Doorstop - Castle Hill, NSW

14 Mar 2021
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us. Well, it's been three weeks since I was here with Paul Kelly, of course, the Chief Medical Officer, and Alison, the Chief Nurse, as well as Jane Malysiak and the many others who I’ve joined again for our second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. It's great to see everybody looking well after their last vaccination and just like last time, they've done a great job here, like so many have been doing over these last three weeks as we've commenced the vaccination program right across Australia.

Over the past three weeks, more than 150,000 doses have been delivered around the country. As of this morning, in addition, which will be an improvement on some of the figures you'll see from the Secretary of Department of Health, Professor Murphy, in a few moments time, 437 aged care facilities have had the vaccination program come to those facilities, and more than 40,000 residents also have been vaccinated with their first dose of those vaccines. As we said early on, we hope to achieve early on about 80,000 vaccinations a week and that's what we have been able to achieve in this just this third week of the rollout of the vaccines and Professor Murphy will take you in a lot more detail this morning about where we see that going into the future and how that's performed over these past three weeks. We remain on track for the first doses of all of the vaccines, for all of those who are seeking them in Australia, by that I mean the AstraZeneca and the Pfizer vaccines, to be available for those who want in Australia by the end of October. That timetable and that goal remains absolutely, as we set it out in early mid February, where we said it was the first doses that we believe we could achieve, having been administered by that time of the end of October. We said we'd get underway with the vaccinations in mid to late February, and that's exactly what we did and here we are again today, three weeks later for the second of those vaccinations for that first, first, very first group led by Jane Malysiak three weeks ago.

We've always had a very clear plan for the rollout and that strategy was developed last year. It went through both the Federal Cabinet and including through the National Security Committee of Cabinet, but also was endorsed by the National Cabinet. It's been worked through by experts over a long period of time and it ensured that we also get the full cooperation of states and territories, which we are very grateful for. This is a program where the Commonwealth is investing more than $6 billion. $6 billion. This is a huge vaccination program and it is well and truly underway. We are now moving into the phase where we've gone from a careful start, as you would expect us to do, to protect the health and safety of Australians receiving that vaccine. And remember, in this first phase we are dealing with the most vulnerable of Australians. We're dealing with Australians in aged care facilities, Australians living with a disability. Of course, we're also vaccinating those working in the front line in our quarantine and ICUs and that program continues to be rolled out by the states and territories, together with the Commonwealth Government.

This plan is expert prepared and evidence-led on the medical evidence. And this is a critical point, on vaccinations just like a year ago. Let's think back a year ago. It was a year ago we established the National Cabinet. It was a year ago that we put in place so many of the mechanisms that were so successful that has put Australia in the position where we are leading the world out of the global pandemic and out of the global recession that the pandemic caused. And those decisions then also were the subject of much discussion, much criticism, much debate. There are a lot of others who offered opinions on how these things should run. And that's understandable in a country like Australia. That is the Australian way and I've always welcomed that. But I want to assure you that the program we’re rolling out is led by our experts who not only have the qualifications to do this, but they also have the responsibility. They have the responsibility for making this work and I think that's a critical factor. Everyone can have a view, but only some are actually responsible for putting these matters into their proper context and ensuring that the program is professionally and expertly delivered. And particularly, I want to thank Professor Murphy and Professor Kelly, who Chair and Deputy Chair our vaccination taskforce and with all of their counterparts around the states and territories for the fine work that they've been doing. So a careful start and we're ramping up.

One of the things you'll see from Professor Murphy's presentation today that the critical factor in controlling the pace of the vaccination program is the supply and production of vaccines. That is the critical swing factor and that is what we've been seeking to provide regular updates on. In these early phases, that has obviously been impacted by the fact that we'd anticipated on our contracted arrangements to have some 3.8 million vaccines imported from overseas. That's been 700,000. Now, I can tell you with what's been going on in Europe, in particular, that to have been successful in getting 700,000, that has been quite a Herculean effort and that has enabled us to get the program underway and to build the bridge to the place where we are producing our own vaccines. And that day is not very far away now. The events and the disruption we've seen in the supply chains from overseas has only confirmed the wisdom of a decision that we took last August. We knew there'd be vulnerabilities around international supply chains. We contracted for the best, but we planned for the worst. And planning for the worst meant that we needed our own domestic capability to produce vaccines here in Australia. Now, I can't tell you how important that decision has been. That is the game changer. That is the game saver for Australia. If we had been right now solely reliant on the international importation of vaccines, then we would not have a vaccination program in this country this year. But because we took the decision as a Government, backed it up with the support of taxpayers and the arrangements we went into with CSL, with the long lead times to gear up their production and to make that a reality, not just a plan, it is happening. Those vaccines are being produced in Melbourne. They are being filled and finished, as they call it, in that process to ensure that they are ready to go. And that decision has been critical for Australia's vaccination sovereignty as we go throughout the course of this very important year.

Now, what I'll be asking Professor Murphy to do, along with Greg Hunt as Health Minister, Health and Aged Care Minister, he'll return to those duties on Monday. He's been discharged from hospital and we're looking forward to his return on Monday, is starting Monday week, he and the Secretary of Health will provide in a format like this, an update to media on the progress of the vaccination program. What that will do for you as we show and you'll see some from the presentation today where we are at with supply, where we're at with distribution, where we're at with dealing with the various events and disruptions that can occur in any program and how we're responding to meet those. And so I'll leave it to the Secretary to go through those issues with you in just a few moments time.

