ABC Weekend Breakfast – vaccine rollout, COVID disaster

Saturday, 24 July 2021

HOST: For more on the national vaccine rollout, let’s bring in our pollie panel. We’re joined by Liberal MP Dr Katie Allen and Labor MP Amanda Rishworth. Thank you both for coming on this morning. Katie Allen, I might see if you’ve got any clarity on that issue that Fauziah mentioned. Yesterday it was announced that the second Pfizer dose for people in New South Wales would be pushed out to six weeks to ensure that more people can get that first dose. Do you know if that means that people with a current appointment booked for a second dose will have to cancel that appointment? Or is it for appointments made from here onwards?

KATIE ALLEN, MEMBER FOR HIGGINS: I actually don’t have the correct information for that, so I wouldn’t want to complicate things by commenting on that. Other than to say that it is really encouraging that people are putting their arms out to get the vaccination, because that is the only way out of this lockdown. And it’s encouraging to see that people see the distinction. We have got lockdown in parts of Australia, it’s really tough for people, people are angry and frustrated, I completely get that. And it’s very clear now that the best way out of this is to get the vaccination, and I encourage the fact that we’re extending out the second dose for Pfizer, because it will enable more people to get the Pfizer vaccine as a first dose. But more importantly, AstraZeneca is a wonderful vaccine. There’s more than 45 million doses in the UK and they are now having a third wave of 50,000 cases a day. But unlike their second wave with 1,300 deaths per day on January 3 in the UK, there are less than 50 deaths in UK per day. That’s still extraordinary for us to think about from a data point of view, but there is now a disconnect between cases and deaths and that is a great thing. It means the vaccine is suppressing the death rate in the UK, and the only way out of this lockdown or rolling lockdown scenario that we have here in Australia, is for people to get vaccinated. I really welcome the (inaudible). We’ve had supply issues but it’s time for people to put the arm forward and get the vaccine that’s appropriate for them.

HOST: That’s AstraZeneca. Amanda Rishworth, ATAGI says that Pfizer is recommended for younger Australians. New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian asked for additional doses from other States to target the younger Australians that are in New South Wales who may be impacted by this particular lockdown. Was it right for her to ask for extra doses from other States, given that it is a national emergency?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Look, I can understand Gladys Berejiklian needing to get those extra vaccines and feeling the pressure to get more people vaccinated. Of course, I can also understand the other Premiers. We are in lockdown here in South Australia, Victoria is still in lockdown, so there is an urgency around the country. And so I can understand Premiers who are having outbreaks also wanting to get their population vaccinated. I mean, ultimately, unfortunately, there is a lack of supply, and this is the fundamental issue we’re grappling with. We’re all running around trying to get our hands on the recommended doses, and I really would like to see the Prime Minister do much more in trying to secure more doses faster. This has been a mistake by the Federal Government. But they need to try to do something now, otherwise we will just see Premiers really trying to get doses from one another. But ultimately, what we need to get out of this lockdown is the whole country vaccinated. That’s the only way out.

HOST: Katie Allen you were speaking about the merits of AstraZeneca earlier, and we heard that also from the New South Wales authorities and from the Prime Minister this week. But the fact remains that there’s still hesitancy when it comes to that vaccine. And at the Sydney Olympic vaccine hub this week, there was one day when we had 9,000 Pfizer vaccines delivered, but only 50 people took up the AstraZeneca. So, what is the Federal Government doing, apart from making those appeals at the press conferences, what else is the government doing to drive home that message?

ALLEN: Well, I think there’s three aspects to this. Firstly, the Prime Minister is very clear in his messaging. Secondly, there is a large advertising campaign and marketing campaign that’s out there. Not only in English, but in all of the other different languages that are important for our multicultural community, to make sure that those who are less able to access information can access information. And then the next layer is every MP needs to get out there. And I know, I’ve sent out many emails about where to go and what information to get from the public health point of view, and then to go and see your GP. But at the end of the day, Australians are looking at that risk benefit ratio for themselves. We know that our virus success put us to the back of the queue for the Pfizer vaccine. That’s why we backed in AstraZeneca, because we wanted sovereign capability. We weren’t to know that there would be a one in a million side effect risk of clotting factors, clotting problems resulting in unfortunate fatalities. But it is less than one in a million. And we know that our risk balance ratio is different, because we’ve been able to suppress the virus. But we’re now looking at a different risk balance ratio, and  so Australians are seeing that and they are therefore increasing their uptake. We are seeing vaccine hesitancy fall. Those countries that have been most successful in suppressing the virus do have the highest vaccine hesitancy rates. So we know in global tracking, we’re about the second highest vaccine hesitancy. As high as about 40 per cent of Australia’s population is vaccine hesitant. That’s now dropped to 30 per cent, which is great. But the fact speaks for itself. When we have no COVID, people are nervous to take any risk whatsoever. When we’re looking at an outbreak, which we are looking at, trying to contain this terrible Delta virus, which many other countries around the world are now facing difficulties with, the risk balance ratio becomes different. And Australians get that, I’ve heard so many constituents know very detailed information about the risks and the benefits. They know those risks, they know those benefits. And as the situation is changing, as Delta, this terrible Delta variant, is getting out of control with contact tracers, we understand the only effective public health measure at the moment seems to be lockdown, unfortunately. So we’re in a difficult position, and the only way out is to increase the coverage of vaccination, and for people to get the vaccine that is right for them. It’s voluntary, it’s free. But it’s time for Australians to step up and support this national initiative.

