Coronavirus update | Thursday 17 June 2021

Last Updated: 24 Jun 2021 4:14pm

Good afternoon. So, Kathryn Morgan-Wicks with me, Secretary of Health, will provide an update on the vaccination program. Dr Veitch, who will deal with vaccination as well as other public health matters.

So, the past week we've continued to closely monitor the COVID-19 situation in Victoria and also New South Wales. Our first priority, as often said, is to keep Tasmania safe, and as we head into a big weekend of events in Tasmania, this continues to remain at the forefront of our thinking.

While zero locally acquired cases of COVID-19 are being recorded in Victoria today, authorities in New South Wales have identified a range of exposure sites in that state, following confirmation of three confirmed cases of COVID19.

In terms of border restrictions with Victoria, the travel restrictions we have in place with metropolitan Melbourne, whilst it's encouraging to see numbers remaining low and Victorian authorities lifting some further restrictions, our restrictions will stay in place until early next week, as the Director of Public Health has already announced.

A review of the situation, as was announced earlier this week, will take place tomorrow, but I want to foreshadow that the restrictions will stay in place until at least Monday, at this stage, post the weekend. This means that anyone who has been in the greater Melbourne area in the 14 days prior to their arrival in Tasmania cannot enter Tasmania unless approved as an Essential Traveller, and if they've been at a high-risk premises at the date and times identified, they will not be permitted to enter.

In terms of New South Wales, in relation to our response to the situation there, at this stage close to 40 exposure sites have been identified in a number of areas of Sydney, which Tasmania has declared as high-risk premises. These premises are listed on the Coronavirus website. Additional premises will continue to be identified and will be added should they be identified. If you were at any of these premises at the dates and times identified, you will not be able to enter Tasmania at this time.

We've also contacted people in Tasmania who've been in New South Wales in the 14 days prior to their arrival, advising them to review the current list of premises, and isolate and contact the Public Health Hotline if they have been at any of those locations.

Anyone who has been in New South Wales since the 11th of June and is now in Tasmania should check the list. If a person has been at any of the listed high-risk premises at those specified dates and times, they must self-isolate immediately and contact the Public Health Hotline for more information.

I want to stress that it is so important that you follow these rules and so very important that you isolate if unwell and get a test. With Dark Mofo on and a big weekend of football in front of us, as well as the two Amy Shark concerts, there will be lots of opportunity for people to mix together. I'm strongly recommending that attendees at these events follow the COVID-safe protocols to the letter.

Now, this will be an important weekend. It's going to be a good weekend, but at the end of the day it will be the first time that we have had significant numbers of people mixing at a significant number of events. Have good hand hygiene, make certain that you register when entering events or venues and, importantly, socially distance.

Remember that the best way to manage COVID is to manage yourself appropriately, to be responsible and do the things that you can do. This is not over yet, and importantly, check in wherever you go, check in wherever you go. Should there be a case, we want to be able to track and trace it very quickly, and use the contact traces as effectively as we possibly can.

Now, in terms of the two AFL matches being hosted in Tasmania this weekend, I have to say that it's great to see the match on Sunday at UTAS between the Hawks and Essendon sold out within a matter of hours. I'll just make this point: I think that sends a very strong message to the AFL in terms of rostering.

You know, for years we have been saying that you put the right games on and we'll fill the stadiums, and that is exactly what's occurred in this case. I think there is a salient message there to the AFL, and also a very clear message in terms of the love that Tasmanians have for this game, which will underpin, and I hope strengthen, the view of the AFL in terms of our business case and the process that's currently underway with Colin Carter.

Now, tickets for the match between North Melbourne and Brisbane at Blundstone on Saturday have gone on sale this morning. Now, I understand there is strong interest as well, but certainly the blockbuster game in the north has sold out very, very quickly.

The AFL and the clubs involved have been working closely with the State Control Centre and Public Health, and have agreed to a range of strict conditions for these matches to be conducted. The Victorian clubs will fly in on the day of the game, and go straight to the ground without any contact with our community. Once the game is over, all teams – noting that we'll have a team that's flying out of Queensland coming into the ground – all teams will leave directly after the game.

