Friday 05 March transcript

Last Updated: 22 Mar 2021 11:33am

Good afternoon,

Stephen Joyce! The band's back together! Good to see you.

Now, good afternoon, everyone. Today with me is Kathrine Morgan-Wicks, the Secretary of Health and also Dr Shannon Melody who is a Specialist Medical Advisor with Public Health Tasmania and is working with our vaccination rollout team. Obviously, as this will be going on for some time, I think it's important that you get to meet some of the senior team as we're working our way through this and we may be interchanging people at different stages as we work through.

But if I could start by saying that this today marks the finish of our second week of rolling out what is one of the largest health logistical exercises in our country's history and certainly in our state's history. We currently have no restrictions in place between our state and the rest of the country and Tasmania continues to be in a good place. But I do want to say once again you know I'd ask all Tasmanians to continue to do the right thing. I know at times it's difficult but one thing that we've got to keep on top of is complacency.

Now our focus will continue to be on protecting the health and safety of Tasmanians and this week we've continued to vaccinate our priority and high-risk groups. I'm pleased to report that we are on track and Kath will provide more detail in a moment in terms of that. However, over the second week of our state-based roll-out, we have now vaccinated 1,168 people from priority groups at the Royal Hobart Hospital vaccination hub bringing our total to 2,232 Tasmanians to be vaccinated over the first two weeks. These have included frontline health workers, paramedics and quarantine and border staff including some police officers as well. Once again this is a really positive outcome with immunisers continuing to regularly get six doses out of each vial of the vaccine.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank our highly trained and professional staff who are doing a great job each and every day and this will go on for some time and you know, I know that they will receive both the support of our community and in their workplaces as we work forward. I just really want to thank them. It's so very important the next delivery of the Pfizer vaccine - another tray of 195 vials - will arrive on Sunday and we will continue the vaccination program of priority groups at the Royal Hobart Hospital from Tuesday the vaccination program will start at the Launceston General Hospital and the North West Regional Hospital in Burnie on the 15th of March as planned. Our aim continues to have fully vaccinated Tasmania's priority populations - around 14 000 people - by mid-April.

There's also been some commentary and interest around the AstraZeneca vaccine today. I'm pleased to announce that we will shortly be in receipt of an additional 6,720 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. That's 840 vials from which we'll be able to extract up to eight doses from each of those vials. What this means is that we'll be able to move through to vaccinate more Tasmanians sooner now the rollout of this will include AstraZeneca clinics at the Royal Hobart hospital and settings like the Roy Fagan Centre in the coming week as well as bringing forward the start of our 1b which is the second part of the second phase by two weeks to the 19th of March.

Tasmanians in the 1b cohort will include people aged 70 and over, our remaining healthcare workers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders adults with underlying medical conditions, and critical and high risk workers including defence, police, fire, emergency services and obviously volunteers that volunteer with our emergency services and meat processing. The initial rollout of AstraZeneca in Tasmania as around the rest of the country it will be slow and steady.

I know what is pleasing - I can just say to Tasmanians - I'm getting an increasing number of people wanting to know when is their turn and I think that's really positive and I'd refer you to the websites and to the material that's being provided through most of our daily papers quite regularly. In terms of the rollout phases next week we'll provide more details on how people in phase 1b will be able to book their appointments, have their vaccinations. These will be conducted at both state-run clinics and a number of GP clinics around the state starting later this month. The number of clinics delivering vaccinations will slowly increase as the supply of the vaccine increases. Regarding the commonwealth's program, I'm advised it's continuing to be rolled out. It will continue next week in residential aged and disability care facilities across the state, so while we're still in the early days of this massive task things are going well. I'd like to thank every Tasmanian who has lined up to get their vaccine so far and every worker who is helping us to make this program run smoothly. But there's still a long way to go, as I've said and that's what I've always pointed out.

It's important that we continue with our COVID-safe behaviours: follow the restrictions that we do have in place, wear masks at our airports, don't turn up to work or other events if you're sick, even just a little bit sick, make sure that you go and get tested.

Importantly the vaccine is safe it's effective and it's free. While it won't be the silver bullet, as I've mentioned on a number of occasions, it will help us return to a more normal way of life over time. So please, when it's your turn, roll up your sleeve and get the jab. I'll now hand over to Kath Morgan-Wicks to provide a more detailed report. Thanks, Kath.

