The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
14 November 2021
Topics: New cancer treatment; COVID-19 booster shots; vaccination rates.
Good Morning everyone. I’m joined today by Kirsten Pilatti, the CEO of the Breast Cancer Network of Australia, and Pia who’s a local breast cancer survivor and thriver, here from the Mornington Peninsula.
Our message is very simple: if you haven’t had your booster and you’re due for a booster, please come forward for a booster. And if you’re an immunocompromised patient, someone who’s had cancer or who is going on the cancer journey, that third dose is actually more than a booster, it’s an important third dose.
And Pia is off today to get her third dose as somebody who’s been on a breast cancer journey. She’s been supported by the PBS as part of that, she’s had wonderful local surgeons and radiotherapy and it’s just great to see her.
It turns out that I used to play cricket with her husband, I think he bowled me out.
But just to have that real sense of hope, on the one hand in relation to cancer treatments, on the other hand in relation to COVID treatments. The message is really simple, as the Frankie J Holden new video today says: Get a jab. And whether that’s a first jab, a second jab or a third jab, get a jab.
Now, in terms of support for cancer patients, I am delighted that we’re in a position to announce that as of the first of December there will be a breakthrough new medicine for intestinal cancers, for stomach cancers.
Qinlock will support, it’s only a small number of patients with rare intestinal cancers, but it’s 50 patients a year who would otherwise not have access to a breakthrough new medicine for intestinal or stomach cancer.
It would cost $179,000 a year, beyond the reach of virtually every Australian family. Just as the PBS has been able to support Pia on her journey, this will support 50 Australian families a year, and it can save their lives, protect their lives, extend their lives. Now it will be available for as little as $6.60.
As part of this work of COVID and non-COVID health, I’m also really pleased that we’re launching the National Diabetes Plan today, and it’s focused on many things, but above all else it’s focused on a simple message: prevention, prevention, prevention.
Our diet, our lifestyles, these can have a huge impact on the rate of attaining diabetes in Australia. It’s a 10 year plan, it’s been developed in conjunction with Diabetes Australia, with the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, and also with the amazing James Muecke, our immediate past Australian of the Year. James has contributed many things, but this may be one of his most important.
Then, let me just speak about COVID briefly. We’ve now reached over 37.6 million doses in Australia. That’s 90.4 per cent for first doses, 83 per cent for second doses, and significantly we’ve passed over 250,000 third doses or booster doses.
And for those who are immunocompromised, it might be with cancer, it might be with other health conditions, or, importantly, for pregnant mums, it is critical to get that third jab. We really want you to do that. It can help protect you and protect those that you love.
The last thing is that all of our states and territories are now above 80 per cent first dose. All of our states and territories other than Western Australia are now above 70 per cent second dose, or fully vaccinated. Don’t worry, we’ll get there, within the next 48 hours, and then the whole of the nation will have each state and territory above that 70 per cent range.
As a country, we’re above the 80 per cent double dosed and 90 per cent single dosed. But we can go further, we can achieve an even higher rate.
Right now, we have one of the lowest rates of loss of life in the world, we have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, one of the most recently vaccinated populations, and now we are one of the first nations in the world after Israel to have commenced a whole of nation booster program.
And so, with that, I’ll invite Kirsten Pilatti, the CEO of the Breast Cancer Network of Australia, to talk about the importance of the third jab for our immunocompromised. Kirsten.
Thank you, Minister, and it is so fantastic to hear those vaccination rates right across Australia. But today I want to send a very direct message to anyone, whether you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer or any other cancers, or as the Minister said, any other immuno-suppressed.
We need you to see the third dose as a very important part of your treatment, not as a booster, but as part of your protection, and if someone in your life has been diagnosed with a chronic disease or is in treatment, it is just as essential that you play the role of getting the third dose or the second dose, or the first, to help not only protect yourself, but to protect those people in your life that you love.
