The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
11 November 2021
Topics: COVID-19 vaccine update; vaccine for five to 11 year olds.
Good morning everybody. Firstly, on Remembrance Day, thank you to our extraordinary servicemen and women who have protected Australia in so many circumstances and continue to do so.
Whatever our challenge is during the course of the last two years throughout the pandemic, what we saw in wartime, what we see in theatres of conflict is far greater than anything that we’ve faced in our peacetime and pandemic challenges.
In terms of that pandemic challenge, today’s a milestone day. During the course of today, we will pass 90 per cent first vaccinations across the country.
About 1PM in a country general practice, in an Indigenous medical clinic, in a suburban pharmacy, someone will be the Australian who ticks us over 90 per cent of 16 plus who have a vaccination.
And what that has meant is that we have been protecting Australians and that’s an extraordinary achievement, and I want to thank and honour all of those who have contributed. So today is a milestone day in protecting Australia and reaching a 90 per cent vaccination rate during the course of today.
Critically, we’ve also passed 37 million vaccinations. We’re now with 154,000 vaccinations yesterday at 37.23 million vaccinations, almost 37 and a quarter of a million vaccinations.
Other fundamentally important steps occurring for the next stage and the next stage, the TGA has given what’s called provisional determination, which is the rapid assessment process for the Moderna for six to 11 year olds that will now go through the assessment process.
So, today was about ensuring that there was the rapid assessment process which has been approved, and now the assessment itself occurs.
And that will occur with a full and thorough but rapid assessment to potentially provide a second vaccine if both Pfizer and Moderna are approved for five to 11 in the case of Pfizer, six to 11 in the case of Moderna.
Significantly, the Moderna booster application is well advanced and under consideration by the TGA. That will occur over the coming weeks. I won’t pre-empt the outcome all the time. That’s a matter for the TGA, but I want to thank our regulators and all of the people who have been assisting them.
In terms of significant progress over and above the 90 per cent mark today, we know that yesterday we’ve got to 89.9 per cent of first doses and today we will pass the 90 per cent mark. We’re at 81.9 per cent second doses, or almost 17 million people around the country who’ve had those second doses. So that’s a huge achievement.
In terms of boosters, we’ve already passed 200,000 Australians that have had a third dose or a booster. In fact, we’re at 221,690 doses of boosters, which is providing additional protection. Exactly as the name says, a boost.
And then importantly, a very significant milestone. Every state and territory, all eight states and territories have now passed 80 per cent first doses. Four states and territories have passed 90 per cent first doses. Four states and territories are between 80 and 90 per cent first doses, with Queensland now having crossed that mark.
And very significantly, four of those states and territories have also passed 80 per cent of second doses, with the ACT and New South Wales being above 90 per cent second doses.
So, what we’re seeing is a country on track to having over 90 per cent of the population double dosed, one of the highest rates in the world, one of the most recently vaccinated populations, and one of the first countries in the world after Israel to have a whole of nation booster program.
So I want to thank everybody involved for all of those things. And perhaps most significantly, our over 70s are over 99 per cent vaccinated. The latest figures are an extraordinary 99.9 per cent first vaccinations for our Australian over 70s; surely one of the highest rates in the world.
With that, I want to again thank everybody on Remembrance Day for their service, but thank all of those Australians who have come forward for the more than 37 million vaccinations and today the 90 per cent first dose vaccination rate. Happy to take questions. I’ll start with Rachel.
Thanks Minister. I know that the TGA is still considering the application from Moderna, but will pharmacies likely be able to give younger children the Moderna shot?
And just secondly, yesterday the AHPPC recommended mandatory vaccinations for home care and disability support workers. Is that likely to be discussed at national cabinet and do you see those recommendations being adopted nationally?
Sure. Look, firstly, in terms of Modena, that’s obviously subject to the TGA and the ATAGI, or the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.
But if they say yes, then pharmacies are already administering vaccines for 12 plus for Moderna, and increasingly we have pharmacies administering Pfizer for 12 plus. And so they’re well equipped, they’re doing a great job.
Our pharmacies have delivered almost two million vaccines in Australia, and so I want to thank them. They’ve played a huge role.
And whether it’s a pharmacy or a GP or an Indigenous medical centre today that delivers that dose, that tips us over 90 per cent along with the state clinics, along with the Commonwealth vaccination clinics, they’ve all played their part.
In terms of the AHPPC recommendations on disability and home care, they were taken before the national cabinet on Friday and released after having been endorsed by the national cabinet.
And so they’re in place and our position has been very clear that we have seen that there were limited circumstances – aged care and disability – where we had workers with vulnerable personnel, the Commonwealth would be supporting a mandatory vaccination program. Beyond that, it’s a matter for the states and others.
But this was an AHPPC process which went through national cabinet and the results of that were obviously published.
I would note that all three of those sectors, the home care, the Commonwealth Home Support and disability are now well over 80 per cent first dose. They’re in the middle 80 per cent range.
And so it’s not a significant distance to travel, but it is a recommendation that the health professionals had, and which the Commonwealth has recognised that in order to protect vulnerable Australians with disability and vulnerable Australians who are elderly and infirm, that we would have that additional support.
Morning Minister, thanks very much for your time on Remembrance Day.
Just a couple of things. Michael Gunner in the Northern Territory has had a bit of a spray saying he can’t save lives without Commonwealth data of 29 of the Northern Territory communities, claiming that data hasn’t been provided by the Commonwealth yet – if not, why not?
And secondly, on childhood vaccinations, is it a done deal? Are we going to be having five to 11 year olds vaccinated? Or do you share some of the concerns that the data out of the US is limited at the moment?
Sure. So firstly, in terms of Indigenous, everything we have we’ve shared with the Northern Territory, and there are some things that we would be grateful to receive from them.