Thank you, Premier. Our program to roll out the COVID vaccine in Tasmania is going to plan. We have had an excellent second week at the Royal Hobart Pfizer clinic with 379 people vaccinated there on day one, 432 on day two, 327 on day three, and 30 today. We have vaccinated 1,168 people this week and we've had no wastage. This means that we have administered 100% of the vaccine delivered to Tasmania in weeks one and two of our rollout for a total of 2,327 Tasmanians. Our standby lists have again worked well to make sure that we are covered for any appointments that could not be kept due to illness or an emergency and anyone that misses an appointment is rebooked.

I'm advised that to Thursday night, the commonwealth Aspen medical team has vaccinated 578 staff and residents in aged care facilities in Tasmania. Aspen medical will be vaccinating a further eight facilities by the end of next week.

Based on our efforts this week, and our success in drawing six doses from the majority of Pfizer vials, we remain on track to have more than 1,100 priority workers vaccinated a week for the first three weeks. Our efforts will then ramp up in week four as we receive four trays of the vaccine with the start of second doses at the Royal Pfizer hub and the opening of our Launceston General Hospital and North West Regional Hospital Pfizer hubs. The LGH and north west regional hubs will be five-day clinics commencing on 15 March and will vaccinate phase 1a workers in the north and north west with the news that AstraZeneca vaccines will arrive in Tasmania earlier than planned. We are bringing forward our plans for phase 1b beginning from Tuesday the 9th of March. We will target health facilities managed by the TAS government starting with staff and residents at the Roy Fagan Centre in Lenah Valley.

For phase 1a, we estimate we'll vaccinate around 400 people with AstraZeneca next week we'll also open a clinic at the Mersey Community Hospital on Friday the 19th of March for north west health staff. Now if you fall into phase 1b, you do not need to do anything now. We will soon start rolling out public information on how people can make an appointment and this will be done through advertising social media on our website and through GP clinics as well as working with key stakeholders to ensure that groups such as the elderly and the Aboriginal and multicultural communities are informed. Down the track there will be a wider public call out and multiple booking methods for people to book into their GP or into a government clinic over the next few months.

We continue to work closely with commonwealth health to make sure that there is sufficient coverage across Tasmania of participating GPs in phase 1b and pharmacists in phase 2. Where there might be a gap, we will ensure that there are state-run vaccination clinics or a mobile vaccination clinic to reach you. Now details of the GP clinics and state clinics including locations and opening times will be provided from next week. The commonwealth has advised there will be more than 100 GPs in Tasmania who will be part of the phase 1b rollout. They will not all start at once rather the numbers will be matched with the volumes of AstraZeneca vaccine coming into the state and ramped up as vaccine distribution firms up. The GPs will operate alongside state-run clinics that will be set up to ensure that our rural and regional areas are covered.

Finally, I'd just like to update you on our recent COVID laboratory testing figures. On Tuesday March the 2nd 628 tests to 6 pm. On Wednesday March the 3rd 537 tests and Thursday March the 4th 522. So thank you and I look forward to the next update when we'll be able to report on our week three and how that rollout has gone and more details about phase 1b and how to book for phase 1b.

So when will the AstraZeneca vaccine arrive in Tasmania? So AstraZeneca will be arriving prior to our Tuesday first clinic at the Royal Hobart Hospital.

Do you know what day specifically? That's still to be advised. We're working with the commonwealth on that.

There's been some press today about the delays with the vaccine leaving Italy. Is that going to affect Tasmania at all? That won't affect Tasmania's initial rollout. The commonwealth last weekend received 300,000 doses of AstraZeneca and is working with each of the states and territories to roll that out and we then have the Australian manufacturer of AstraZeneca coming on board later this month. That 6,000 amount that's arriving will that be the largest shipment of a largest single shipment of a COVID vaccine to date.

For Tasmania? Yes.

How are you feeling about that? Well, very excited to actually see further vaccine coming into Tasmania and coming earlier than planned. It's put our team certainly into a lot of work in trying to just match up our logistical plans with our clinics opening etc but very glad to see, you know, increased volumes of vaccine coming into Tasmania.

What are the refrigeration differences with AstraZeneca compared to Pfizer which requires the minus 70 or thereabouts temperature? The AstraZeneca vaccine can be kept at quite normal vaccine temperature ranges of the two to eight degrees.

So less headaches there, I'm guessing? Yes, less headaches in terms of the specialist freezers and fridges that are actually required for those vaccines.

I'm interested that you mentioned there's been no wastage. How would you characterise the effort of your staff in not, you know, not even dropping one vial on the floor or anything like that - to get you know make every vial count - how would you sort of describe that? Well, it's been a monumental effort over the last two weeks in Tasmania and we have received one tray each a week and we have treated that tray like gold. So in terms of very special management - and it really goes down to the dry runs too that the staff have done with over five dry runs to actually practice and make sure that we you know can safely, you know, decant, dilute and then administer.

