The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
29 July 2021
Topics: COVID-19 vaccine rollout, COVID-19 outbreak in NSW.
Good afternoon everybody. Firstly, let me start by congratulating Australia’s swimmers. Gold, silver and bronze abroad.Zack Stubblety-Cook, Kyle Chalmers and the Women’s 4×200 metres relay team. They’ve all done themselves, their families, and their countries proud.
At home, there’s also been a record day with regards to vaccinations. For the first time, we have passed the 200,000 vaccination mark in a single day. We’ve had over 201,400 vaccinations. That’s an extraordinary achievement by our doctors and our nurses, by the Australian public, for coming forward.
All of them together have been playing their part. That means now that we’ve reached almost 11.8 million vaccinations, and so far this week, over 583,000 vaccinations in three days. 583,000 vaccinations in three days. And so what that is seeing is a rapid escalation in the national results. We now have over 3.65 million second doses; we have over 8.13 million first doses. So we’re at 39.5 per cent of Australians, closing on the 40 per cent figure that have had first doses.
So a very significant proportion of the eligible population, 16 plus, that have now stepped forward and been vaccinated. In addition to that, in particular, I would note that with regards to our over 50s, we now have over 64 per cent of over 50s that has been vaccinated, over 71 per cent of over 60s that have been vaccinated, and we have reached the 78 per cent mark for the over 70s.
So that is a very significant degree of protection for the over 70s, for the most vulnerable population. And that has been borne out by the protections we have seen in particular within aged care homes. And I want to thank all those that have been involved in that process.
I also particularly want to acknowledge our GPS. A record day for our GPs. 125,000 doses delivered in primary care across Australia over the last 24 hours. And what that means is that the mass vaccination system that is our general practice network is combining with the vaccine clinics at state and territory level to deliver outcomes and results for the Australian population.
I’d also note two other things that we today will pass 4 million doses having been administered in July. So today will be the day that we pass 4 million doses for this month and 1.4 million doses are currently in transit across Australia for use next week.
Now, of course, there are difficult times in New South Wales and in particular in Sydney at the moment. And our support is absolutely with the people of Sydney. And across Australia we’ve had 261 cases in the last 24 hours. Of course, 247 of those have been locally acquired, 13 from overseas, and one under investigation.
Sadly, of course, there has been one additional life, which has already reported that has been lost. Which means that now we’ve had 13 lives lost in Australia this year, 12 from cases caught in Australia. In terms of hospitalisations, 243 Australians are in hospitalisation, either for clinical or observational reasons with COVID. 58 of those are in ICU, and of those, 23, very concerningly, are on mechanical ventilation. And so we worry about all of them. Obviously, those in ICU and those on ventilation are those that are most at risk.
In terms of support for New South Wales, very significantly, the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, the acting Chief Medical Officer, Professor Michael Kidd, has extended the Commonwealth hotspot currently covering Sydney, covering the Blue Mountains, the Central Coast, and Shellharbour and Wollongong. That has now been extended to August 28. And most significantly, that brings with it an extension of the COVID disaster relief payment and other related payments.
We know that yesterday the Prime Minister indicated that the rate of that would be increased from the August 2, having already been increased once. And at this point in time the advice I have from Linda Reynolds is that over a million claims have now been processed for COVID disaster relief payment, and over $500 million has been paid out.
So those are very important defences and protections to help the people of Sydney, particularly to help those who are struggling and who have issues in paying the bills. These additional payments going forward, and the certainty that they will be there, with Commonwealth support, going through at least until August 28, should make a difference and should allow people to be able to stay at home.
In addition to that, very importantly, the AHPPC, or the medical expert panel, will be holding an emergency meeting this evening to look at additional ways of support, how the other states and territories and the Commonwealth can work with and support New South Wales. They’re doing a herculean job, and they are doing it, though, with the support of the nation.
As part of that, the support for tracing and the capacity of other states and territories and the Commonwealth to assist is on the table. Furthermore, what we are also doing is making sure that the Commonwealth will be expanding our communications to multicultural communities.
Work is being done with the advisory group from the multicultural communities to ensure that we have additional translations, additional materials, additional advertisements going forward, across a variety of platforms, whether it’s online, whether it is in local papers, or whether it is on SBS or other channels.
