Topics: AstraZeneca vaccine; vaccine rollout; international borders


Journalist: The vaccine roll out. Clearly all Australians are not going to receive their first vaccination by the end of the year.


Simon Birmingham: This is very disappointing, very disappointing the circumstances that have occurred in relation to the AstraZeneca vaccine. Australia still has contract arrangements in place to secure around ninety six million vaccines through other contracts and sources then what we’ve had with AstraZeneca. We will have to work through what that means though in terms of timing and the implications for the rollout, not all of those vaccines have TGA approval status yet. So we do recognise the difficulties here. But at every step through the last 12 months, we’ve put the health, safety and well-being of Australians first. And that’s what we’re continuing to do.


Journalist: Has the government put all it’s eggs in one basket?


Simon Birmingham: Certainly not. That’s why we have multiple other contracts, for multiple other vaccines in place. We always recognised there was uncertainty. We always pursued multiple vaccines, we’ve always contracted to multiple vaccines. And we will continue to work to the delivery of other vaccines.


Journalist: The vast majority from AstraZeneca though?


Simon Birmingham: AstraZeneca has provided and had provided a very promising pathway, demonstrating that it was a good vaccine and all health experts say this, in terms of reducing serious health implications from COVID, in terms of reducing rates of transmission and, of course, and the benefit of being a vaccine that it was capable for us to produce here in Australia. Now, we have to deal with the situation as it is. The situation as it is presents now these concerns around AstraZeneca that’s why we had also contracted other vaccines, well and truly in the numbers sufficient to be able to vaccinate the Australian population. The question, though, is making sure we now work through the approvals, the timing and otherwise around the delivery.


Journalist: Minister [indistinct] of the government, now affectively told anybody under fifty not to take AstraZeneca. How do you wind back that advice, if there is a breakout, as was advised last night, the age limit could change. How do you then tell people a vaccine that was previously not suitable for them is suitable for them? Might you be creating more vaccine hesitancy?


Simon Birmingham: We are following the health advice in the best health advice available. Following the health advice of experts has served Australia well and kept Australians safe over the last 12 months. And it will continue to be the best pathway to keep Australians safe over the next 12 months and beyond.


Journalist: Other vaccines and other contracts will obviously incur another cost. Do you anticipate that this will have an effect on the budget next month?


Simon Birmingham: We’ll look at any budget implications in relation to securing further contracts or other activities as necessary. We have made sure at every step of this pandemic that we put the support in place for Australians to keep them safe, to keep them secure, to protect the economy. Let’s understand that Australia is in a far more fortunate position in responding to this and many other countries in the world.


Journalist: But why? Why should that change though the fact that we don’t have community transmission? Why should that change the target of the vaccine rollout?


Simon Birmingham: We should make sure that we follow what you call us to keep Australians safe and secure. If you look at other countries who had comparable success to us in suppressing COVID-19 such as New Zealand, Japan, South Korea. Our vaccine rollout is running ahead of those countries. But all of us, of course, have been in a position where vaccine manufacturers, not unreasonably, have said well there are other parts of the world where people are dying from COVID right now, where the spread of COVID is out of control and therefore they have been a priority destination for the delivery of vaccines. That’s understandable. That’s a function of Australia being in a very good position. We remain in a good position with no community transmission of COVID at present and with the strongest economy in the developed world, according to IMF forecasts. And this is, of course, the situation that we wish had not occurred around AstraZeneca. But we’re not going to compromise the health and wellbeing of Australians just to rush the vaccine. Can I say, I saw Anthony Albanese’s press conference before. Anthony Albanese is behaving like some sort of Nostradamus who could see the future. Well, the truth is, every country in the world is grappling with the uncertainties of COVID, the uncertainties around vaccines. And if we had rushed the vaccine rollout as Anthony Albanese and the Labor Party had suggested well then there may have been dire consequences for some Australians, who we are now protecting on the basis of the available health advice.


Journalist: What’s this going to mean for international borders, they’re clearly not going to happen for the next 12 months? 24 months?


Simon Birmingham: There was already great uncertainty around international borders, depending upon the evidence that unfolded about how long vaccines last for and their effectiveness, how successfully they reduced transmission, what it meant in relation to other variants or strains of COVID. There are many uncertainties we were having to deal with prior to this news about AstraZeneca. We will now just have to deal with the additional uncertainties that come as a result of this news-.


Journalist: What does it mean for Australians trapped overseas who would have been relying on the safe vaccine roll out here? Can we expect to see them still struggle to come home indefinitely?


Simon Birmingham: We will continue to do all we can to help returning Australians come back to Australia. But our borders, our secure international borders have been the most important factor in terms of keeping Australians safe and suppressing the spread of COVID within our community. And we’ve seen the consequences when we have had leakages out of medi hotels that can move quite quickly and it did to devastating effect for a period of time in Victoria. So there are no apologies for the fact that we have secure international borders. That’s been our number one safeguard throughout the course of COVID-19 for more than 12 months now. And we will continue to maintain that as a safeguard to keep COVID suppression under control in our country. Thank you.