In addition to all of that, what we're also announcing today is the very successful COVID-19 health response national arrangements we put in place with the states and territories early on. It was about this time last year, I think from memory Brendan. Those arrangements will be extended at a further cost of some $1.1 billion. Now, they're the arrangements that deal with the 50/50 cost sharing of our COVID-related health responses of states and territories and that has already meant that the Commonwealth has provided an additional $5 billion over and above what we would normally have provided to the states and territories in supporting them to handle their end of the of the COVID-19 health response. We're also extending further out the telehealth services to the 30th of June of this year, and we'll consider that further in the months ahead. So far, more than 51 million telehealth services have been delivered to 13 million patients at a cost of some $2.6 billion. This has been a life-saving program, the telehealth program, and particularly where it relates to issues like mental health. In addition, the support for rapid pathology testing of tracing will continue. Some 14.5 million COVID tests have been concluded to date. The GP-led respiratory clinics has delivered more than one million consultations and 934,600 COVID-19 tests. That is continuing. Culturally safe testing, treatment, electronic prescription services, some $3.8 million electronic prescription repeats to patients were issued and almost 1.7 million are dispensed to date. The delivery of home medicine services across the country, more than 2.1 million services already. The continued dispensing emergency measure, some 289,000 people have had at least one supply of medicine so far. Of course, then there's the important mental health supports beyond telehealth. Beyond Blue Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing support service to meet ongoing demand. These will continue. The aged care workforce surge support capability and financial support for aged care facilities affected by COVID-19, they will continue as well.

So, you know, we're not out of this yet. We've been very careful about that. We are moving into the sort of post-emergency phase, particularly economically from the end of this month, which is the same time that the COVID-19 response with the vaccination program ramps up to a whole new level. But fully understanding that until we get through this vaccination program and further developments elsewhere around the world, then our COVID-19 health response continues. And there's a further $1.1 billion today to expend that, to extend those arrangements that have been so incredibly successful over the course of the past year.

Now, the other thing we're announcing today is we continue to need to counter the impacts of misinformation and we will be ramping up our campaign against misinformation. Australians can get all their questions answered on the Health website to find out where they want and need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine. The new material on the website is called ‘Is it true?’ . That will help answer questions people have about the vaccine and to respond to vaccine misinformation that they have heard. I've said all along, go to the authorised sources of information when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine. Don't go to Dr Google, don't go to Dr Facebook. Don't go to any of those places where everyone can have an opinion but no one has responsibility. You've got to go to the people who have the responsibility for the opinions that they put forward when it comes to medical advice. They have to have the professional qualifications and they have to be backed by the medical evidence. And then I think the overlay of having the actual medical responsibility in advising me as Prime Minister and Greg Hunt as Health and Aged Care Minister, that adds an added weight, I think to the care and professionalism that is needed to provide that advice. So Australians, you'll have access to that as well through our official websites and the way we put that information into the public arena. And I think that will be very, very important.

But three weeks down from the start on this program, it has been a careful staff. We have dealt with the significant disruptions to supply. We got under way when we said we would. We said we'd get to around about 80,000 of those in those initial phases a week and we have and we will see that ramp up from here. But the thing, I must say, I'm most pleased about is that I'm so pleased that last August we took that decision, knowing that in COVID-19 you can never take anything for granted and you have to make your own certainty when it comes to COVID-19 and Australia has been doing that. And by ensuring that we have a domestic capability to produce our vaccines, more than 50 million doses being produced here in Australia, that gives us the options we need to manage this. That gives us the options to respond to this, and that includes helping out our Pacific and South East Asian neighbours. You would have noted the announcement we made as part of the Quad the other night, which involves Australia's support as part of a Quad effort to be supporting vaccines in the region. We're also forward leaning on addressing the issues in the South West Pacific and particularly in Papua New Guinea, where we have some genuine concerns and we will be working very closely with them to help our Pacific family in their time of need as well. I'm going to hand to Professor Murphy and he's going to take you through a presentation. Thank you, Brendan. Good to have Alex Hawke here with me, too.

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: Thanks, Prime Minister. Back to my old slide shows. The Prime Minister was reflecting on a year ago. Reflecting on a year ago, there's no one in the world who would have thought we would have two highly successful vaccines being rolled out just in early 2021. Nobody thought in their wildest dreams we would have really, really good vaccines for perhaps the end of this year and even then, we weren't sure how effective they were. As the Prime Minister said, we have invested over $6 billion and we have three main vaccines in our current armamentarium. The Novavax vaccine will not be coming until much later in this year and won't have a major part in our first vaccination program. But we have the Pfizer vaccine coming in steady but relatively small supplies from overseas and will continue to come all year. And the AstraZeneca vaccine, 53.8 million doses, but 50 of those produced in Australia.

Again, I want to say something very important. Both vaccines on the real world data that we have seen from the UK are equally efficacious. They are both very, very good vaccines that prevent severe disease, hospitalisation in all age groups, including the elderly. So I want to again kill off any sort of narrative that there might be a suggestion that one is better than the other. The data simply do not support that. We also have invested in the COVAX facility, that gives us access to an extra 25 million vaccines from a variety of companies should we need to do so in the future for Australian boosters or for overseas use. So we're in a very good position. It's a very substantial investment of over $3 billion in vaccines. Next slide, please.