But it’s so much more important to hear from the people who are affected by cancer. So please welcome Pia to tell her story.
So Pia, maybe if you share with us your breast cancer experience. And then you’re about to go and receive your third dose, so talk a bit about how you feel about that.
Thank you Kirsten, great to be here.
I was diagnosed in May 2019 and that was two years ago, and it was diagnosed with a multi-follicle diagnosis, and the more they found- the more they looked, the more they found.
And I ended up having a mastectomy, went into chemotherapy and then radiotherapy. And after radiotherapy, or just at radiotherapy, that’s when COVID hit.
And it was a really quite confusing time, I didn’t know was I immunocompromised. My oncologist said: Your bloods look really well, but there’s nothing we can really measure for immunocompromised.
So, when the vaccine came along I took the first vaccine, and later on I was told that the third one was appropriate, and I didn’t- I wanted to know the best. I got really quite confused about how long do I wait, because I had it in July, and I thought: I’ll just wait, the science keeps changing, I wanted to do the best for my body.
But I’ve been told that having the jab is quite important, so I’m going to get that done today. So thank you for allowing that for me, Kirsten.
Look, happy to take your questions. I’ll start with Rob Scott from Channel 7.
Thank you, Minister, can you hear me?
Thanks very much, Minister. First of all, on younger children, we read today that the booster shots for 5 to 11 year olds not likely until January next year. Is that correct? And are the doses in country or can you get them here by that date?
And do you expect those jabs for those younger children to be compulsory if they want to hop on a plane and travel, as is the case with other Australians?
Firstly, in terms of supply, we’re fully supplied, and that will arrive to coincide with availability and approval, so that they are the freshest doses rather than those that might expire because they’ve not been able to use. So, that’s always the way it works with the company.
So we’re actually fully supplied. We’re in the very fortunate position of having ensured that we have the capacity for some of the earliest doses in the world for children.
We followed the medical advice, the advice that Professor Alan Cheng, the Principal Advisor to the Victorian Premier on vaccines, as head of the ATAGI or the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, is that they want to see the data out of the real world vaccinations in the United States.
At this stage Pfizer has only been approved for emergency use in one country, in the US, off a small number of children in clinical trials, a few thousand. We’ll see very large numbers over the coming weeks, and that will provide the Australian advisers and medical regulator with the data that they seek.
So it’s actually only, really, a matter of six to seven weeks before that data will be in place, and we’re on track to be able to commence early with 5 to 11 year olds if the medical authorities approve it.
The most likely guidance from Professor Alan Cheng is that they will be looking at the end of December for a final decision, and commencement in early January. But again, as ever, it’s dependent on the medical advice. But when they’re ready, we’ve got the doses and we’re ready.
In terms of flights, we’ll just continue to follow the medical advice. The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee or AHPPC, the committee of state and territory Chief Health Officers along with the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, will provide advice on that.
G’day, Minister, thanks for taking my question. My query is about that 95 per cent target that a lot of people are now talking about.
We’re seeing, the experience in New South Wales certainly, as we’re approaching 95 per cent for first doses, it’s slowing down dramatically. Do you think it’s realistic that as a nation we are going to hit 95 per cent fully vaccinated?
And a follow-up to that: I wonder when we will start measuring our performance on a broader scale, be it 12 plus or for the entire population, rather than 16 plus? I know some other countries are doing that. Is there a plan to start measuring us in a different way to 16 plus?
Sure. Firstly in terms of overall vaccination rates, as you say, we’re over 90 per cent now. The final level will depend on what happens with the campaigns that the Western Australian government and the Queensland are leading to encourage people in their own states.
In New South Wales, 94 per cent, incredible. In our aged care workforce, over 99.8 per cent. For our over-70s, over 99 per cent. So we know we can hit very high rates, and our goal is very clear: as many as possible.
We want every eligible Australian who doesn’t have a medical exemption to come forward and we want to continue to encourage them. We don’t want to set a floor or a ceiling. We want to continue to encourage.
