Friday 12 March 2021

Last Updated: 16 Mar 2021 12:50pm

Morning,

Now we'll provide a vaccination program update this morning and obviously deal with other matters of the day afterwards, but again I'm joined by the Health Minister Sarah Courtney and the Secretary (sorry we that's all right it's like a technical hiccup).

Very good, again I'm joined by the Health Minister, Sarah Courtney, and the Secretary of Health Department Kathrine Morgan-Wicks. Now, after three weeks of successfully rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine in Tasmania to our priority and at risk groups, today we're able to provide further details on the next phase of what is a huge logistical exercise, not only for our state but for our country.

I'm again pleased to advise our program this week has run smoothly with 1,164 people vaccinated at the Royal Hobart Hospital vaccination hub. Our immunisers continue to regularly get six doses from each vial of the Pfizer vaccine; a credit to our highly trained and professional staff who are doing an amazing job and I want to thank them for that. For each of the past three weeks Tasmania has received one tray of the Pfizer vaccine. From next week this will increase to four trays which will considerably speed up our ability to vaccinate the priority groups that we have, at the same time deliver the second doses to those vaccinated in the first week. This will deliver 4,600 doses for Tasmanians across the state with the Pfizer vaccination program continuing in Hobart, but also starting at the LGH here in Launceston and the North West Regional Hospital in Burnie on the 15th of March. The start of our LGH North West Regional Hospital hubs this coming Monday is a another very important milestone as we've said many times our aim is to have fully vaccinated Tasmania’s 1a priority groups by mid-April and we remain on track to meet that target.

In terms of the Australian government's rollout, I'm advised it's continuing to achieve its rollout schedule and in Tasmania is vaccinating between 800 and 1,000 people each week. The commonwealth has now vaccinated residents and aged care facilities in all three regions and has also started vaccinating disability residential aged care clients and staff as well.

This week in Tasmania we also received our first batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine - 6720 doses - which we have already started to distribute to health care facilities managed by the state government. I want to particularly thank a number of our health care leaders who stepped forward this week to be the first Tasmanians to be vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine. Their message was clear - AstraZeneca is safe and equally as effective as Pfizer vaccine when it comes to protecting our community and it's certainly the vaccine that I’ll be rolling up my sleeve for when it's my turn.

This week we delivered the AstraZeneca vaccine to 170 people which brings our total to 3,661 Tasmanians vaccinated with both vaccines over the first three weeks. As we announced last week, the early arrival of AstraZeneca means we've brought forward the start of the second phase of the rollout plan. As part of the second stage we'll start to see the vaccine rollout broadened beyond our priority groups. I’ll hand over to the Health Minister, Sarah Courtney, to provide more detail around what this stage will entail before I do I’d like to reassure Tasmanians that everyone will have the chance to be vaccinated. There's plenty of time to receive your vaccination and we'll continue communicating with you about when and how you can receive it, but please remember this is a huge exercise and it will take time, so please be patient. Importantly continue to do the things that we've been asking you to do and that is to ensure you've got good hand hygiene, you cover your coughs and sneezes, importantly if you're feeling even a little unwell get a test, but importantly do not go to work, do not go to a function if you feel unwell. We have done so very well here in Tasmania and it's important that we continue to stay in that place. I'll hand over to Sarah Courtney and then we'll take questions.

Good morning. As the Premier has outlined, the rollout plan is on track and we're now entering the next phase which will see Tasmania receive increased supplies of vaccines enabling more Tasmanians to be vaccinated. Phase 1b will include Tasmanians over 70 years old, our remaining healthcare workers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged 55, and over adults with underlying medical conditions and critical and high risk workers. The initial rollout of the AstraZeneca in Tasmania, which the majority of Tasmanians will be offered, will be slow and steady and dependent on the supplies of vaccines we receive each week. There are around 180,000 Tasmanians who will be eligible to receive the vaccine as part of the next stage of the rollout. This is a significant number of Tasmanians and at this stage we're estimating it will take around four months to complete this phase.

I can announce that from March 22nd the commonwealth has advised that around 40 Tasmanian GPs have registered to start delivering the vaccine across the state. The commonwealth is expected to release more information about how about these GPs as well as where they are and how they will be taking bookings from early next week. The number of GPs will increase to around 100 over the next few weeks as we see more vaccines arriving here in Tasmania.

I’m also pleased to announce that the Tasmanian government will stand-up our own AstraZeneca vaccination clinics starting from next Friday March 19 at the Mersey Community Hospital in Latrobe where health staff will be the first in line to receive the vaccine. This will then be followed on March 22 with the start of the government's community AstraZeneca clinics and these will be in Launceston, New Norfolk, Kingston and Brighton. Details on the actual location of these state government clinics are being finalised and will be advertised to those communities next week. We expect to start taking bookings for these community-based clinics for those Tasmanians that we talked about in the 1b category from Thursday March 18.

