Department of Health Secretary, Dr Brendan Murphy interview on 6PR Radio on 18 March 2021 – Australian Government Department of Health

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Date published: 

18 March 2021

Media type: 

Transcript

Audience: 

General public

LIAM BARTLETT:                         

There have been calls today for the Federal Government to urgently fix some technical problems with the vaccine booking system. Now, the second phase of that COVID-19 vaccine rollout starts this coming Monday, which is aimed mostly at people over 70, what they call the 1B category. Patients have been told they can book an appointment on the Federal Government’s health website. Of course, we’ve had many calls to the program from people having various issues with that on a number of different levels. We’re joined this morning by Dr Brendan Murphy, who is now the Department of Health Secretary, formerly, of course, the Chief Health Officer. Dr Murphy, Good morning to you.

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

Good morning.

LIAM BARTLETT:                         

Nice to catch up with you today. Look, how do you think this is going? Are you concerned about some of the blips in the system?

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

Look, I think this is a huge logistical issue. I would say at the outset that the website is working fine. We’ve had over 400,000 people just in the last 24 hours look at the eligibility checker and 200,000 look for the vaccine clinic locater. The issue is that the rollout into general practise is a progressive one. We’re bringing online over 1000 clinics next week, and then doubling that the following week, and then getting up to over 4000 by a month. And there are 6 million people in Phase 1B and we only have to distribute, initially, a couple of hundred thousand doses of vaccine. So it’s going to take time. And many of the clinics- we obviously wanted to get out there some visibility of which clinics were going to be in next week’s rollout, but many of them have not put their bookings online yet. And so we have had a message to people to be patient and just wait. Don’t try and rush to make a booking with your GP. Many of the GP clinics who are in the first phase are already contacting their most vulnerable people. But for the rest of people, just take time, be patient. We’re in the wonderful position in Australia of having no community transmission of the virus, unlike the rest of the world, so we can take our time to do it properly. So we do understand that many people are so anxious that they rang those GP clinics who weren’t ready for them, and that obviously caused some concern. We’re just telling people to be patient. And the bookings will come online on that website over time.

LIAM BARTLETT:                         

Okay. Well, we’ve had some calls from people saying: look, you know, we tried to contact the clinic that was on the website and they said, if you’re not a regular customer, you can’t you can’t turn up. Others have said: well, you need to, in that case, have a consult with the GP. And, you know, they’d obviously bulk billing for that, but that sounded like a bit of a grab for cash. There were a few anomalies that just didn’t sound right.

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

Yes, those things don’t- I mean, we have said to practises that they can prioritise their own vulnerable people initially, but if they’ve got available vaccine and slots, say they need to take other customers, more people from- who aren’t fair practises. But obviously, many of them- because we’ve- our major limitation at the moment is vaccine supply, and we’re working to increase that. But some clinics have only got 50 doses a week, so it’ll take a while for them to increase. We certainly don’t encourage people, GPs asking for a consultation before the vaccine clinics for patients that are not their patients. We think that’s not appropriate.

LIAM BARTLETT:                         

Alright. Not appropriate. And what, not necessary?

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

Well, not necessary. I mean, we obviously, for most of the people we- all we want them to do is to show their proof of age and then their eligibility for the vaccination. So any standard proof of age. Now, there are some people in 1B who have chronic conditions, but the GPs are pretty good at, you know, knowing if someone’s a diabetic or not and they may want to just check their conditions. But we’re not going to be too rigid on those criteria. This is a programme that’s going to go on from now until the end of October. And we just need to take it gently and carefully.

LIAM BARTLETT:                         

Okay. And Doctor Murphy, I just want to reconfirm something else. I know this sounds like the obvious, but one of our callers said yesterday they were asked by a doctor for an 80-dollar payment for themselves and their wives. I mean, there is no payment. This is free, isn’t?

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

This is the condition of using this bulk billing Medicare item, is that it must be bulk billed. You cannot charge a co-payment for the vaccine Medicare item, that is in breach of the Medicare rules.

LIAM BARTLETT:                         

Good. Okay, we’ve settled that. Now, is there is this all AstraZeneca or is some of this Pfizer?

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

The Pfizer vaccines are being given in two places. In state and territory clinics, and we are also rolling them out to aged care residence. The Pfizer vaccine is very complex. It has to be stored at minus 70 degrees and it’s got very different requirements. So- and we have much more limited supplies of Pfizer than AstraZeneca. AstraZeneca will be the vaccine that most of us will get. I’ve had my first dose on TV 10 days ago, and it’s a great vaccine. And so the GP practise will be getting AstraZeneca.

LIAM BARTLETT:                         

All right. And that suspension that has happened over the EU with some of those countries jumping on board to stop the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Do you think that’s more about politics than about medicine?

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

I think it’s being perhaps overcautious. These pe- there have been a small cluster of unusual thrombotic events in some countries which- but the data don’t suggest there’s anything different to what you would normally see in the general population. But the European’s Medicine Authority is doing an investigation, although they’ve made very positive comments about the vaccine. I hope that when they come out in the next day or so with a strong message that there is no safety risk, that those countries will resume vaccination, I think they when one country suspends, every other, feel that they have to as well.

LIAM BARTLETT:                         

Well, the Federal Government’s copped a bit of flak over the vaccine rollout being a bit tardy. I know the Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt has been on the TV today, doing his media rounds, saying, look, we’ve had 22,500 vaccinations in the last 24 hours in Australia. Are we in that sense sort of catching up or are we starting to speed things up?

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

We’re ramping up very significantly. Every week, you know, we’re getting up there. And the aged care- but we’re doing, you know, 60 aged care facilities a day now. And once we get the locally made AstraZeneca vaccine rolled out from CSL from next week, then we’ll be able to ramp up really hugely. And hopefully we’ll be getting up to a million doses a week. And that’s our plan. And even more if we can. So the limiting factor has really been vaccine supply. We- of the 3.8 million international doses of AstraZeneca, we only managed to get 700,000 because of those export bans. And that’s been one of the limitations in the first few weeks. But we’re planning for a very big ramp up as the local supplier comes online.

LIAM BARTLETT:                         

And just finally, sending those extra thousands of vaccine doses to Papua New Guinea for their problems. Will that have any material effect?

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

Not really. It’s a very small proportion of the doses we’ve got. And, you know, given the good situation in Australia, I think every Australian citizen, you know, would love to protect the health care workers in PNG who have a high incidence of COVID now. We don’t want their health system to fall over. I think every one of us would feel that that small contribution, which won’t materially affect our rollout, is well worth doing.

LIAM BARTLETT:                         

Yeah, no. Well said. Thanks very much for joining us this morning, Doctor. I appreciate it.

BRENDAN MURPHY:                    

Great pleasure.

LIAM BARTLETT:                         

Dr Brendan Murphy, the Department of Health Secretary on the programme. I hope this answered some of our caller’s questions, both on air and off here in the last 24 hours about that. So the vaccination bookings start tomorrow, officially, and be patient is the key.

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