Last weekend's game at Blundstone Arena was successfully conducted under the same arrangements approved by Public Health, and we're confident both games will be conducted in a safe way. But again, I would say to the patrons that are attending, be responsible, follow the guidelines that are provided, and follow the COVID safe plan. At the end of the day, be responsible for yourself in terms of your own social distancing and the way that you conduct yourself on either the Saturday or the Sunday afternoon, it's very important.

In terms of vaccination, I want to just address a couple of matters there before Kath provides a broader outline of the announcement made today relating to the revised advice on AstraZeneca vaccine. ATAGI, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, has made a recommendation to the Australian Government that the Pfizer vaccine is now the preferred vaccine for people aged 50 to 59 years of age.

Previously, the recommended age threshold for the AstraZeneca vaccine was 50 years and over. The Commonwealth Government accepted the recommendation, and has advised all states and territories of this change. It has also said this change is based on a highly precautionary approach for Tasmania. This means that if you're aged between 50 and 59 years of age and have not yet had a first dose of the vaccine, it is recommended that you book in for your first dose with a Pfizer clinic.

From today, importantly the expert advice is that if you've already had your first dose of AZ or AstraZeneca, you should continue to have your second dose. The advice is that one dose of AstraZeneca is not enough – you must receive the second dose to increase your protection against the severe consequences of COVID-19.

I've had my first dose of AstraZeneca, I'll be having a second dose, I understand, around the middle of next month, and whilst I know that some people have had some flu-like symptoms as a result, in fact, to be frank, I had less of an impact than what I would from a normal flu shot. So, certainly, if you're due to get an AstraZeneca jab, please do it.

In terms of how Tasmania is tracking with our rollout, I want to say thank you to everybody that's been involved, and importantly those that have rolled up their sleeve already. As of today, more than a third of Tasmanians eligible for the vaccine 16 years and over have had at least one dose of the vaccine. We've forward bookings in state clinics for June and July of over 56,000 people, and we still have appointments available.

Getting as many Tasmanians vaccinated quickly is our priority, and I'm urging every eligible Tasmanian to commit to an appointment in coming weeks.

I’ll now hand over to the Secretary of Health, Kathryn Morgan-Wicks, to provide you with more detail on the vaccination roll out.

Thank you, Premier. As the Premier said, we're almost at the end of week 16 of the rollout in Tasmania. As at 16 June, we have delivered 177,139 doses, which is made up of 88,849 doses in State Government clinics, 11,608 by the Australian Government provider in aged and disability care, and 76,882 doses by GPs.

Over 33 per cent of eligible Tasmanians have received their first vaccine dose, and over seven per cent are fully vaccinated, which equates to some 30,000 Tasmanians fully vaccinated. This will grow in coming weeks as the first 12-week cycle of AstraZeneca doses comes around, with more than 100,000 Tasmanians to receive their second dose in the 12 weeks from 14 June.

Now, as the Premier has said, ATAGI has issued new advice, and as a result the Australian Government has advised that the Pfizer vaccine is now preferred over the AstraZeneca vaccine for eligible adults aged between 16 and 59 years old who have not yet received a first dose of AstraZeneca.

So, this means from today if you are booking in for your first dose of COVID vaccine, Pfizer is recommended for eligible people aged 16 to 59 years and AstraZeneca is recommended for people aged 60 years and over. To be clear, this change only impacts people aged between 50 and 59 years who are yet to receive their first dose. There is no change to any other age group, and there is no change if you've already received your first dose of vaccine.

In Tasmania, we estimate that we have 72,000 people aged 50 to 59 years and some 27,000 have already received a dose one of vaccination, so that leaves 45,000 who are yet to receive a dose one vaccination that will now fall into the Pfizer category. This change in age threshold is based on the latest ATAGI advice in response to ongoing monitoring of rare but serious adverse reactions to the vaccine.