So just to remind, this is the stuff that my colleague, Professor Kelly, normally shows where our epidemiology is at the moment. We are in a very good place. We have very little community transmission. As you can see, very, very few cases. Our testing numbers are pretty good. Nearly all the cases we're seeing in Australia at the moment are overseas acquired. But of course, our biggest risk remains hotel quarantine, border quarantine. That's where the cases are. And that's where, of course, we will continue to see occasional episodes of transmission like we saw with a doctor in Queensland from yesterday. And that vindicates our approach to prioritise those border and quarantine and frontline health care workers in the first vaccination with the Pfizer vaccine. So we are in a good place in Australia. We don't have a burning platform. Next slide, please.

That is in stark contrast to most of the rest of the world where the vaccination program is being run out with an emergency use authorisation in many countries in late last year because they had an uncontrolled pandemic with overwhelmed hospitals, people dying, and huge community transmission. We are so fortunate that we don't have that burning platform in Australia. Of course, we want to vaccinate as quickly as possible, but our strategy is careful, measured, ramp up to protect our population. We are not out there trying to control an uncontrolled pandemic. Next slide, please.

So this is our strategy and this slide you have all seen many times before. We have, under the advice of our ATAGI, our expert medical group that have provided these prioritisations, a series of phases. But it's a dynamic program. It's a program that needs to move according to logistics, according to vaccine supply, and according to the circumstances it moved from week to week. So, for example, we have brought forward the start of 1B by vaccinating health care workers in 1B earlier than we thought because there was some spare capacity in some of the state and territory clinics. The program will be regularly reassessed and modified. We will start each phase where it suits and where we have vaccine supply. As the Prime Minister has said, the overwhelming determining factor of the pace and scale of the rollout is vaccine supply. Next slide, please.

These are the data from close of business on Friday. As the Prime Minister said, we've got more data from yesterday's vaccinations and you can see that we've vaccinated over 160,000 people in Australia, over 430 now residential aged care and disability facilities with over 40,000 residents, a huge and complex logistic exercise in sending teams. And I'm pleased to see Sonic Healthcare here today. They've been leading some of those teams that have been going into these facilities and very respectfully and carefully vaccinating these frail Australians. The states have also, they had the prioritisation of most of the early vaccine. We had the early Pfizer vaccines were the first ones we got and we gave 84 per cent of that vaccine to the states so that they could cover their quarantine and border workers and their frontline health care workers. So they have been progressively ramping up.

And if you can see on the next slide, we can see how the ramp up has occurred. The ramp up has occurred more quickly in the states and territories because we, as I said, we gave them 84 percent of all of that initial Pfizer doses so that they could prioritise those most at risk. Over 90 per cent of the doses we allocated to the residential aged care and disability sector have now been administered. And that sector, we are increasingly ramping up the teams. Our friends at Sonic and Aspen and Healthcare Australia are increasing their team size and going into many more facilities every week. Next slide.

This is a really important slide because, as the Prime Minister said, we did expect to get 3.8 million doses of AstraZeneca and even a little bit more Pfizer than we got early on in February and March. So in February, we had expected to see a line somewhere up there. But in fact, we only got 300,000 of the 3.8 million in February and then another 400,000 of AstraZeneca from overseas has only just arrived recently. So we're 3.1 million doses short of AstraZeneca vaccine from what we thought we would have in that initial ramp up. And again, we also thought we might have had a little bit more Pfizer. But Pfizer have worked incredibly hard. They're a wonderful company. They have been delivering on a regular weekly allocation. But again, it is subject to all of those international supply constraint considerations that the Prime Minister talked about. The critical thing is you'll see that - go back again, sorry, back to that, just go right back to that slide - that's it. So the critical thing you can see here is that whilst the Pfizer doses continue in the dark blue, it has steadily increased throughout the year. But it’s a steady, predicted increase, and they will keep those Pfizer clinics going. Once we finish the aged care and disability care residents, all of that Pfizer doses will go to the states and territories to run their Pfizer hubs, and they will keep vaccinating health care workers initially, emergency workers, and then they will vaccinate the broader population. The international AstraZeneca we are not confident, we haven't factored in getting any more of that. But the big thing is this grey line. This is our locally, domestically produced from CSL in partnership with AstraZeneca. The vaccine that is being made in Parkville is being put in bottles as we speak and will be delivered not the coming week, but the week after. And that is a really, really exciting moment for us and you can see that ramps up rapidly to right throughout the year. We have factored in the potential availability of some Novavax later in the year, but we're not counting on that in our vaccination strategy. Next slide, please.

So just to give you an idea of how that first week distribution has gone, as I mentioned in the early month, we put just about everything into state and territory Pfizer clinics. And so they have had most of the vaccine that was available in that first month because we all agreed at National Cabinet that those border workers and quarantine workers and frontline health care workers with the highest risk of getting in contact with someone with COVID. So that's been a very important rollout. And of course, we are also rolling out aged care and disability care, and we're ramping that up progressively, safely and carefully. Starting on the 22nd of March, tomorrow week, the very exciting primary care rollout starts. It starts gently and rapidly increases over the course of several weeks and you'll see that the primary care rollout is going to be the mainstay of the general population in 1B, the over 70s and over 80s that we will start vaccinating from tomorrow week in general practice and like in the respiratory clinic associated with where we are now, they will be getting going in the next week. So that gives you a real idea of where the vaccines are going and where they will be going in coming weeks. Next slide, please.

