DOORSTOP: 22/7/21

July 22, 2021


MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: First of all our thoughts are again with those communities in Victoria, New South Wales, and now also in South Australia who are enduring yet a further period of lockdown. This is a tough period which I know we again will come through. I also want to say that our thoughts are with the families and the loved ones of two Australians aged in their 40s who are reported today to have lost their lives because of clotting events associated with the first dose of AstraZeneca. This is a difficult time for those families and their loved ones. 

Australian's again, 14 million of them, are languishing in lockdown while we watch life around the world in other countries starting to return to normal. The impact of these lockdowns is are enormous. Josh Frydenberg admitted this morning than the economic cost of these lockdowns, which are after all, a product of their failures on vaccines and quarantine, costing the economy $300 million a day. Workers aren't going to work, children aren't able to go to school, livelihoods are being smashed and the health and mental health impacts are starting to skyrocket. 

Scott Morrison said over the last day or two though, that the vaccine rollout is on the right track. Well, Australia still is languishing dead last among more than 30 developed economies around the world with only 11 per cent of Australians fully vaccinated. Only 30 per cent of Australians aged over 70 are fully vaccinated - a group that was supposed to be fully protected before even winter started. 

We are especially concerned at reports today that aged care staff in two residential aged care facilities in New South Wales have tested positive to COVID and as many as five residents and staff in a disability residential facility have also tested positive. These groups were supposed to be fully vaccinated by Easter because they are so vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19. The latest data shows that only a quarter of aged care staff have been fully vaccinated. Particularly worryingly, only a quarter of vulnerable residents living in disability facilities are fully vaccinated, a position that a short time ago the Disability Royal Commission described as an “abject failure.” The disability and aged care sectors were supposed to be fully vaccinated by Easter. Scott Morrison's failure to do that basic job has left those vulnerable Australians dangerously exposed. 

Just briefly, I want to address the critical importance of two doses of these vaccines being received. Scott Morrison is quite fond of reporting the data of a single dose of vaccinations being received by people and describing those people, in his words, as “vaccinated.” He did it with older Australians yesterday, pretending that only a single dose meant that they were vaccinated. I've said before that the critical number is those Australians who’ve received both doses of the vaccine. I've been criticised in the Parliament by some in the Government, and by some in the media, for focusing on those numbers. Well, this morning, a very important study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world, confirms the limited effectiveness of only a single dose of both of the Australian vaccines against the Delta variant. Indeed, one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine is only 30 per cent effective against Delta, and a single dose of the Pfizer is only 36 per cent effective. We need people to get both doses. We need it to happen quickly. And we need the Government to come clean and start reporting honestly about the number of Australians who have fully vaccinated rather than just those who have received a single dose, and are on the pathway to being fully vaccinated.

JOURNALIST: As you mentioned before about those two people who the TGA have been notified as passing away from the rare blood clotting related to the AstraZeneca. What impact do you think this is going to have on the rollout? And do you think people could be more hesitant to get AstraZeneca because of this?

BUTLER: The Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, the TGA, our public health experts have provided I think very clear advice about the way in which people should approach AstraZeneca. I think that advice should be followed by the Australian community if they need to, they should be talking to their General Practitioners as well. But as I said yesterday, the public health advice should be left to the public health experts and people like the Prime Minister should not be seeking to substitute his political judgment for public health advice.

JOURNALIST: Do you think people who hear this news will be hesitant to get AstraZeneca?

BUTLER: Obviously, vaccine hesitancy has increased since the reporting around the world, not just here in Australia, about very rare but very serious clotting events associated with AstraZeneca. I've said before that it's important that the Federal Government put a lot of energy into public health information campaigns to ensure that people have the right information about the benefits, but also the risks associated with different vaccines. Those information campaigns should, as I've said, be based on the expert public health advice of the people we pay, and are trained to do that.

JOURNALIST: The Federal Government is putting its energy into encouraging people who are under 40 to their GP about getting the AstraZeneca shot. What do you think? Do you support that message?

BUTLER: I support people following the advice from the Technical Advisory Group on Immunisations and that is that Pfizer is the preferred vaccine for people under the age of 60. If people obviously over that age, feel that they want to have a conversation with their GP, then that is also accommodated within the advice from those experts, the ATAGI experts. But I want to rely upon the advice of people who are making those pronouncements on the basis of the science. As I said, the AMA said yesterday it was improper for the Prime Minister to place in their words, “unfair pressure” on those experts. The decisions they have made in giving that advice to Government is based on the science and we should respect that.

JOURNALIST: And we all know that the AstraZeneca has been recommended for people over 60. But we're still seeing some hesitancy in people receiving this job. Why do you believe that?

BUTLER: I think certainly the Prime Minister's mixed messages over AstraZeneca, him constantly trying to issue his own advice about this rather than rely upon the people who are trained doctors, trained experts in this field hasn't helped things. The changing reportage of AstraZeneca around the world, including here in Australia, has unavoidably been a complication in the vaccine rollout. But it hasn't been helped by the Prime Minister freelancing, giving his own advice about the benefits or the wisdom of taking AstraZeneca instead of simply channelling and communicating the advice of the public health experts. 

JOURNALIST: What would your message be to people who are over 60? 

BUTLER: Follow the public health advice and if you're uncertain about that, speak to your GP. Thanks.