Importantly, ATAGI has advised that people who have had their first dose of AstraZeneca can safely receive their second dose. This includes adults aged 50 to 59 years old, so if you have safely received your first dose of AstraZeneca, ATAGI recommends that you continue to receive your second dose of AstraZeneca, and this is critical for Tasmania as we have some 100,000 people who are due to receive their second dose of vaccine in coming weeks.

It is safe to continue to receive your second dose, and you will not have the benefit of the higher protection against the severe consequences of COVID if you do not get your second dose. Outbreaks continue to occur around Australia, and with increased tourism and travel interstate, Tasmanians need to get vaccinated.

Further, it is important to note that TGA have not approved the mixing of vaccines, so generally you cannot get dose one AstraZeneca and then get dose two Pfizer. In Australia, it is generally recommended that you receive two doses of the same vaccine.

I'll now talk about the logistics of implementing this change for the people aged 50 to 59 who are already booked in for an AstraZeneca dose first dose in coming weeks. From today, people with existing first dose appointments at Tasmanian Government community clinics who are aged 50 to 59 will be contacted directly to have their appointment rescheduled to a clinic delivering the Pfizer vaccine.

We know who you are, and we will contact you. For example, we have 1385 people that are booked in for a first dose at our Kingston, Rosny, Huonville and Scottsdale clinics over the next three weeks, and they will all be moved to a Pfizer booking for their first dose.

If you are 50 to 59 and booked in with a GP for a first dose of AstraZeneca and do not wish to proceed with your appointment, you should contact your GP to cancel your appointment and you can contact us to make a an appointment at a state Pfizer clinic.

GPs around Tasmania are only receiving this news today, so please be patient as they work to get updated information to their booked-in patients. People aged 50 to 59 who have not yet booked in their first vaccination should book into a Pfizer vaccination clinic when they make their first booking. Pfizer vaccination clinics are currently operating at the Royal Hobart Hospital, the Hobart Wellington Clinic, Moonah, Launceston General Hospital, Burnie, King Island and Smithton.

I emphasise, from today, we will be prioritising the rescheduling of appointments for the 1385 people aged 50 to 59 years who have their upcoming first dose appointment at State Government clinics and will contact each person individually. This will be undertaken over a number of days and people will be scheduled into available appointments in coming weeks.

We will open additional Pfizer clinics and will be extending current clinics to take on these additional appointments. I am satisfied that we have sufficient Pfizer available in the state in coming weeks to extend our Tasmanian vaccination roll out and take on this additional load of the 50–59s. Our allocation from the Australian Government will also be increasing for Pfizer from 5 July.

In addition, I want to assure our vulnerable populations, our older Tasmanians, Tasmanians with a disability, that we have sufficient clinics and doses to also meet your needs. 86.9 per cent of Tasmanians in aged care facilities have been fully vaccinated. 70 per cent of Tasmanians over 70 have received at least one dose, and disability in reach programs have been running for three weeks and specialist disability clinics will open by the end of June.

More information in relation to the ATAGI advice is available on www.coronavirus.tas.gov.au and you can book online for state clinics via the website now. If you have an urgent query, please call the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738, but please be patient as we attempt to deal with the first few weeks of bookings to move first.

The vaccination rollout program will continue as planned, with vaccinations for those eligible people aged 16 to 59 using the Pfizer vaccine and using the AstraZeneca vaccine for Tasmanians 60 years and older. We want to emphasise to as many people as possible this clear advice: don't wait, vaccinate.

And if you have had no issues with dose one AstraZeneca, you need to show up and get your dose two. And for the one in three vaccinated eligible Tasmanians, please urge your friends, your family and your community to continue to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated as soon as it's their turn.

So, I'll open up for some vaccination questions and note that I'll then pass to Mark to answer in relation to clinical ones.

Is there a feeling that, the last time you spoke, you talked quite a bit about the hesitancy in the community around vaccine. Has there been much of a change in that, in your view? Are we sort of winning the fight on the hesitancy, or is it still quite an issue?

So, Tasmanians are actually leading the nation in terms of the numbers that have been booking in for vaccinations, and we've got really strong bookings over the next few months. So, it is critical that this change that ATAGI have announced today as advice to the Commonwealth, it impacts an age group of the 50 to 59s, and as I talked through earlier, we have some 45,000 Tasmanians that are left to be vaccinated in that group.