This is an important slide. This is showing how we are planned and are on track to deliver our vaccines over the course of this year. The bottom line is where we think current expected guaranteed supply will take us. And as the Prime Minister said, that will take us to everybody getting their first dose by the end of October. There will be some, a small proportion of people, who will still get second doses after that, but they are protected with that first dose. It is highly protective, that first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine. Of course, that is dependent on things going absolutely to plan. It is dependent on the logistics working with the aged care rollout. It's dependent on that supply issues. If CSL have any issues with the rollout of the supply of vaccine, if there were any issues with a vaccine that might where the science or the evidence change, we might have to change our strategy, if there were any safety concerns that might occur from around the world. Of course, those things are subject to provisos and that might shift. But on our current plans, we're pretty confident we can get those first doses into the arms of everybody by the end of October.

Now, we are actively working in the top line with CSL to increase their production, to increase the number of doses that they can churn out from above a million a week to a bigger number so that we can roll out more. Because we've got lots of people who want to give more vaccines. As you'll see in the general practice clinics and the GP respiratory clinics, they want to do more. The states and territories want to do more. The critical limitation at the moment is simply vaccine supply. So if we can achieve that, we will get first doses in everyone's arm in September and essentially get second doses in arms for everyone in October and we're working hard to try and achieve that. We are working as hard as we can with the available vaccine supply that we have, and CSL are doing a mammoth job. They're running their fill and finish line 24 hours a day and we've said that's good, but go harder. So we're working very hard with them and there are fantastic Australian company. Next slide, please.

I want to talk a bit about the really, really exciting primary care vaccination rollout that's starting tomorrow week. This is a huge logistic exercise. This is showing you the number of points of vaccination sites that will be rolled out. They include a number of general practises doing 400 doses a week and a big number that will do 100 doses a week, an even bigger number that will only start off with 50 doses a week. Some GP respiratory clinics like the one next door to here who will be doing a bigger number and very importantly, our Aboriginal community controlled health sector, which is, which is going to be ramped up too. So well over a thousand sites rolled out in week one, progressively ramped up to get right through to week eight to 15. We will have over 5,000 points of presence. Logistics teams are starting to roll out AstraZeneca to over a thousand points of presence next week to get them ready for that start on Monday week. A huge logistical challenge. But we're so excited that just about every general practice that has been notified that they can be in week one have already signed up and they've already ordered their vaccines. They're on board. They're excited. Practices like this one we're in now want to be part of this. This is a very exciting initiative because they know their patients. They can contact their elderly patients and bring them in for a vaccine and environment when they can be safe and looked after. If we go into the next slide.

This just shows you the sort of doses that will be rolled out to general practice over this period. Again, that ramps up progressively. Now, you'll note that even though we're producing a million doses from CSL, we're not allocating that out because, of course, we have to hold back second doses. And when we get into second doses from this end point here, there's a huge ramp up and we have to ramp up even more points of presence. We will be rolling out additional general practice sites, community pharmacies, and if we have enough vaccine, more mass vaccination clinics in partnership with the states and territories. So we'll be ramping up after a month to about half a million doses a week in general practice. But of course, we're continuing 230,000 doses in state and territory clinics, aged care in-reach until we finish that and disability care in-reach. This is a hugely complex and dynamic process, but we and our general practitioners and the nurses and all the teams who work in these clinics are really excited about doing it. Next slide please.

I just want to show you the first few weeks trajectory of how we started off and just show you that it’s very much the same as every other country. These other countries that started with emergency use late last year or in January. Everyone starts gently and ramps up, exactly what we're doing, exactly what New Zealand is doing. We are ramping up as fast as we have vaccine and we are ramping up in the safest and most effective way that we can. This program is working well. It's a really exciting partnership with the states and territories, with the health care community, and it's very exciting to be able to talk now about the next exciting phase of for 1B and the primary care rollout. Next and last slide, I think.

Just to remind people that this is the source of advice, and that's the 1800 number for those who aren't or don't want to go on the Internet can get advice. And later, if you're wondering about when you can get access to vaccines in your general practice later this week on that website, you can be directed to a site. At the moment, you can find it when you're eligible and later on, you'll be able to find out which clinics have vaccines and how to arrange a booking and the same can be done through the 1800 number. I’ll stop there. Thank you, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: I might ask you to stay with me here, Brendan, at the lectern. Happy to take questions. Let's take questions on the presentation, on the vaccination rollout and, as usual, we can move to other matters later. 

JOURNALIST: Given that we've got so much or so many doses of the domestic AstraZeneca vaccine coming down the track soon, is there no virtue in bringing forward that first dose rollout to get more people the first jab sooner rather than withholding a significant amount of supply for the second dose, which won't start until week 16 of the of the vaccination rollout?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: So it is really important that we're not holding back, we’re only holding back a proportion, holding back half like we did with Pfizer. Because Pfizer has a three week vaccination. We're holding back less than 40 percent of AstraZeneca. But the critical thing is if you don't hold back second doses and in fact, the very first week of the GP rollout, we're rolling out everything we've got. And that's international AstraZeneca because the domestic won't be available until the second week. But if we don't hold back second doses, we might come to a point where we don't have any more first doses to give. We want to keep growing the first dose population. We've got to be able to account for those second doses. Very careful modelling, happy to share it with you. But we are keeping back only the necessary contingency to make sure we have second doses available. And we also have to keep back contingency. For example, we may need to help a neighbouring country with an outbreak. If we had an outbreak, another outbreak, heaven help us, in one of our states from hotel quarantine, we'd want to have vaccine that we can roll out and we would use that second dose contingency for that.

JOURNALIST: On the graph, Prime Minister, it looked like not all of the first doses will be administered by October?


PRIME MINISTER: That's not true. It actually says that all are done by the end of October. That’s what the graph actually shows.