The 90 per cent mark has beaten the expectations of virtually every commentator, and we’ll continue to encourage Australian’s. The Frankie J Holden Get a Jab latest call to arms is about bringing more and more people to be vaccinated.
And to see Pia, today, having her third dose as a potentially immune-compromised person, I think is a great message and symbol to all Australians.
Now, there was one other element, I apologise Dan.
Yeah Minister I’m just wondering, when will Australia start measuring the uptake of the vaccine at the percentage of the broader population? Or at least, the 12 plus population?
So, we publish at figures both fore 16+ and for 12+. The 12+ figures are published every day. As of today, it is 72.2 per cent for 12-15 year olds. For the 16+ it’s 90.4 per cent in terms of first doses. The Doherty modelling was framed in terms of national coverage for 16+ at 80 per cent double-dose being required to provide that protection. That’s already been achieved.
That national coverage has already been achieved. But just looking at the figures here, we’ve had 896,000 doses for- first doses, for 12-15 year olds, and over 718,000 second doses. So, between the two, that’s an additional 1.6 million doses. Over and above, the Doherty threshold that was required to open up for Australia.
So, what the 12-15 year olds have done, is protect themselves, but they’ve given the national an additional 1.6 million doses above the 80 per cent threshold that Doherty was looking for. And at fact, we’re at 83 per cent for that 16+ population. But both figures are published daily.
Thanks Minister. Just on boosters, Australia has a benefit of learning about the need for them and the efficacy of- all the waning efficacy of other vaccines, because other countries have been further ahead.
Is it possible then that we will know whether or not we need to have ongoing boosters by the time this current rollout ends because countries like Israel and the US are ahead on that front? Is there something there that we’re likely to learn from them?
And as well, just what’s happening with Australia’s broader vaccine supply? Are we expecting a Novavax approval this year or early next year? And are we placing any long term orders to continually have supplies of COVID vaccine in years to come?
Sure. I’ll talk about subsequent doses, and the next round of approvals. So, in terms of subsequent doses, the world is learning as to whether or not there are more doses that will be required beyond the third shot, or the booster.
At this stage, there’s no advice that that is required. But we’ve acquired the supplies if that is the case.
So, we have 60 million doses that have already been purchased of Pfizer for next year, and another 25 million for the subsequent year. We have an additional 10 million doses of Moderna that we have that are there. So we have two orders of 15 and 10 million doses of Moderna. And then, on top of that, we have 51 million doses of the Novavax. Plus, the AstraZeneca that’s in hand.
So, we’ve got adequate supply for every circumstance if additional boosters are needed. I spoke with Sir Andrew Pollard a week ago today, from the Oxford Vaccines Group, along with Dame Sarah Gilbert, one of the leaders in that program.
And his view is that the world doesn’t know yet, but it was more likely than not, that we may require updates for older or immune-compromised Australians, and people around the world. But they were not there yet as to whether or not the general population would require it.
At this stage, leaning slightly towards the fact that for now, the booster, the third shot, would be what’s required for the general population. But not ruling out that there may be, subsequently, whether it’s annual or now, that possibility is receded for the general population on his advice and that’s the same as our Australian medical advice, to something which may be every few years if another shot’s required at all. So, the history of the future vaccines is to be written, but we’re prepared for all the contingencies.
On subsequent approvals, we’re expecting an application from Novavax in the very near future. I was speaking with their representative in Australia recently. They are committed to bringing forward that application.
I understand they’ve only made it in one country so far, on the best of my advice, I’m happy for that to be updated, but I’m aware of a UK application which is now being commenced. Others are expected very shortly.
Australia was named by the country as in that next round after they’ve made their initial UK and the TGA, Therapeutic Goods Administration, is ready to roll as soon as they receive the Novavax data.
We think that whilst we don’t want anybody to wait, we do think, which goes to the earlier questions about higher vaccination rates, that there are some people who are- will change their current position if they have access to Novavax.