So, certainly for everyone else that's sitting outside of that age range, it should be business as usual and continue on with vaccination.

You worry that the numbers might drop off, like somewhere like Scottsdale? For instance, if they could get the AZ jab in Scottsdale, now they might have to drive to the Pfizer hub in Launceston. Are you worried that that might slow down the roll out now a bit?

So, we will be adjusting our clinics to make sure that we do have it in locations that are available for people to get to, and we'll be announcing further Pfizer clinic openings over the next few weeks.

The Pharmacists’ Guild has been critical that they haven't been involved in the rollout. Is there any plans to bring on pharmacists to assist with things like that, in sort of rolling it out in remote areas?

So, we've been closely liaising with the Pharmacists’ Guild, with the PSA, in relation to the use of pharmacists in the rollout, and certainly we've had pharmacists involved in the rollout at our hospital and clinic environments right from the beginning. In terms of actual pharmacies coming on board, that is probably a matter that's for later in the rollout in Tasmania, because we continue to work with our GPs to make sure that they're available in the more remote and rural locations, to make sure that the community needs are met.

But a critical point for our pharmacist is that we have some 250,000 Tasmanians that should be lining up for a flu vaccine, and that is the critical point for pharmacists to actually be pushing that in terms of their customers and getting people vaccinated for the flu.

Is that a supply issue? I know previously, the Government said that we simply don't have enough supply to make it necessary to bring on pharmacists. Is that still a problem?

So the volume of vaccine does limit in terms of the number of clinics that we are actually able to operate, and certainly once the volumes increase we will be looking beyond our GPs, and probably to our pharmacies in relation to the safe rollout of COVID vaccine.

And do we know beyond July 5, we've got any indication from the Federal Government as to the supply that Tasmania would receive? Are we happy with the supply?

So, we are receiving increased volumes of Pfizer vaccine from July. We only had the next few weeks of volumes available to us, but we're working closely with the Commonwealth Government in relation to supply.

Would you like a little more assurance about our supply beyond that date? Is that quite narrow? I imagine that it's not easy to plan with only a few weeks to find out.

We met with the Commonwealth department this morning in relation to supply, and every state and territory, you know, are pushing in relation to making sure that they can get, probably, the certainty in relation to supply. But we know that the Australian Government is working closely with the manufacturers of the vaccines, and trying to get that information to the states as quickly as they receive it.

For those Tasmanians who are in the 50 to 59 age group who have had one vaccination, what reassurance can you give them? Is the understanding that the risk of serious adverse side effects is greatest with the first dose, and that if it’s not experienced, the second dose poses a lower risk?

The risk of the clotting disorder and complications of that clotting disorder, such as clots in the legs, or the veins in the bowel or in the brain, is almost exclusively restricted to the first dose. I think there have been a small number of reports related to the second dose in Europe, but the risk seems to be in, you know, very much associated with the first dose.

What ATAGI's decision today was based on was a careful review of the really good surveillance we have in Australia for adverse events. We're probably picking up more adverse events per capita in Australia than most countries because we've got a good reporting system, so we pick up even some mild cases of vaccine side effects.

And what they've noticed is that when they looked at the data from the last several weeks, that the incidence of these clotting disorders in the 50 to 59-year-old group seems to have increased. Previously, based largely on European data, the ATAGI advice to use AstraZeneca vaccine from 50 and up was based on that European data and it was based on the impression that the risk of getting that clotting event started to increase only after age 50.

So, sorry, other way around. So, my mistake. I'll actually just wind back on that one. The incidence of the clotting side effect reduces with age. It's higher in young people, and the feeling with looking at the data from Europe was that that increased risk was mostly confined to people aged under the age of 50. So, we said, let's just give Pfizer to people under the age of 50.

We've looked at the Australian data and the evidence suggests that that increased risk of getting the clotting disorder extends out to around about age 60. And that's why there's been this change announced today that means that people age between 50 and 59 are no longer recommended to get the AstraZeneca vaccine.