JOURNALIST: So just to clarify, so you’ve received your second dose today. So can you still say, according to that graph, that most Australians, when will they receive their second dose?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: Most Australians will have received it by the end of October. But there will be some, and if we get the extra AstraZeneca production from CSL, I imagine all Australians will potentially have achieved it by the end of October. But if we keep on the more conservative production line, there will be a small proportion of Australians that will be protected already by their first dose by the end of October but will need to come back over coming weeks to get their second dose.

PRIME MINISTER: And it is important because that chart also indicated that where we can boost supply, then it is potentially possible for us to bring forward, I think the achievement of the first dose goal. Equally, we are being very clear with you, just like we did back in February. That supply disruptions, unforeseen events, issues with logistics, major breakouts in our region, anything like this can of course impact on what we’re talking about. That is the nature of COVID-19. It writes its own rules, as I've said before, and the best we can do is create as much certainty in our own country as we possibly can and that's exactly what we're doing. But this is not an undertaking, particularly of such great scale, that is not free of risk. Of course, there is risk because, of course, there are disruptive events. And that's why I think it's very important that we've been so granular in what we've shared with you today and we will continue to share that on a weekly basis so we can update you. This is a dynamic process. It's also a dynamic process with the states. Premier Berejiklian and I were discussing this just on Friday, that there is a capacity in New South Wales and I'm sure many other states that where, for example, when we're going through, as Brendan and I discussed the last few days with the GP rollout, you know, we'll be sending doses to those who can get through them. Now, those who are actually meeting the targets and ensuring the doses are administered. Now, where there's spare capacity in state systems, well, we’ll send doses there too on a dynamic basis to ensure that we are keeping pace. But it's not a race. It's not a competition. It's about the health and safety of Australians.

JOURNALIST: There is a new case, apparently, speaking of dynamic, there is a new case that’s emerged of COVID in a worker at Sydney hotel quarantine. Are you concerned about hotel quarantine as being another leak, another case?

PRIME MINISTER: I’m aware of the case in New South Wales, the Premier and I discussed that earlier today and New South Wales make their own announcements about that. So I won't speak more than simply know that we are aware of that and that the individual in this case was vaccinated. But this is an important point. The vaccination isn't immediate. I've just had my second dose and the second after I had my first dose. It does take a while and Professor Kelly might want to comment on that. And so once you’re vaccinated, you still have to try and observe, as you should, the COVIDSafe behaviours. I'm wearing a mask today, I've had two vaccines. And it's important that we continue that. And that's been the evidence overseas as well, where vaccination programmes have been in place. Our quarantine system has been remarkably successful, remarkably successful. When you think of the throughput would be close to now 250,000 people that have been through this system and there have been a small number of breaches of that system. Now, that is a success rate that any country in the world would exchange places for in a heartbeat. That doesn't mean its risk free. There are no risk free responses when you're dealing with COVID-19. It is unrealistic and naive to think so. There are always vulnerabilities and you do whatever you can to counter those vulnerabilities. And of course, the vaccination programme is a huge part of that. These are incredibly powerful and effective vaccines.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned people might go about their business thinking they have some immunity because they have had one vaccine?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's the point I was just making.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Yeah, so I've had my second vaccine today and I have no ill effects and I'm still wearing a mask. I think it's very important that we know that this is not a silver bullet that's going to fix everything right away. So what's happened, as the PM has said, we're aware of that. I was speaking to my colleague Kerry Chant about it earlier. New South Wales will be making announcements on that particular case. So I'm not going to go there. But the point is that we have to continue with all of our protections that we have and the key protection to the Australian community is hotel quarantine. We have, we will continue to have people coming across our border. Most of the rest of the world, as Dr Murphy has shown from one of his slides, remains in a global pandemic of massive proportions. And so there will be leaks. There will still be outbreaks even as we go through this vaccination programme. And that's going to help. But it's not the only thing that we need to keep doing.

JOURNALIST: How common is that, though, that you only after one shot could then get sick? How common is that? Is that unusual or is that normal?

PRIME MINISTER: It is also about the timeframe from your vaccination to when something like that might occur. Professor Kelly?

PROFESSOR KELLY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: It's unusual. So both of the vaccines that we have rolling out in Australia, the Pfizer vaccine that the Prime Minister, myself and the Chief Nurse had today, very effective, but not 100 percent effective against mild and moderate disease. Very, very effective, almost 100 per cent effective, against severe disease, hospitalisation and death. AstraZeneca, almost identical in relation to that. So there will be a small proportion who will be infected with the virus and may get mildly sick with the virus and can transmit the virus. It's a small proportion, but it's not zero. And so I don't know the full details of this particular case. But there is a time lag between getting the vaccine and that protection kicking in of a few weeks. And as you get the second dose, particularly the Pfizer vaccine, that increases. In the AstraZeneca vaccine, the first dose is actually very, very high protection and the second dose, 12 weeks later, it's mainly about the duration of that protection rather than increasing the efficacy.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve had the hotel worker today and the Queensland doctor already vaccinated also in that case. It does not help confidence in the rollout, does it?