And then, finally, the last thing I want to emphasise, especially with a prolonged lockdown ahead of so many people in New South Wales, mental health is important. Please do not think that you are alone. Please do not suffer in silence. There are a variety of options, and I want to reaffirm that support is there from, in particular, Beyond Blue, the Beyond Blue coronavirus wellbeing site. So just go to Beyond Blue and click through or, if you would like to call, 1800-512-348. 1800-512-348.
It is okay not to be okay. These lockdowns can be challenging. They can cause people to be alone, isolated, stressed, and it’s a perfectly normal human reaction. And so seeking help, or just call your local doctor, because with telehealth, these options are all available.
So I’m happy to take questions, I’ll start now with, if I may, those on the telephone.
Hi Minister, thanks so much for your time. I just wanted to ask you about the vaccine strategy going forward. Once we do get the population, or most of the population, vaccinated in terms of the boosters, is the medical advice in Australia when it comes to booster shots?
We obviously know that the Government has secured 85 million extra shots, but in the US, for instance, the FDA and the EU watchdog is yet to actually approved the use of a third booster shot?
That’s currently being considered. We’re not expecting that there would be any issues because the Moderna vaccine is going through the late stages of approval, once we have the final data.
Subject to the nature of that data, the TGA expects to be able to make a decision in the coming weeks. The Pfizer vaccine has already been approved in Australia. Novavax is providing continuous information with regards to its results and its clinical trials have been, frankly, outstanding. So we’re not expecting that there would be any issues there.
If any new vaccine were required, then that would be assessed. But at this stage, the planning we have is that it is more likely than not to be a single shot rather than a double shot next year. But we have provisioned in case there are changes in that advice, and we’ve provisioned in case the timeframes are changed, in case it were shorter than a year.
So we’ve prepared for all circumstances, and we have three principal sources of those vaccines. 60 million Pfizer for next year, and 25 million for the year beyond. We have the 15 million Moderna for next year, and we have the 51 million Novavax, with first doses expected in the fourth quarter.
I did see some reports from some who were saying something different. That’s incorrect on all the advice we have. But the Novavax is there and ready to be used as a booster as well.
Thanks, Minister. We’ve seen in Queensland in recent weeks the state has dodged multiple COVID bullets, if you may, while a mask mandate has been in place.
Considering how Queensland has been despite multiple looks incursions of coronavirus, do you think that perhaps New South Wales should have mandated mask wearing outdoors sooner, rather than doing it just in recent times?
Look, I think that New South Wales is following the best health advice that they can and masks have been a significant part of the armoury right across the country for some time now.
I do know for example that last year as a National Cabinet in terms of the Federal Government, the Australian Cabinet we referred through the Chief Medical Officer the questions of mask wearing to the AHPPC and we did seek that advice and we were ultimately fortunate to be able to be given that advice.
So I’ll leave it to each state and territory to comment on their particular measures but masks have been successful, they are successful and they will be an important part of our protections going forward.
Thank you, Minister. I wanted to ask you about Gladys Berejiklian’s comments yesterday. She said we can’t open up unless we have the number of cases close to zero or we have high rates of vaccination. Obviously this is a state decision as you sort of flagged in the last question, but would the Commonwealth be comfortable with New South Wales opening if cases were not at zero but vaccinations were very high?
And a sort of related one if I can be cheeky, the Doherty Institute modelling, have you seen it? Can you tell us what will be in it and will that be released publicly?
Sure. Look, I do agree with the Premier and I think that’s entirely consistent with everything that the Prime Minister has said. And I think there’s very much a common view between health authorities, the New South Wales Government and the Australian Government.
And that is that right now, with the infectiousness of the Delta variant, and we now see regularly over half a million cases a day, again, over 8000 lives lost a day again around the world. And so we do know that this variant has been a game changer, but we still have very considerable hope and defences.
Our case levels, whilst, you know, deeply concerning in New South Wales, given the impact on individuals and lives, are at a vastly different situation to other countries.
So what does that mean? We are in the deep suppression phase at the moment, and that’s to make sure that we’re protecting people and that at the same time, we are allowing, as we’ve seen in the last 24 hours, record vaccinations to occur, which continues to build national protection.
