DOORSTOP: 13/4/21

April 13, 2021


MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGEING: Thanks for coming out this morning. Can I start my remarks by acknowledging reports this morning that a gentleman in Queensland has lost his struggle with COVID-19 and passed away. All of our thoughts and our condolences are with this gentleman's family and his friends. His passing is a reminder that the fight against this virus is far from over here in Australia as much as around the rest of the world. 

Around the rest of the world it's reported this morning that the globe is almost going to tip over 800 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. America continues to race ahead with 190 million doses of vaccine being delivered in that country. In the UK, with 16 per cent of the adult population now vaccinated they are about to tip over 40 million doses of vaccine there. Here in Australia we are a smidge over one million doses. The reports of the latest daily figures in doses in Australia are that 12,000 doses of vaccine were delivered in the last reported day. Compare that to the US, who on Saturday delivered 4.63 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. Australia continues to run a great distance behind the rest of the world. 

Also this morning, a number of business groups the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Australian Industry Group have again stressed how important it is to the economic recovery that there be a clear vaccine rollout plan with milestones, timelines and targets. Without those targets and milestones business will simply not be able to plan their economic recovery with any confidence. It's not good enough under pressure for Scott Morrison simply to retreat to Facebook. He's got to come clean with Australians about when and how they will be vaccinated. Business needs that and Australians need it for confidence. 

Finally, can I just acknowledge some reports that the Australian Government has walked away from a deal with Johnson and Johnson for access to their new single dose vaccine. It is unacceptable for a significant decision like this to be dripped out by an unnamed government spokesperson. Scott Morrison needs to explain why Australians will continue to have access to fewer vaccine options than any other comparable country in the world. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: The TGA has confirmed a second blood clotting case linked to AstraZeneca this morning. How concerning is that?

BUTLER: For a couple of weeks now we've seeing reports of these clotting events. They're very, very rare, but they are serious when they occur. And all of the regulators around the world pretty much now have recognised a causal link between those very rare events and the AstraZeneca vaccine. So it's important that the regulators acknowledge what was happening around the world. And last week the advisory group on immunisation gave advice to the Government about new arrangements for the AstraZeneca vaccine. Obviously, our thoughts are with the person who suffered that particular adverse event but again, it just reflects the importance and stresses the importance of having as many vaccine options on the table as possible. We've been saying for many months now, Australia needed more vaccine options on the table. So when something like this issue with AstraZeneca arose, we were able to have backup plans that didn't interrupt any momentum in the vaccine rollout. The Government hasn't done that. In the UK, they've been able to substitute vaccines from Moderna and Johnson and Johnson for AstraZeneca. Here in Australia we don’t have those backup options and as a result, our rollout, already way behind schedule has been completely run off the roads.

JOURNALIST: Is there a risk of public confidence being shaken by this other case? 

BUTLER: Obviously confidence has taken a hit because of what's happened around the AstraZeneca vaccine around the world. It's important that clear, digestible advice is given from our public health experts through the Government. We've seen that over the last several days but it's also important that the Government is able to front up and explain to Australians how we're going to continue momentum and a vaccine rollout in the wake of that decision. That's what the Prime Minister has not done. He simply raised the white flag on their being a plan which has clear targets and clear timelines. That's why I think Australians are now asking the question where to from here? The rest of the world is racing ahead of us with a vaccine rollout that's going to enable their economic recovery to continue at pace but also protect us as this virus mutates around the world and we need to deal with potential variants. That's why Gladys Berejiklian, the New South Wales Premier, said there is an urgency we can't be left behind the rest of the world.

JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister has defended not setting a vaccination deadline, arguing the targets can be knocked about. Is this fair?

BUTLER: Of course targets can be knocked about and that's why you revise the plan and you set very clear arrangements that take account of circumstances. You can’t just simply duck your responsibility as Prime Minister to set out a clear plan that will give businesses and the border Australian community confidence to move ahead. That's what Scott Morrison has done by retreating to Facebook over the last 48 hours, instead of fronting up to the Australian people and explaining to them how we are going to move forward. It is critically important that he do that.

JOURNALIST: How similar is Johnson and Johnson to AstraZeneca? The Government says it's too similar do you agree?

BUTLER: The point we make, and the point that's been understood in most other countries is you need a whole range of different options on the table so that you can adjust to circumstances as they arise. We said that last year, we should have had five or six options on the table. At the moment, we're dealing with only two vaccines in Australia, Pfizer and AstraZeneca and obviously, there's been advice in relation to AstraZeneca that's constraining our options about how we move forward. So it's really for the Government to front up not just drip this information out through unnamed Government spokespersons, and explain if they've walked away from a deal with Johnson and Johnson, a vaccine that's delivered millions of doses in the US and is about to start in the UK. Why have they done that? Why do we continue to have fewer options for vaccines in Australia than any other comparable country?

JOURNALIST: How concerning is that some aged care homes don't even know when the vaccine will be offered to them?

BUTLER: It’s deeply concerned. Winter is approaching and there was a very clear commitment by the Prime Minister to complete phase 1a, our most vulnerable members of the community in aged care facilities and disability facilities, by Easter. So the week before last, so that they were fully vaccinated, able to get the flu vaccination before winter came and we know the increased danger of the winter season in relation to the flu and COVID-19. Those commitments have just been completely shelved by the Prime Minister. We don't know now, when we can have confidence that those most vulnerable Australians will be fully vaccinated. Still, as of the last figures I’ve seen more than four in five aged care facilities still haven't had their residents fully vaccinated. It was promised the week before last. Four in five haven't had their residents fully vaccinated and the numbers are even worse for residential disability facilities. Those residents are the forgotten Australians in this vaccine rollout. Scott Morrison has abandoned them, won't even tell them when they expect to be fully vaccinated despite having promised to do so before the winter season.

JOURNALIST: Is there any excuse there are several states having the vaccine in storage, that hasn't been used?

BUTLER: This is a product of a lack of clear information from the Commonwealth about when doses will be delivered and when they will be delivered to GPs. GPs are explaining the same problems that they're having. They don't know when the dose is going to be delivered by Scott Morrison's Government and state governments have been saying they're not getting clear information either about when doses will be delivered. It makes it very hard, either for GPs or for state governments to plan a proper schedule of vaccination if the Commonwealth is not being clear with them about when they received their doses. Thanks everyone.