All of the vaccines are good, but this may provide additional support for a cohort of people who might want to take that and for their own personal reasons have not been willing to take the Pfizer, the Moderna, or the AstraZeneca.
Thanks Minister. Look, I wanted to ask you when you will be revoking the Biosecurity Act for the cruise ship, given our high vaccination rate, as whether or not you’ve had any industry discussion with the cruise ship sector regarding in the past week?
Sure. So, under the Biosecurity Act, we currently have four determinations for outbound travellers, for inbound travellers, for cruise ships, and for retail.
I have now revoked the duty free, or international airport retail order. So, as of today, duty free is back on. So, that biosecurity determination order has been repealed.
The next one that we’re reviewing is cruise ships. We are working with the states and territories and the chief health officers. You need a double green light to restart the cruise ship industry, and that is a Commonwealth order, which is lifted.
We’re reviewing that right now, precisely on the basis of the 90 per cent plus first vaccination rate and the 83 per cent second vaccination rate. And so, I expect to be able to make a decision on cruise ships in the coming weeks once we’ve got the medical information but it will require at least one state or territory to partner on that.
But we’re working with a number of states and territories, we’ll let them make their own considerations. But, we would like to see cruising back on before Christmas.
Thanks Minister. Firstly, I just wanted to ask you about reports that return travellers owe the New South Wales more than $102 million in quarantine- quarantine hotel fees, with WA, Queensland, and the Northern Territory owing the bulk of that. Will the Federal Government pitch in to help there?
And then the second question I had, was Australia’s one of several countries being urged by Glasgow to adopt stronger 2030 emissions targets. Will you update your target, and will you take it to the next election to seek endorsement from the public?
Sure. So, look, firstly in terms of hotel quarantine. I apologise, I’m not aware of those details, that’s a matter between states, so I don’t have those details. But that system has helped protect Australia, and it’s now progressively coming to an end as we see in New South Wales, Victoria, and the ACT, and other states and territories will make their determinations that as they see fit.
But with a highly vaccinated population, double vaccinated Australians, returning, are free to come. And soon enough, through the Singapore and New Zealand bubbles, we have students and others, who will be able to come in particular workforce, we’ll open that up to other critical workers and to students more broadly. And then to double vaccinated tourists.
So, effectively opening that border to everybody. That’s the pathway to come on that front.
In terms of Glasgow, we welcome the result. It’s an important step. Another step of progress for the world. For us, we’ve already set out our target, but what we have done is set out the fact that we’re on track to meet and beat our targets.
So, when you think of the world, since 2005, India is over 80 per cent higher in terms of their emissions, China 70 per cent higher, South Korea over 30 per cent higher. Canada is minus 1 per cent on 2005. New Zealand’s minus 4 per cent. The OECD minus seven, Japan minus 10, the United States minus 13-14 per cent, and Australia is at 20.8 per cent. Almost entirely comparable to the UK at minus 20- to the EU at minus 21 per cent.
And so, we’re now on track. Our projections that have been set by the Government in our plan, our 2050 net zero plan, are very clear that we’re on track to meet and beat our targets and to achieve a minus 35 per cent outcome.
So, we set that out, we’re one of the countries in the world that’s achieved the greatest reductions in emissions since 2005. And I think that that’s something that Australians should be really proud of.
They’ve done this through their actions at home. Whether it’s solar panels, through their own choices, through the way in which businesses have modernised. All of these things have occurred.
So, today is an important day. We’ve seen an important global agreement. The next step that we’ve seen huge progress in Australia, we’re on the cusp of every state and territory passing the 70 per cent double dose mark.
As a nation we’re at 83 per cent double dosed, as a nation we’re at over 90 per cent single dose. And critically, the message from Kirstin and Pia, is you can help protect Australia and protect yourself, if you’re due for a third dose, please come forward.
Thank you everybody, take care.