HOST: Amanda Rishworth, you mentioned earlier the problem here is supply, the supplies of Pfizer in particular. But as Katie Allen pointed out there, we are swimming in AstraZeneca. It is homemade and the risk of getting a blood clot is minimal. The Premier of New South Wales has driven down this message, the Prime Minister has done the same thing. Many, many other people are doing the same thing, experts included. What else do you think needs to be done in terms of messaging out to the public that AstraZeneca is actually a good vaccine?

RISHWORTH: Well I think that it is incumbent on the government to have a good public health campaign. We have yet to see a good public health campaign from the government. But I am not going to try to make any comments about what individual vaccines people should take, that is a matter for their doctor. But I would say that even in the over 70s group that is eligible for AstraZeneca, there’s only a 30 per cent fully vaccination rate. And that is not all due to hesitancy, there is clearly also a distribution issue when we’ve got only 25 per cent of our aged care workers and our disability care workers vaccinated. While supply is a serious issue, there’s also a serious issue of distribution, when we’ve got plenty of AstraZeneca vaccine and only 30 per cent of the over 70s are fully vaccinated. So I think there is a significant issue here on distribution and I think the government, and particularly the Federal Government, has got to take more responsibility in how they actually get distribution right. As well of course as getting supply right as well, as well as getting public health messaging here. This has been a botched rollout and, quite frankly, we need the Prime Minister to show some leadership here.

HOST:  Katie Allen, a quick response there, because I have another question for you.

ALLEN: Over 75 per cent of the over 70s have had their first dose. And that dose has some protection, it is not perfect protection, but it is some protection. And it is important we encourage people once they’ve had their first dose to go and get their second dose. There is a 12 week lag with AstraZeneca. One of the benefits of more Pfizer becoming available, and we’ve got a million doses a week coming onboard, is there is only three weeks between that and the second dose for those outside of New South Wales. But the important thing is we’ve got a million Pfizer vaccines in this country per week, we’ve got a million AstraZeneca doses per week. We could double the speed that this vaccine rollout happened if people were willing to take up AstraZeneca, as 45 million people in the UK have done.

HOST: Katie Allen, I wanted to ask you about the financial support, because there is some financial support from the Federal Government, but it is not coming close for many people at making up what they usually would be on from their work. And we know how important it is to provide that financial support as an incentive for people to do the right thing and to stay at home. Will the government, particularly in areas where we are seeing these areas lockdowns drag on, increase that financial support?

ALLEN: Look, I understand how difficult this is for people, they are losing their livelihood, worried about their jobs. This is an incredibly difficult time for everybody in lockdown, in fact the whole country is looking to this as a real crisis, really. So I do understand that, but for those who are under 20 hours a week it’s $375 per week, between 8 hours and 20 hours they get a flat rate of $375 a week, and those who are on more than 20 hours will get $600 a week. And that is the same level as JobKeeper was at the end of this year, but more than that, there are many different sorts of payments available for people, depending on their particular circumstances. So I really encourage people who are listening, go to your local Federal MP, I’m taking a lot of calls myself and emails, very busy time for MPs, or go to Services Australia. There are lots of different opportunities, not just for income protection support, but other forms of support. And also providing 50/50 support with the States for businesses and their support. So lots of different programs are out there and it is important that people can navigate the ones appropriate for them.

HOST: Amanda Rishworth, it has been reported that people on welfare haven’t been able to access the disaster payments. These are the same people who have lost their jobs, can’t pay their rent and put food on the table. Is it time to bump up JobSeeker?

RISHWORTH: First of all, I would say it is very unfortunate that those who are receiving any social security payments, including parenting payments and other such payments, have been excluded from this disaster payment. And of course, in some cases this disaster payment actually is more than their payments they were getting from the government. This is really difficult, that is hasn’t been a situation where automatically you get the higher level of payment. But also a lot of people are losing their connection with their workplace because JobKeeper was scrapped. So there are many different problems here that mean that a lot of people will feel they have to go to work, they will feel that they’ve got no choice but to go to work, because either the payments are not enough, or there is no long-term security for them. So this is quite concerning, and I think it is incumbent on the government, considering they should have expected these lockdowns, it was in the Budget that there would be rolling monthly lockdowns as an expectation, that they really should have it clear about how best to support people. And not just immediately exclude people because they were already getting perhaps a very small payment from the government, which means it is not enough to actually keep food on the table and pay their rent.

HOST: On that point, we are going to have to leave it there. Thank you so much to both of you for joining us on Weekend Breakfast, Katie Allen in Melbourne and Amanda Rishworth in Adelaide, both in lockdown. We wish you the best in lockdown.

ENDS

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