybody has access as early as possible. So we move into that next phase. And I think that that’s very important.
I’ve provided the numbers that have been given to me for today, and I’ll let the figures before the Royal Commission speak for themselves. But these are the updated figures that I have as of today. And of course, they’re being updated every day.
And so now we have, as we’ve moved from the in-reach, and I think it’s very important to stress that these are the in-reach figures through the formal government programs. And as we move from the aged care towards completion of that, teams are re-deployed on a mass basis to in-reach for those that aren’t able to move.
But it would be a significant mistake, and indeed a misunderstanding of the capabilities, and many might be offended to think that they are not able to get out and about. That’s their proudest moment.
And so we’re adjusting in a way that makes sure that we can see people be vaccinated at the earliest possible time. And we’ve already completed 194 facility visits, as I say. And as Eric set out, 172 first, 22 second. That side will continue to ramp up, but also the options for people who, in many cases, can be quite mobile. Where they’re not, we’ll come to them.
I’m sorry, Minister. I’m not suggesting that they’re not being able to physically go out is the issue. I just meant that the Government’s prioritised them in Phase 1A and there are now people subsequently down the line who are getting vaccinated before them and that is now a queue that these people have to join.
So it’s a question of are they being prioritised if they do go to an out-reach centre, will they get an appointment first?
Yes, they are. That’s been our work with the GPRCs, with GPs, and with the states and territories. And that’s appropriate.
But I think it’s very important to go back to 7 January. We set out the 1A as an ongoing program. And each of the programs is ongoing. But when we bring additional people on, it’s in line with the capability of the system to manage them. And we certainly want to make sure that we’re vaccinating at scale for the nation. So that’s in the interests of the nation.
And what we’re seeing is zero cases in disability. I think let’s just stop and say zero cases in disability. That’s what we’re seeing in Australia at this point in time. And I think that’s a very important national achievement. So we’re keeping them safe, but we’re also making sure that they’ll be safe going forward.
Now, Stephen, ABC
Thanks, Minister. Are you concerned that at least seven of the 46 people who reported positive COVID tests before last week’s Indian repatriation flight have subsequently tested negative? Do you believe that this is strong circumstantial evidence that there are problems with the lab that was used as part of the testing regime set up by Qantas and the Federal Government? Will you make changes to it?
And secondly, will the 70 people who were bumped from last week’s flight, because of potentially faulty tests, still have to remain in India for at least two weeks under the rules that are imposed by Qantas? Has the government advised Qantas to consider putting them on this week’s flight if they test negative?
Well, obviously, priority for flights rests with those who have already been identified. If they test negative and a negative PCR, and a negative rapid antigen test is required, then obviously, they are the priorities.
But let me step back. I’ve seen some commentary here, and in particular from the Opposition. And I would regard it as dangerous and irresponsible in the extreme for the Opposition to be implying or asserting that we should be uploading positive COVID cases, that we should be importing large numbers of positive COVID cases to Australia.
What have we seen in India? Exactly what we set out to do, and that was to identify the cases in India, so as they are not imported to Australia, rather than to import them and impose the burden on our quarantine system.
My understanding is 46 cases were identified as positive in India. So far, we’ve had one case in Howard Springs. And the course of the disease is such that what we will see is sometimes, during the incubation period, the disease will not show up.
That’s a global phenomenon. And therefore that’s exactly why we have hotel quarantine. We have pre-flight testing around the world and then we have hotel quarantine here. And there are those individuals who, entirely in line with global experience, do develop the disease after the incubation period and test positive.
That is the fundamental reason for hotel quarantine and the 14-day period. What we did see coming out of India previously was a 1,500 per cent rise in the number of cases in Australian hotel quarantine over a four-week period. From 14 in the four weeks of February to 210 in the four weeks of April. So we had a 1,500 per cent increase.
Now, we’ve identified a large number of positive cases before people were allowed to leave for Australia. That’s precisely what we should be doing. Some of those will be at the other end of their journey, nearing the completion of their cases. And we’re always reviewing the process.
But what this process has done is it has prevented cases coming to Australia. If Mr Albanese wants to take a dangerous and irresponsible position and encourage the mass importation of positive COVID cases to Australia, he should be absolutely clear with the Australian people.
My question for him is, do you support the strong, clear National Cabinet and national policy of keeping COVID cases out of Australia? Or is Mr Albanese now arguing that they should bring COVID cases into Australia? Our view is no. He needs to be absolutely clear on his view. And finally, Jade.
Minister- sorry to interrupt, Minister. The question is not whether we put COVID positive patients on the plane. The question is, seven people have got directly contradictory results within two days of the result that they received as part of the process set up by the Government and Qantas.
And on top of that, the lab that was used was stripped of one form of accreditation only last month. So does the Government retain faith in the process? And have you asked Qantas to make any changes to that process?
So Qantas is going through its assessments and what it has done, it’s identified a large number of positive cases that would otherwise have come to Australia. It’s very clear that the testing processes in place prior to us putting in a pause were not revealing a high percentage of COVID cases which were then being revealed in Australia.
And so we’ve taken steps. Our understanding is that the Qantas process is strong and rigorous. But everybody, on every day through the pandemic, is focused on continuous improvement and that’s been our engagement with Qantas and that’s been their engagement with their providers. I understand those providers are well respected in India but I will let others look at that.
But also, it’s very important to understand that somebody may test negative during an incubation period and then become positive. Equally, somebody may test positive and then subsequently become negative as they clear the virus.
Thanks Minister. Just two quick questions – one on the disability commission and the other one on the Budget. So firstly, just on the disability royal commission, we did speak to one mother who has submissions to the commission, her adult son has severe autism so he needs to be sedated to get the vaccination but to be sedated, he needs to be in a controlled environment like a hospital, which just can’t happen at the moment. So what is the solution there because I’m sure she’s not the only mother with a son who requires to be sedated?
And secondly, on the latest Newspoll data, it shows that voters have largely welcomed the Budget. Your reaction to that? You must be pretty happy about that.
Sure. Look, just in terms of the individuals, the providers who have responsibility for the care and the really deeply, profoundly important human work of making sure people in disability accommodation are given all the support they need, they’ll work through individual plans.
You identified one there where I have no doubt that the provider will be able to find a way. And if somebody needs particular transport or care or support for outreach, then that can be provided. If in-reach is appropriate, where the doctors come to them, then that can be provided.
So the coordinator who oversees the care of each individual has that responsibility. And that’s precisely why we are working with those individual providers.
And secondly, in terms of Newspoll, I think what this shows is that Australians see in a global pandemic A) they’re safe. B) by comparison with the rest of the world, our economic outcome is an extraordinary one.
We always strive to do better on both fronts, the safety and the economy. But what we see is that when we look at where I started, you know, a world with hundreds of thousands of cases a day, of thousands and thousands of lives lost, of a nation in India which is struggling and which we’ve now sent 2,000 ventilators to and over 100 oxygen concentrators.
When we look at that world and we see a country that is safe and a country which has more people in employment than prior to the pandemic, we recognise that what we’re doing in Australia is working and working in a way that virtually no other country in the world has matched.
To the best of my knowledge, there’s no other country which has both 87 days of zero cases of community transmission this year and more people in employment in a developed economy than was the case prior to the pandemic.
Safe and prosperous – those are the two things which Australia’s achieved on a basis that virtually no one else has. There’s always more to do. There’s always more in terms of the health and the support for individuals. But of any country in the world, I think we can safely say the vast majority of Australians would rather be here than anywhere else.
Thanks very much. Take care.