I know you canvassed this a little bit in your opening comments there, but when will I guess everybody be able to get the vaccine? You know, people, let's say under 50 or under 45? If you like, when do you anticipate that? So we're prioritising obviously our 1a's at the moment we're trying to bring on our phase 1b as we've mentioned today earlier than we thought and if we're looking to the 40 year olds etc you know who are further down the track. In terms of phase 2 it's about getting those priority groups into those early 1a and 1b vaccination.

Have we had any adverse reactions so far from anyone? Anaphylactic incidence or anything like that? So in terms of adverse events, and that's why it's very important like with any vaccine, that we do have people that are waiting after they've actually received the vaccination. So people are asked to wait between you know 15 minutes or if you've had a past history in relation to you know reaction to vaccine to wait that you know probably 30 minute period. So we have had some adverse events that have been recorded in Tasmania this week which I'd categories in the minor category and we have a very thorough system in terms of reporting those through to our vaccination emergency operations centre. In fact Dr Shannon is actually in charge of the team that examines each of those and reporting through to the TGA and …

Sorry, what does that mean minor? Is that like a headache afterwards or something like that? Yes, so a little bit like the flu vaccine as well where people may get reddening at the site or they may develop a headache or a slight temperature elevation etc or there may also be some anxiety also about just getting a vaccination. So we all know we have some people in that that category so we do carefully monitor them. We do a full medical assessment if we do detect that there's an adverse event, but certainly we don't have. Everyone is you know safe and well at the moment and it's fair to say it's a very small number of people who've had an adverse event and we've seen adverse events that are very mild in terms of the symptoms that have been reported that we're monitoring in every state and territory around Australia and no different to what's happened internationally with over you know close to 200 million or so vaccinations that have occurred.

Yeah, just, but we need to ask this question every time I think - has anyone refused? So in terms of ringing up and actually booking our priority 1a workers and we're going to slowly start into the phase 1b, we have spoken to people for example like our pregnant or breastfeeding or waiting to start a family and certainly we work with those. We have had some issues in terms of just trying to get onto people so in bringing them up and trying to book them into the phase and we're tweaking our systems in relation to that.

We might just get you to start by saying your name and titled. Yeah sure, so my name is Dr Shannon Melody. I'm a Specialist Medical Advisor working within the Tasmanian Vaccination Emergency Operations Centre.

So how would you characterise how the rollout's going? I think it's going really well. I think we've seen some amazing effort across the state in terms of everyone in the first instance getting ready and then now as we've seen the Royal hub come online with week one and week two going very well. There's been a lot of staff putting in a lot of hours and thought and dedication, so I think overall we're going we're going to plan.

How eager are those staff in the north and the north west to join the fight? I would say very eager. I think everyone's keen to get on board and be a part of the rollout and really we're very excited looking forward to the vaccine becoming more available and broadening out the phases as we work through this.

Completely silly question, but has there been any thought as to how our health staff are going to celebrate at the end of the year when the job's done? That's like - it's a complicated question. In a way I think we need to be really careful in this phase of the pandemic. We're seeing this really monumental moment where we've had a vaccine that's developed and safe and effective that's available to us just 12 months after the virus was first identified. So we're now moving into the next phase where we're trying to broadly vaccinate population and achieve immunity through that means, but there really are quite a lot of unknowns. So we all need for the next at least 12 months to continue to practice our COVID-safe behaviours: hand hygiene, staying home if we're unwell, take the vaccine when it's offered to you. And we look forward to 2022 and what that involves but we don't yet know what that looks like.

Questions next optimality primarily you're concerned by these reports of AstraZeneca shipments being blocked by the EU? Is that going to impact Tasmania in the long term? Look obviously sovereign nations will act as they see fit and supply chains in terms of the vaccine around the world are so very, very important. I think what will stand this country in good stead was the very early decision made by the Prime Minister to actually have a sovereign capability here in the country and that we will actually produce our own AstraZeneca so I think over the medium to long term as we work our way through this we're we are in a very good place as a country. But look the other message I think that is sent as a result of what we've seen occur and I think it was Italy this morning that made the decision to block 300,000 vials. We are in such a good spot. In that country over the last week I understand they've had nearly 300 deaths per day and they've had thousands of new cases and so I think what it does do is clearly draw a line as to just how well this country is going compared to the rest of the world.

(COVID matters end)