Now, with regards to the Doherty Institute, right now, we’re seeing the early work from them. National Cabinet will begin the process of discussing that tomorrow. And this is absolutely part of our intention once that’s been completed. It’s an iterative process. It’s not an all or nothing. And our goal has always been indeed, the Prime Minister set out that that material, once it’s completed, once it’s been worked through with National Cabinet, would be made public on the very basis that it helps us to understand as a nation our targets, our goals, the things that we can aspire to, which then give us the freedom to live our lives with as much normality as possible.
So these goals are actually very, very important national motivators. And you know, what we have seen – and I do want to emphasise this – in a difficult time, we’ve seen immense hope from 200,000 plus vaccinations in a single day. And this is the first time we’ve done it. But I’m absolutely certain it won’t be the last.
Thank you, Minister. I just wanted to ask about Clive Palmer. He’s, again, direct mailing people with anti-vaccination messaging in response to John Skerritt’s letter asking him to stop spreading misleading information.
Given the TGA says that this poses an unacceptable threat to the health of Australians in the middle of a pandemic, is there not anything that the Government can do about it?
And just in regards to Novavax, given you mentioned our story, you said in January that it would be here as a primary vaccine option. Is that still the case? Will we be getting sufficient doses to allow that to be a primary vaccine option, if for example, something happened with the Pfizer vaccine next week? And how many of those doses will you be receiving in the fourth quarter?
Sure. So firstly, with regards to vaccine misinformation, the TGA has approached Clive Palmer and is reviewing the situation. But let me be clear, he’s not succeeding.
200,000 Australians stepped forward yesterday to be vaccinated. We are also seeing an increase in the intention to be vaccinated. The latest Commonwealth data that we’ve received shows that we are now up to 77 per cent of Australians that are intending to be vaccinated.
And so as time has gone on, the number of people intending to be vaccinated is going up. And after that, there are a significant number who are considering whether or not they will be vaccinated. So I think that that is an important message that those people who believe in vaccination are winning the argument. Those people who are spreading misinformation or anti vax materials are losing the argument.
Now the other element sorry, Sarah?
Just in regards to Novavax, could it still stand as a primary vaccine option as you indicated earlier in the year and how many of those doses will you receive in the fourth quarter?
Sure. So in relation to Novavax, it remains a primary option. Our strategy has been AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, with Novavax as a backup.
The latest advice we have is that subject to approvals, the first shipments are likely to arrive in the last quarter. We don’t have a date or a figure as yet, but that remains the latest advice that we have. And it also has the secondary capacity to be used as a booster. So it serves either of two purposes and indeed, we will have enough of it to be able to do both.
But at the moment, it’s as I’ve said on multiple occasions, it’s there as a primary option, but it’s also there as a booster. We have 51 million doses coming in. The timing will be provided. The company has not shipped to the best of my awareness as yet to anybody. It’s going through the clinical trial phase, but outstanding results on those clinical trials.
I’ll come to those in the room who’ve been very patient.
The New South Wales Police Commissioner today made a formal request to the Federal Government for ADF assistance. That comes after the Premier previously declined an offer.
Sorry, can you just say that again please?
So, the New South Wales Police Commissioner today made a formal request to the Federal Government for ADF assistance, and that comes after the Premier previously declined an offer. Will the Commonwealth consider granting that request?
And can I just ask about, Mark McGowan is also urging the Commonwealth to ramp up vaccination of aged card workers with 22 per cent of their workers in WA are fully vaccinated, which is the lowest rate in the country. Does the Commonwealth also need to step up there?
Sure. In terms of the ADF, the ADF is on offer from the Commonwealth. We would be very happy to support New South Wales and the New South Wales Government on that front.
The ADF played a critical role in Victoria, the boots on the ground. We’re here to help people. They assisted with compliance. They actually provided confidence. And if New South Wales requests the ADF, the Commonwealth will willingly comply.
I don’t normally go into what happened in National Security Committee, but I will say today that one of the things that is well underway, well planned, and which the Prime Minister has been absolutely focused on, is providing ADF support to New South Wales if New South Wales were to request it.
And any request would be absolutely welcomed and supported, and that will provide additional support to the police and additional help for the people of New South Wales, if that’s what New South Wales does.
