MARK BUTLER MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGEING
MEMBER FOR HINDMARSH
TUESDAY, 6 APRIL 2021
SUBJECT: Vaccine rollout; PNG; NZ Travel Bubble.
MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGEING: Over the last 24 or 36 hours, number of different experts have called for a thorough overhaul of Scott Morrison's failing vaccine rollout strategy. Australians remember that Scott Morrison promised that 4 million Australians would be vaccinated by the end of March last week, but the latest figures show that not even 1 million have received vaccinations.
They were also promised that the aged care sector and health workers would be fully vaccinated within six weeks of the beginning of the vaccine rollout strategy, which again was last week. But over the weekend we were told that only one in seven aged care facilities have had their residents fully vaccinated and the Commonwealth has refused to tell us how many of the 318,000 workers on the frontline in the aged care sector, whom they promised to vaccinate before the end of the last week, have been vaccinated. We suspect that the number is very small because there were reports over the last several days that aged care workers instead of being vaccinated by the Morrison government in the aged care facilities, have now been told to go and find their own vaccine through their own GP. We also have seen reports over the last several days of GPs stopping making appointments for vaccinations because of the low dose numbers they're getting and the lack of information about how many doses they'll get in out-weeks. GPs even been reporting over the last several days that they feel that they've been set up to fail, again for those reasons of the low dose numbers. Scott Morrison said that Australia would be at the front of the queue, but at the moment we are not even ranking in the top 100 nations in the world per head of population with the vaccine. We’re nowhere near the front of the queue. We can't even see the front of the queue from where we currently are.
He also says, Scott Morrison, that this is not a race. Well, frankly, this is a race. There is a very strong time imperative to get our population vaccinated with the current generation of vaccines in time to be able to avail ourselves of any booster shots that come on the market to deal with the mutations or the variants to this virus that are already spreading right throughout the rest of the world. There's also frankly a race to ensure that we are fully vaccinated to give the economy confidence, to give jobs confidence. To ensure that we're able to open up and recover in a way that you're starting to see again around the rest of the world. Scott Morrison is making a complete mess of this vaccine rollout, and Australians are paying the price for his incompetence. Happy to take questions.
BUTLER: That was not the strategy that was rolled out by Scott Morrison and Greg Hunt. Phase 1a was supposed to ensure that all aged care residents were vaccinated by the end of last week. Over a period of six weeks. As I said, only 14 per cent of aged care facilities have seen their residents fully vaccinated and the Commonwealth through Scott Morrison and Greg Hunt also promised that aged care workers would be vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine in the aged care facilities themselves, using the contractor providers that Australian taxpayers are paying for. So very secretly, Scott Morrison has dumped this promise and instead quietly advised aged care workers to go and find vaccines through their own GPs. That's a complete sellout to the commitment for these workers, 318,000 workers, who have been on the frontline throughout this pandemic caring for our most vulnerable Australians.
JOURNALIST: Now you said that the government should be moving on a mass vaccination style type hub system. What do you think would be a feasible timeframe to get these up and running?
BUTLER: What I've said is the first thing Scott Morrison and Greg Hunt need to do is admit that their strategy is not working. We are so far behind the rest of the world it is simply not funny. We are so far behind every single commitment Scott Morrison and Greg Hunt have given to the Australian people. Surely they must admit that this is not going well, so they’ve got to admit that they've got to get people around the table and adjust their strategy accordingly. That's what everyone has been saying over the last several days. Now that might mean bringing pharmacists more quickly into the system. It might mean mass vaccination centres of the type you see in pretty much every country I'm looking at around the world. The first thing though is Scott Morrison needs to swallow his pride and admit that his strategy has failed.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that people would be comfortable being vaccinated in a hub rather than seeing their GP, is that the better option?
BUTLER: People obviously must have the opportunity to see their GP as far as they possibly can, but the current rollout through GPs is simply not working. There aren't enough GPs being given access to these doses and those that are being given access aren't being given enough vials. We need to get on with the job of vaccinating our population. Otherwise, we're simply not going to get the population vaccinated before we need to start considering booster shots for the variants and in time to ensure that we had a good strong economic recovery.
JOURNALIST: Just on a different note, what should the government do if Europe refuses to release vaccines to PNG?
BUTLER: We should have very strong discussions with all of our international partners about the crisis that is emerging in PNG and make sure as far as possible that PNG, particularly those frontline health workers and then the broader community, is able to get access to vaccines to deal with that crisis.
JOURNALIST: What type of assistance would Labor like to see being offered to PNG?
BUTLER: We've said a couple of weeks ago now, as the depth of the crisis became clear, that Australia needed to act firstly as a good neighbour, but also in our own national interest, given the closeness of our countries geographically, to release vaccines to ensure that frontline health workers were vaccinated as a matter of urgency. We've got out ahead of this, we've made those calls, we were very pleased when the government agreed with those calls, and we're willing to provide whatever assistance and support the government needs reasonably.
JOURNALIST: Australia has agreements of millions of doses of three different vaccines, is that enough considering we don’t have much COVID and should we be getting more?
BUTLER: We’ve said for some time that world’s best practice is to have about 4 to 6 different vaccines in your portfolio. So we have asked the question of the government for some months now, what is it doing to ensure Australia has a diversified portfolio of vaccines? For example, we don’t have a commercial arrangement, as I understand it at least, with Moderna, which is the other state-of-the-art mRNA vaccine being used very widely in North America and Western Europe. We don’t yet have an agreement, as I understand it, with Johnson & Johnson, which has a vaccine that’s just coming onto the market which is to be used in the same countries. We think it’s important to diversify our vaccine portfolio as much as possible so that if something goes wrong with one or other of those vaccines, we have other options to fall back on.
JOURNALIST: The New Zealand travel bubble set to be announced later on this afternoon. Do you think the speed of our vaccine rollout could threaten them?
BUTLER: That remains to be seen. We're looking forward to an announcement as I understand it from New Zealand Prime Minister, all Australians. And frankly I'm sure all New Zealanders will welcome the opportunity to travel across the Tasman. But it is quite clear that any further opening up of Australia's borders to the rest of the world will depend upon Scott Morrison being able to get this vaccine rollout, that is currently failing, back on track.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that states should then commit to keeping their borders open, given the possibility of any future outbreaks so that people can have confidence with this trouble bubble and potentially others going further forward?
BUTLER: All Australian governments, Commonwealth and State should do what I think we've been doing over the last 12 to 13 months, and that is take the advice of our public health experts.