But everything that the Commonwealth has in terms of data from the Northern Territory has been shared and I know that we’ve been working with the NT to ensure that they have an accurate representation.
But frankly, to be fair, what we’ve been seeing is the fastest rates of first vaccination in the country have been coming out of the NT, and the fastest rates by demographic, or a particular section of the country, have been coming out of Indigenous Australia over the recent weeks.
So, the NT has been picking up its game and I particularly want to acknowledge Minister Fyles, Minister Natasha Fyles, the Health Minister. She has led their Indigenous vaccination program, and it’s unusual to reach across party lines like this, but frankly, she’s done a great job and ignored some of the politics from above, and I want to thank her and say that she’s been leading the way.
And our Indigenous first dose rate is now past the two thirds mark, 67.4 per cent. Every single person who would want a vaccine has had that capacity to access in some way, shape or form, on all the advice I have but we’re going back and back and back, and working with the NT and WA where the rates are lower, and Queensland; in those three jurisdictions, the Indigenous rates are lower, but we’re driving them up. And we’re going, in some places, house to house.
But particular thanks to Minister Fyles who’s shown the way in the NT on how to do this, how to do this in a bi-partisan way, in a Commonwealth-state way, in a way which is only focused on one thing, and that is saving Indigenous lives.
So, then, Claire?
Sorry, Minister, just on the child vaccination…
Could you turn to that?
Yep. So, childhood vaccination. Look, my expectation is that we will have childhood vaccination in Australia. But it’s been very clear from the medical authorities that they want to see full assessment.
So ATAGI, led by the principal advisor to the Victorian Premier in terms of vaccinations, the great and extraordinary Professor Allen Cheng, not just one of Australia’s but one of the world’s leading vaccination experts, in terms of vaccination effectiveness and vaccination safety, has said that they want to see the data out of the United States.
The initial work done by Pfizer was on a small cohort, a cohort of some few thousands, not- the broader numbers that are sometimes in place for a vaccination program. So they want to see the real world data, but we’re in that very fortunate position that that will come through over the coming weeks between now and Christmas.
And we have the best, I think, absolutely, the best medical regulator in the world in the TGA. And in ATAGI, a peerless advisory group. And so their advice will be determined by them, we’ll follow that medical advice. I am confident that we will have childhood vaccination in Australia because we went to 12 to 15 and we were able to implement that immediately.
Now they’re considering five to 11 for Pfizer, six to 11 for Moderna, but they do not want to cut corners on children’s safety. And I endorse that approach.
But having said that, you know, we’re confident that this will be successful but we’re committed to making sure that that focus on safety is absolute, the fastest possible assessment but without cutting any corners on safety for our children.
Thanks Minister. Just following up on that bit. The implication there is that by granting this emergency approval, the states has cut corners. Are we not in the same position we were a year ago where Australia was being, you know, quite slow to approve the initial vaccines?
There are parents who are very concerned about the risk of COVID to their children. Are they just going to have to sit and wait it out until the end of the year?
And just if I can on international travel, when will the Government give some hard dates for when we can expect other cohorts, students, workers, even tourists, to be allowed into Australia given we’re now above 80 per cent double dose?
Sure. Just in terms of childhood vaccination, as far as I’m aware, there’s only one country in the world that’s given an approval and that’s an emergency approval for the Pfizer, for the five to 11s and none yet in terms of Moderna.
And so that’s the United States. It’s been done off a small cohort. It’s a matter for them. I know that Europe, the UK, Australia, are all looking very closely at that.
I did speak on Sunday night with Sir Andrew Pollard, who is the Head of the Oxford Vaccines Group, and along with Dame Sarah Gilbert, was one of the absolutely fundamental people with regards to the development of AstraZeneca and has provided critical advice to the UK, just to get a different perspective.
His view is that it was the right thing. He was adamant that it was the right thing to carefully consider the safety and the efficacy with regards to children, and there are mixed views amongst medical professionals.
That’s why we have a medical regulator and we have an advisory board, so they will work as quickly as possible. And they will work, though, to make sure that there are no corners cut in ensuring the safety and protection of our children.
So I’m confident there’ll be a children’s vaccine program in Australia. But I am also of the view that the international advice, the domestic advice, the medical advice, Professor Allen Cheng, the principal vaccines adviser to the Victorian Government, the- it was until very recently the Deputy Chief Health Officer for Victoria, the co-chair of ATAGI has been clear that their requirement is they want to see the additional advice out of the United States, of the real world, and that was very much the UK view.
We were one of the first countries in the world to advance to the 12 to 15s. Once we had- and we moved immediately after we had that long before the UK. And so we’re moving quickly, but always following that medical advice.
On international travel, as you know, we’ve opened up for double vaccinated Australians to leave the country and return to the country.
The next stages, we’ve already announced that we’re working with Singapore and that there’s a Singapore bubble that’s being created. And then, finally- obviously we have that with New Zealand. And then finally, we’ll open up more generally with regards to students and critical workers. That time is being considered off the basis of medical advice by the National Security Committee. And then, again, the next stage beyond that is to have those open borders in relation to tourists and people coming and going from Australia on a double vaccinated basis.
And so, we’ll obviously consider those over the course of the coming weeks. And as with everything, you know, as we look at this pandemic, as with everything, what we’ve done is set out the program, but then make the decisions based on the advice and the evidence as they progress.
And when we step back, we look at the fact that of all the countries in the world, you know, here we are within the OECD, we were one of the three lowest death rates for 2021, three lowest rates for loss of life across the entire pandemic.
And what Australians have done in getting us to this 90 per cent rate today, they’ve stepped forward, they’ve protected each other, they’ve shown the spirit of Australia, and I want to thank them and honour them.
Take care everybody.