Statement - Update on COVID-19 Vaccination Program

12 Apr 2021
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: It's been more than a year now since we have been dealing with the COVID-19 global pandemic and the recession that it has caused. And a lot has been lost, not just here in Australia, but all around the world.

Here in Australia, we've lost 909 lives to the COVID-19 pandemic. Overseas, the toll has been far greater.

Our challenge here in Australia is very different from the rest of the world. Here in Australia over this past weekend, we have had no community transmission. Australians could meet with each other in their homes, go out to restaurants, go to sporting fixtures or cultural events, celebrate community activities. In so much of the world that has not been the case and only now they're starting to ease restrictions that Australia left behind many months ago.

Here in Australia, our challenge is to make sure that we continue to keep Australia as open as possible so life can return to as normal as possible, while protecting Australia from the impact of COVID-19 coming into our country. So, of course, we have the strong border controls which are essential to that. We were one of the first countries to close our borders. But we also need to continue the protections that we have in place that have both suppressed the virus and is protecting particularly our most vulnerable from breakouts.

Here in Australia, we are rolling out our vaccination program now and a lot of people have had a lot to say about it. But here are some simple facts. Around 1.2 million Australians have been vaccinated in the first seven weeks. Over that period of time, we've gone from around 30,000 a week to over 300,000 a week and that number continues to climb. That's a tenfold increase in the rate of rolling our vaccine out in just the seven weeks, and it's still going up. Our vaccination rollout compared to the rest of the world is also on par. Countries like Germany and Sweden and France. At this same stage of the vaccination rollout, Australia is either at the same standard or a bit better. And Australia's vaccination rollout rate is also stronger than at the same time with Canada, South Korea, Japan and New Zealand. So Australia is keeping pace with the rollout program of vaccinations that have been experienced elsewhere.

Now, of course, that's quite different to what you see in the United Kingdom and the United States. They are dealing with a very different situation. In those countries, in the United States, for example, they're seeing an average of some 70,000 additional cases and around 1,000 deaths every single day. In the United Kingdom, that's around 1,500 cases extra every day and over 30 deaths every day. They are dealing with a situation that is at crisis levels that we're not experiencing here in Australia. In those countries, the vaccination rate is urgent to prevent death. And as a result, I can understand the programs that they're running. Equally, they have access to vaccine doses that we do not have access to here in Australia. That enables them to do the large, mass-scale rollouts that you're seeing in those countries. In most other countries, that isn't the opportunity, including here in Australia.

But here in Australia, we do have some advantages. Here in Australia, we aren't seeing any community transmission at the moment. That means that we can ensure our vaccination program is focusing on those most vulnerable Australians, particularly those who are in aged care facilities. Now, we are making steady progress to ensure that elderly Australians are vaccinated in those priority programs before we go into the most heavy of the winter months. In addition, our early priorities on health workers, on those working in hotel quarantine, we're working steadily through those groups. We hope to be able to move into the balance of the population as we get into the second half of the year. But what we will know then at that point is those who are in the frontline of our health and quarantine system and those most at risk being our elderly population, they have been getting the protection of the vaccine to ensure that our worst case scenarios can be protected against.

The vaccination program is greatly supported by the fact that here in Australia we are making one of the several vaccines that we are using here in this country, the AstraZeneca vaccine. That vaccine is being produced in Australia and we're only one of around 20 countries in the world where these vaccines are being manufactured in their own country. This gives us the advantage to keep the vaccination program, particularly for these priority groups, as we move through the year. We have also been able to secure additional Pfizer vaccines as well as the Novavax vaccine, all of which will particularly be coming in the second half of this year.

Now, I've been asked a bit about what our targets are. One of the things about COVID is it writes its own rules. You don't get to set the agenda, you have to be able to respond quickly to when things change. And it's certainly the case over the course of this past year, we've had to deal with a lot of changes. We've just had one recently regarding the medical advice on AstraZeneca. Now, I want to stress, particularly for those over 50, it is essential that we encourage you to get the AstraZeneca vaccine. The medical advice is very strong in supporting those over 50 getting the AstraZeneca vaccine because it protects you, because you are vulnerable to COVID-19.

And for those who are under 50, particularly when we get to that point in the second half of this year, we have put together a vaccination program that is delivered through your GPs. See, you trust your GPs with your health. We trust your GPs with your health. That's why we've chosen to predominantly distribute the vaccination program through your GP. So you can ask your questions, you can make the decisions about your health with the person you most trust about your health, your General Practitioner. Now, there are other distribution methods that we're using, particularly with the states and territories, and we'll put those also to good use over the course of this year, particularly when we're moving to the balance of the population where there will be the opportunity later in the year, I think, to do things at a more ramped up scale.

But right now, it's about focusing on those priority populations, the elderly and those working in the front line. So rather than set targets that can get knocked about by every to and fro of international supply chains and other disruptions that can occur, we're just getting on with it. And every single day you can see on the website just how we're progressing. As I said, we're now at around 1.2 million. We'll have around 4,000 GPs out there giving vaccinations by the end of this week and that only continues to increase. And you'll be able to keep track of that program, as well as keeping track on how we compare to countries overseas. You can get your information firsthand about how Australia's vaccination program is going to keep you informed. So you can keep checking on it, we'll just keep getting on with it.

The other things that matter as we go into the back half of this year and right now is that we continue to keep our economy open, that we keep life in Australia as normal as we possibly can. It's not safe right now to open up our international borders. Around the world, COVID-19 is still rife. We are still seeing increases in daily cases, particularly in the developing world. We're seeing that right now up in Papua New Guinea, for example, where we're reaching out to give them a helping hand. But around the world, it is still a very dangerous situation because of COVID. We'll keep moving quickly to vaccinate our most vulnerable population and we'll keep those borders closed for as long as we have to, but only as long as we have to, and we're already right now preparing for what it looks like when we can open up again. And the work is being done with the Premiers, the Chief Ministers and myself and the Federal Government to make sure we're ready for that time. We'll keep opening up our economy. We have more people now working than there was before the pandemic started. We've seen the jobs coming back. We want to see that rolling out. And in the Budget in around a month from now, you'll see more measures that build on the work that was done by JobKeeper and JobSeeker to ensure that the Australian economy keeps leading the world out of the recession that was caused by COVID-19.

I hope this has given you an update on where we're at right now and answers some of your questions and I look forward to giving you updates further as we go ahead.