PRIME MINISTER: It doesn't help when events like this, I think, are put in the wrong context. That's what doesn't help. There are exceptions to every rule. There are no certainties or guarantees in COVID-19. And I think in reporting, I would urge you to be cautious in allowing a perception to be created that that does exist. That doesn't exist. What you do is you put in place the strongest possible protections that you can. Australia has done that. As a result, Australia is one of the most successful countries in the world for protecting against the impact of COVID-19. That is just a fact. And Australians, I think, can feel very pleased and very assured and more confident, frankly, than almost any other people in the world today because of that response. So I would urge people to put in context these events that can occur. We've never said they can't. Of course they can. But they are exceptions. They are a very small minority of cases. And what we're dealing with here is the vast balance of the population where the protection comes from. So, no, I'm not disturbed by it. I'm not surprised by it. Because you would expect these things to happen on the odd occasion. And that's why it's important that we can never be complacent about COVID-19. It writes the rules, not Australia, not us, not doctors, not commentators, not anyone else. And we have to ensure that the protections we put in place are as strong as they possibly can and I can assure Australians, that's exactly what the Government is doing, undistracted, undeterred. 

JOURNALIST: And those possible outcomes, small in numbers as they may be, they'll be reflected in your truth in vaccination website, I gather, when people go to the website and ask questions about the rollout of the vaccine?

PRIME MINISTER: We've always been totally transparent about these issues, totally transparent. And that's why I would urge people to listen carefully to what Professor Murphy and Professor Kelly have been saying. We've been very transparent. I believe Australians believe that, too. I mean, over the course of this last year, it is a countless number of times that I and Professor Kelly and Professor Murphy have stood before the country and been very open with the country about what we're facing and how we're dealing with it and I think Australians appreciate that. And Minister Hunt and Professor Murphy will continue to do that on a weekly basis. I'll continue to do it as the events require and certainly as National Cabinet meets to reassure Australians that we are leading the world out of this pandemic and we've put in place, if not some of the best protections in the world, as good as and we lead the world here. And that's why Australians, I think, can feel more safe and secure than almost any part of the world.

JOURNALIST: With regards to the extra capacity on vaccines, PM, you said you'll be sending doses to the states who can get through them and who are meeting their targets.

PRIME MINISTER: I was talking about both primary care as well.

JOURNALIST: So what is the target?

PRIME MINISTER: Take me back to the slide, if you could go back about three or four.

JOURNALIST: Broadly on the question?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, no, I get the question, but I'll show you what I mean. OK. So what Brendan was saying before is you get this massive ramp up in the number of doses that are going through your primary care network. And they're being administered, as well as they're being done through the GPRC and the - this is the one we're dealing with, Aboriginal services and so on. And so we will want in the shaded areas here for those doses being administered in accordance with, we're not going to have them just having doses sitting around. And if they're not meeting that, then we won't send them more doses. We will send those doses to those doctors that are meeting their targets and are getting through their doses and we will also have the option of sending those doses to states and territories through their distribution methods, where they're also pulling forward later phases of the vaccination programme.
So we're not going to have doses sitting on desks or in fridges. We're going to have them going into jabs into people's arms and ensuring that's the way we dynamically manage our planned pace of vaccination.

JOURNALIST: What about state jurisdictions that are currently rolling out phase 1A, what happens if they don't use their doses? We know that in the first week of vaccines, Queensland only did 22 percent, Victoria, 30 percent of the doses had been allocated. We now don't know the proportion of the vaccines allocated that are going into people's arms. So what happens if a state government in Phase 1A isn't using their allocated doses?

PRIME MINISTER: I believe they all will, that's the first point I'd make, and I'm confident that they will, and I think it would be premature to be suggesting otherwise. We're in the first three weeks of this rollout and we're also working hard on the data side of this to ensure that we're getting very timely updates. At our last meeting of National Cabinet, we had that honest conversation about why it's so important that we're sharing information between which cohorts have been vaccinated and at what rate and where that's being done most effectively and we all need to have eyes on that data at a state level and a federal level. Because that helps Brendan and his team as they're making calls about the distribution of doses. But it's important for all states and territories to be on pace with this. It’s not a race, it's not a competition. I mean, the whole state parochial thing about performance on COVID-19, that doesn't concern me. What concerns me about Australia's performance nationally as a country together on the vaccination programme. So I'm confident that the states and territories will meet their marks, that they'll do the best possible job they can. They have highly competent and professional people doing this. This is not the first vaccination Australia has ever run. We run them every year and we do them incredibly effectively. This is on another scale, granted, but I'm confident that they will meet their marks and they'll work carefully with our team.

JOURNALIST: On the subject of National Cabinet, I understand that generally an acting premier is not allowed to attend. Will James Merlino be at the cabinet table?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it’s not for some weeks yet. So let's just see. I've been in contact with Dan and I've had a message for him this morning, actually, I was checking up on his welfare and I'm pleased to see that he's out of ICU and I wish him and his family all the best as he goes through his recovery. Obviously, we'd like to see him back around that table as soon as possible. But if we have an acting premier there who was sitting around chairing the Victorian cabinet table, and that's a formal arrangement that's been put in place, then I would see no reason why under those circumstances that that would be, that they would be very welcome to sit around that table. Now, normally, we don't have acting arrangements. If someone's on leave, for example, or it's a temporary arrangement, then no, we don't do that. And that's an understanding and agreement we have between the states and territories and myself. But I think this is a very different situation given the health status of the Premier.

JOURNALIST: Premier, in relation to, sorry, Prime Minister, Gladys Berejiklian here has said that if the 99 vaccination hubs that the New South Wales government is using in phase 1A and phase 1B, are taken offline, then it could take months longer than expected to complete phase 2A and 2B. And so can the Federal Government guarantee that the state governments, if they want to, can keep those vaccination hubs online, delivering jabs it could have otherwise gone to the primary care network?

PRIME MINISTER: I’ll let Brendan speak to that.