People over the age of 60, as before and with the European data, the risk of the clotting disorders is less – it's not zero, but it's significantly less than it is for people younger than 60. And furthermore, the risk to people from COVID over the age of 60 is much higher. You get sicker, you're more likely to die if you're in your 60s or 70s and 80s. So, it's really important that the vaccines that are available to those people get used by them.

On the matter of seconds, so on the matter of second doses, I can also just offer a personal story, which is one of the first people to get the AstraZeneca vaccine in Australia. I was pleased to get the first dose. By the time the second dose came around, the fact of this adverse event was well known.

I had no qualms at all that getting the second AstraZeneca vaccine was the best thing for me, to make sure that I've got the highest level of immunity I can get from that vaccine, because I don't want to face COVID in the coming months or the next year or so without every bit of protection the vaccine can give me. So, if you've had your first dose of AstraZeneca and it's gone well, please get your second dose.

The numbers at any rate of these complications are exceedingly low, is that correct to say?

The numbers are small but if, you know, if one in 100,000 people or two in 100,000 people get a serious side effect, that's a problem for them. We are putting messages out to the general public and to health providers that if they see someone who's had the AstraZeneca vaccine and has some symptoms suggestive of a clotting disorder, such as swelling in the leg or persistent unexplained headaches, it's really important they get properly investigated immediately because early management of these conditions can prevent them from becoming serious.

What sort of scenario are you waiting for in Melbourne in terms of when Tasmania is ready to lift border restrictions with Melbourne?

I'm waiting for the data on to see the data on Friday, as I said earlier, because I want to see enough data that suggests that the case numbers are declining, the number of exposure sites for the public are declining and that the risk assessment from Victoria is that they feel that they're on top of the outbreak.

I think we thought we're almost there at the start of this week, but we've had dozens of exposure sites in inner Melbourne added to the list  in Victoria and here, so it hasn't gone in the direction that we would have really hoped. But I'm actually glad that the decision that we made earlier was to prevent the entry of people from metro Melbourne.

You know, I'm always sad that we prevent the entry of people from metro Melbourne, because I don't want to leave that restriction in place any longer than it has to be, but I think it was an appropriate decision given the risk that has evolved in Victoria over the course of this week.

Are you going to the footy this weekend?

I will be there on Sunday afternoon, don't worry about that. Cannot wait, to be frank, to see a, what has been classed as a blockbuster game played in the north, I think along with nearly 15,000 other people. We’ll get a cracker of an afternoon.

Is there any room to move on the numbers, the capacity numbers, given it’s such a bestseller?

Well, in fact, there was a slight increase, in terms of standing room. It went from the low 14,000s up to now broadly                 15,000 people. So, based on Public Health advice. But that that is the limit, and yeah, there's no doubt in my mind that if we'd had this match in non-COVID conditions, that we would have seen a crowd of well over 20,000.

Is this weekend a bit of a test in terms of how the public responds with COVID-safe behaviours and also, you know, whether people from interstate use our Check in app as well.

Well, could I just make this point: I think this weekend is a very important weekend for Tasmania, as I've said there are going to be large events on. Dark Mofo, Amy Shark, a couple of games of football. There'll be tens of thousands of people mixing around the state, so it is critically important that people utilise the Check in TAS app.

It's critically important that businesses ensure that people check in, and if they're from interstate that they help them to download the app and make certain that they are checked in. Because this, I think, from the point of view of our state, whilst it will be a cracker of a weekend in terms of the things that we can see and do, it's also going to be a big test in terms of ensuring that we can get through this COVID-free, and it's the first time that we are seeing significant mixing in the state.

Does that make you nervous at all?

Not nervous. In fact, I think the Public Health advice that we have operated on has been sound, sensible and responsible from day one, and it's important though that the Tasmanian public and those that are visiting the state don't lose sight of the fact that we are still in a COVID environment, and that it is important that they do the little things to keep themselves, their family and our community safe. And that is to ensure they have good hand hygiene, they cover their coughs and sneezes, importantly, if they feel unwell, they don't go to an event and they get tested.