Pfizer has confirmed with new data that the second jab dropped 96 to 84 per cent after six months, especially in treating the Delta strain. We’ve got 85 million booster shots coming in. How does this latest data affect our rollout, and will we be living under restrictions until the boosters have been administered?
Sure. So, our goal, of course, is- and our expectation increasingly with results like today is to ensure that every Australian who seeks to be vaccinated – and we want as many Australians as possible to take up that option – is vaccinated this year.
That’s right at the core of the National Cabinet and the Prime Minister’s strategy to allow us to move to a second stage and in time to a third stage. And that will guide what happens with regards to restrictions and our capacity to live a much more normal life. Boosters, we’re well prepared.
So the good thing is that having secured the supplies across multiple different fronts – Pfizer, Moderna, Novavax – we’re in a position to be able to run a continuous program. On the timing of that, that’s purely a medical question. And so we’re in that fortunate position. And what it allows us to do is to achieve the outcomes and then to maintain them.
And I will say this: you know, the world will be living with COVID for decades. That’s an honest answer. The world will be living with COVID for decades. It’s a pandemic which has become endemic in many countries.
It’s not at that stage in Australia. But given that the world will be doing- will be living with COVID, vaccination will remain, in all likelihood, an ongoing feature of life in Australia in just the same way as flu vaccination is.
But we manage flu vaccinations. Our flu vaccination rates have gone up in recent years. The latest advice I have is that, extraordinarily, no Australian has died of a recorded flu incident this year. That’s an extraordinary blessing. That’s a combination of vaccinations and all the other measures.
So we can manage this. We can do this as a nation, but we need to keep being vaccinated now, and we need to support New South Wales.
And I will finish with this: if New South Wales were to apply, then for the ADF, we would be very willing to support it.
I’ve just had an indication, I think there’s one more question from James O’Doherty? Two more questions.
Thanks, Minister. James O’Doherty from the Telegraph. Look, there’s a GP in South Western Sydney that has been charging up to $250 for a consultation alongside a COVID vaccine.
Now, I know that the health department says that GPs or clinics can’t charge patients for any cost associated with the administration of a vaccine, but what’s to stop a GP from charging for a consultation alongside the vaccine. Should GPs be doing that?
If that’s not allowed, what are you doing to stop that? And what would you say to people who are being asked for a consultation to get their COVID vaccine?
Well, this is a plain bad behaviour. If we can have the details, we will chase up the GP and if that story is accurate, we’ll throw the book at them.
And the reason why is very simple: the vaccine is free. The consultations for the vaccine are paid to be bulk-billed – in other words, to be free.
We’ve invested very significantly. All up, the total figure is approximately $10 billion in the Australian vaccine rollout, and that includes free vaccines for every Australian and free consultations under Medicare as part of that.
And so if we could have that detail provided to us, we will have it investigated immediately.
And I think there’s one more, is that right? Ade. I apologise, Ade. You were on the list. My fault.
Yeah. Hi, Minister. Okay, thank you. Can you give us any reassurances that once Australia’s vaccination rate increases that we’ll be able to avoid lockdown post-Christmas, given the fact that we know how infectious the Delta strain is and also the PM’s comments that the high vaccination take-up in countries like Singapore and Malta haven’t actually stopped lockdowns occurring?
So, the goal is very clear, and that’s to return as close to normal as possible, as quickly as possible. What we’re doing now in keeping cases out of Australia, always with the threat and challenges we’re seeing in New South Wales now, but by global comparisons, you know, in a world of over 500,000 cases a day, what we’re doing is looked upon as an extraordinary achievement – challenging now in New South Wales.
The people in New South Wales are bearing the weight for all of Australia, and we thank them for that. On the one hand, the suppression, on the other hand, the vaccination, these are the things which will allow us to lead life as normally as possible. And our goal is crystal clear to ensure that by the end of the year, by Christmas, every Australian is given the opportunity to be vaccinated and as many Australians as possible are vaccinated.
And I’ll finish where I started by thanking Australians for coming forward to be vaccinated. Australians in the last 24 hours were vaccinated in record numbers – over 200,000 Australians. But if it’s your turn, please come forward to be vaccinated and if you’re due for your second dose, please don’t hesitate.
Thank you very much.