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: So, look, of course, we want to keep all the state and territory clinics going. We will give them, as we've said many times, as much vaccine as we can spare, but we have made an agreed national commitment to roll out this primary care phase. And so some of the states who had really most of the vaccine for the first months, at 84 percent, are keen to have more and to grow bigger. But I think we just have to balance that supply. Many of the some GPs, some GPs are only getting 50 doses a week. They say they could do a lot more. And so as we grow the supply, we will work with the states. We're having a big workshop with them in coming weeks to look at those scenarios of supply and what they can realistically run. So I think those clinics that they've stood up can be run at different scales. So you can run them Monday to Friday business hours or in many cases, they're currently running well into the evening or on weekends. So there's ways of scaling them up and down and keeping them going. But it's a dynamic process. We're not holding anything back from the states. We are giving vaccine across the country to all those sites of vaccination according to our agreed plan and according to the vaccine doses we have available.

PRIME MINISTER: This is a national vaccination programme. The Commonwealth is investing over $6 billion and footing the bill for this programme. And that's why we developed, given we have responsibility and carriage of this, we developed a national vaccination strategy which Professor Murphy has led the development of with Professor Kelly as his deputy chair, working with state and territory agencies as well. So it's a nationally run programme. We'll run it according to that national strategy, and we'll work closely with the states and territories. I spoke with Premier Berejiklian on Friday and we discussed all of these issues and we're working very closely together. I want to assure Australians we are just working together, as we have worked together on the medical elements of the COVID response as we have all year. As I said earlier, we've extended those arrangements out further at a cost of a further $1.1 billion. We've put additional $5 billion from federal taxpayers to support state expenditure under our COVID response agreement. That's $5 billion already. So we're working closely with the states and we've been paying as well to support the great efforts that they've put in place.

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask a couple of things while we’re still on the vaccine. Firstly, the website that you have set up to counter misinformation, was that prompted by the feedback that the misinformation is causing problems with the rollout?

PRIME MINISTER: No, it was prompted by good judgement and wisdom. That’s what it's prompted by. I mean, we see this all the time and sometimes, I'd say this to people as well and we know also working through CALD communities and Alex, as the Immigration Minister, has been working closely on this. People are getting sometimes their information from overseas, particularly for various ethnic communities across the country. Go to the Australian information is my message to them. Go to the Australian information, because there are different vaccination programmes in different countries. They are in different pandemic situations than in Australia. And so it's very important that to get the right information on the Australian vaccination programme, you go to the Australian Government source of information to get the best information and to answer any questions that you may have.

JOURNALIST: So just on that, businessman and former politician Clive Palmer has taken out ads in newspapers which contain misleading and false information about the approval of coronavirus vaccines, prompting criticism from some health officials. Are his ads misleading and dangerous, do you believe?

PRIME MINISTER: Where they are completely at odds with the official information, of course they are. Of course they are. And don't go to Dr Palmer either. Go to Professor Murphy and Professor Kelly and the Chief Nurse Allison. That's where you should go. Don't go to other sources. They're not reliable. It's not good for  your health to be relying on non-official sources of health information. It's a free country. People can spout all sorts of nonsense and it'll get printed. It'll get run, it'll get broadcast. It's a free country. But go to the official sources of information.

JOURNALIST: PM, have you changed the national vaccination strategy by allowing the state vaccination hubs to stay on board phase 2A and 2B when otherwise they would’ve shut down. You would have sent vaccines [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER: I would say no. And Brendan can comment on this. The programme is dynamic. You know, it's not set and forget, that's not how you run any successful programme. You run a programme, you put a strategy in place, you follow that strategy and as events and capabilities change over the course of time, well, you adjust and you adapt, but your goal doesn't change. Our goal hasn't changed. And we remain very focused on that job and we are making great progress to that goal.

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: So the strategy always envisaged the state Pfizer hubs going right throughout the year because once we're finished aged care, they will be having all of the Pfizer vaccine. We've also envisaged a small number of state run AstraZeneca clinics for 1B to do their health care workers and if necessary, to do some of the general population. But that was always the primary source of the general population in 1B, it was always going to be primary care, supplemented where GP market failure might occur or in special circumstances by other states. It's a partnership.

JOURNALIST: Is there any concern that CSL will have delays bottling the domestic AstraZeneca? Apparently it is quite difficult.

PRIME MINISTER: It is a massive logistical task. And of course, I mean, with any vaccine production on this scale, then of course there will be challenges. But I'm confident that they can address those challenges and where those challenges give rise to any disruptions in supply, then we will be very transparent about that and we'll deal with it within the strategy.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the boyfriend of the woman who accused…

PRIME MINISTER: We’re still on health, I’m happy to come to those other matters. But right now, I’m sure Australians, as important as those issues are, they’re very interested also in understanding how the vaccination programme works. So I'm happy to come back to it. 

JOURNALIST: I’ve exhausted my health questions.

PRIME MINISTER: If we go to questions on that matter, I’m going to excuse health professional colleagues. Thank you all very much. The Immigration Minister will stay with me and local member here.

JOURNALIST: If I might then return to that question.


JOURNALIST: The former boyfriend of the woman who accused Christian Porter said that he has recollections of conversations both with her and with him but there is no independent investigation even in Canberra, one in which he can share of have those recollections tested. And at the same time, senior women in your Government are not meeting, it's been reported, with women who are planning to march on this issue and the broader treatment of women in politics and public life. Does that risk creating perception that your Government is stonewalling on the issue?

PRIME MINISTER: I'll be happy to meet with a delegation from the group that is coming to Canberra. Meet them, as I do, with many groups. I meet them privately in my office and I'll listen carefully to what they're coming to say.

JOURNALIST: Will you go out to the march?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I won’t be going to the march. I'll be in Parliament that day and dealing with the very issues we've been discussing. But I'm very happy to receive a delegation, as I would normally in these circumstances, and in many of the issues that have been raised, issues that the Government itself have been very focused on. I mean, right now, the issue of violence against women continues to be a very high priority of my Government. The fifth national action plan we are now moving to with the states and territories, it’s been a high priority item that we've had on the National Cabinet agenda and the National Federation Reform Council agenda. The work and funding that we've put into things like 1800RESPECT and the many other measures are things that we've been moving forward and acting on and that's been in a bipartisan way. The issue of dealing with violence against women and families, these are things that should be bipartisan in this country. And in most of my parliamentary experience, they have been and should be. And so I understand there is great feeling and understandably so on these issues. What we need to keep focusing on, what we need to keep focusing on is the protections and the resources and the programmes that we're putting in place. And that includes the response to the Respect@Work inquiry done by Kate Jenkins. As you know, Kate Jenkins, we've put in place the independent enquiry that is looking at the broader issues of treatment of staff and their protections. I've already acted to put in place new reporting mechanisms and support mechanisms for staff. We haven't waited for the inquiry to come back. We've been getting on and doing those things and we'll continue to do that. We are equally committed and equally concerned about addressing these issues. And our record in Government, I think demonstrates that.

JOURNALIST: Why won’t you go to the march if it is a high priority for you?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I haven't had a habit of going out to do any marches when they've come to Canberra, because as Prime Minister, when you're in Canberra, it's a very busy day. But I'm very happy to receive a delegation and I'll respectfully receive that, as I'm sure they will respectfully engage with me and they will raise the issues that are being raised as a course of that series of engagements that day. And I look forward to speaking with them about those and discussing what the Government is doing and what we're doing with the states and territories.

JOURNALIST: How do you expect that delegation to be organised, PM, and if you have time to visit a delegation from this march in your office, you don't have time to go out to attend the march and hear the concerns in public?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm very happy to meet with those. I meet with people that come to Canberra all the time. You know, I do it in my office. I do it privately where we can discuss the issues they wish to raise in a very, I think, a very respectful way. And we can talk through the issues that they'd like to bring up. I think that's the right way to do this. They're very welcome. The delegation is a matter for them. I don't set the delegations of people who come to see me. They advise in the usual way of who they'd like to attend, you know, how many people can come is obviously limited by the size of the small room in my office. But they are the same rules that apply to anyone else.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the WA Liberal bloodbath, as it is being referred to, your response to that result? What’s the future of the Liberal Party in WA and does it reflect on the timing for your federal...?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, as I've always said, the federal election is in 2022. That's when it's due and that has been my position. It's been others mainly in the media who have been saying that another time, not me. So there's been no change, in my view, about these issues. We've got a lot to do this year and the most significant thing we're doing this year, we've been speaking about this morning, is the vaccination programme. Whether it's that or the important work we're doing internationally. You’ve seen the Quad meeting we held just over the course of the weekend. The economic recovery programme which is underway. Australia's comeback on the economic front is surging again and there are many more programmes rolling out. So that's where my focus is. 

Last night, I had the opportunity to congratulate Premier McGowan. This is a resounding victory, an endorsement of his leadership during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. I've been very pleased to be working with Premier McGowan and we have a very excellent working relationship. I'm sure no doubt, as he indicated to me last night, it is a very humbling victory for him as well. And I was impressed that was the tone in which he accepted such a strong mandate there in Western Australia. It goes very much to his leadership during the course of the crisis and I look forward to picking up from where we left off before the election process began because he and I still have much work to do. But I think it very much does reflect very strongly personally the leadership that Premier McGowan has shown. I think that showed in all the various research that was done around this poll. And so he's got a big job to do and a resounding mandate to get on and do it. But as you've seen in the past and if you’ve been around a while like I have, you'll know that probably like at no other time I've seen there is a real distinction between state politics and federal politics. I mean, you only have to go back to the 2001 federal election which saw in the same year a very, very negative result for the Coalition at the state election, where we got some 28.5 per cent of the vote only to then go and get 45.6 percent of the vote in the federal election in the same year. Australians understand the difference between federal and state and I think this is a resounding endorsement of Mark McGowan's leadership, which I didn't find surprising.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the result could have been any different if you had gone there to campaign?

PRIME MINISTER: It was state election and I was quite restricted by the restrictions, but I don't think it was necessarily a result that was going to be influenced by federal leaders one way or the other.

JOURNALIST: What went so wrong for them?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think it's about what went so right for Premier McGowan, to be frank. I mean, this was an election that Premier McGowan won and I congratulate him. I've worked closely with Mark now ever since he became Premier. I mean together, we ensured that the GST for Western Australia, got the GST. That's something we did together. One of the reasons why his budget is as strong as it is, is because the Federal Government actually ensured that Western Australians got the appropriate recognition of the GST that they have long craved and my Government delivered. The work we've done on JobKeeper and the economic supports that we've put in through this crisis, Premier McGowan understands that most of the decisions that were made by the states were ultimately bankrolled by the federal taxpayer and the comprehensive supports we put in place that have supported the Western Australian economy. And so it has been a strong partnership and I commend him on his leadership and he has thoroughly deserved that victory there in Western Australia and I look forward to working with him closely going forward. Thanks very much.