So as a reminder, Tasmanians who come under 1b include those that are over 70 years old, our remaining health care workers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults aged 55, and over adults with underlying medical conditions and critical and high-risk workers. In addition to this, the state's three GP-led respiratory clinics that are in Hobart, Launceston and St Helens will be part of the vaccination program. Tasmania will also have four Aboriginal community controlled health clinics participating in the 1b rollout.

Now I want to be very clear our advice to Tasmanians today is there is no need to do anything right now. Public announcements will be made next week about how you'll be able to book your appointment so we'll give you plenty of time to be able to understand how to book, where to book, and importantly there'll be plenty of time for you to get vaccinated. As we move through the roll out of the vaccination program we will stand-up additional community and government-run mobile clinics where they are needed to ensure we get cover coverage of any gaps. So I'd like to reassure all Tasmanians it doesn't matter where you live. We will make sure, in partnership with the federal government, that your community is covered and you get the vaccination.

Another important message is that your vaccination appointment will be free - whether it's done at your GP, a GP respiratory clinic or a government community clinic.

The Secretary of the Department will shortly provide more details on how people eligible under phase 1b will be able to find out about where their nearest clinic is and the booking process being put in place.

So whilst only early days, things will be ramping up very quickly over the coming weeks as our vaccine supplies increase and as a Premier has said we asked Tasmanians to be patient. This is an enormous process to vaccinate all the adult population here in Tasmania. It's going to take many months and it will be a team effort, so please make sure you're staying engaged with the messages so you know when it's your turn, whether you're eligible in phase 1b, or have to wait a bit longer for the vaccinations. We will get through this massive task and before I finish I’d like to reiterate the Premier's comments from a few weeks ago: the vaccination rollout is not the silver bullet. We still need to continue doing all the things that we have been doing for the past year: our hand hygiene, our physical distancing, and making sure importantly that you get a test if you're feeling unwell and that you stay at home. I’ll now hand over to Kath Morgan-Wicks.

Thank you, Minister. In terms of the start of phase 1b, the first thing that people will need to do is to determine if they are eligible and fall into phase 1b. If you think you are eligible, you should get online and use the Australian government's eligibility checker at www.health.gov.au or through a link on the Tasmanian government's coronavirus website at www.coronavirus.tas.gov.au. Now the eligibility checker is an easy to use online tool that will ask you questions to work out what phase of the rollout you will fall into. Other options include checking with your GP on your next visit. This will be particularly important for older people aged 70 and over and those adults with specified medical conditions who may want to consult with their GP before deciding on being vaccinated now once your eligibility is confirmed.

The second step is to find your nearest clinic and there will be two major types of clinics in Tasmania: GP clinics and state-run clinics and finding a clinic will be easy when the Australian government stands up its national clinic finder system next week. This online search will enable people to find out which vaccination clinics are located near them and will allow people to check if their GP is participating in the rollout. Now this finder system will also tell people how to book and how to book with their GP or if their GP is not involved with an existing GP respiratory clinic or one of our state community clinics. Now for Tasmanians who are not online please don't worry if your GP is involved; they will contact you as they start to roll out their own clinics if your GP is not participating or if you don't have a GP, You'll be able to ring the Public Health hotline who will help you make a booking at a state clinic once bookings open for a clinic in your local area. The Tasmanian government will support GPs by setting up several community clinics with five to be stood-up by March. These are the first five clinics that the state will run, but do not worry if there's not yet one near you. More state clinics are on the way and will also be running mobile vaccination teams in coming weeks. We will open bookings for these first five state clinics from Thursday March 18. We will publish information for each of these local communities on how to book from next week. The New Norfolk, Brighton and Kingston clinics will also include outreach days to allow people to have the vaccine in their local area. So for example, the New Norfolk team will spend some time in Ouse and other Derwent Valley towns, the Kingston staff will spend time in the Huon Valley.

For healthcare workers and critical and high risk workers, we will be working with your employers to identify you and to get your contact details to book you into a vaccination clinic in an orderly manner. You do not need to do anything now and do not need to book online. The government is also looking to engage directly with home care and disability care providers to find the best option for their clients who may be unable to attend a clinic and this is all just part of the government's overall program that continues to be developed and fine-tuned as we work closely with the commonwealth to bring the vaccines to those Tasmanians who want to be vaccinated.

We will update the Tasmanian community next week as the Australian government provides more information on the rollout program. As the Minister has said, we are starting the broader community rollout in partnership with our GPs, our primary care providers. There will be the chance for every Tasmanian to be vaccinated but it will take some time to get through the 180, 000 Tasmanians involved in phase 1b and everyone cannot be vaccinated in the first couple of weeks. If there is not a clinic near you, or you can't get a booking in week one, don't be concerned as we will provide clinics in all areas of the state and will ensure that there are enough appointments for every adult Tasmanian to take up the option and get vaccinated thank you

Okay, so 1b is 180,000 people? Yes. From next Friday? So we are starting those through a range of our clinics. So we have those at the Mersey Community Hospital and so the Mersey Community Hospital will be just for health care workers and the other facilities which are including GPs, the GP led respiratory clinics and our four outreach that Kath mentioned they will be starting once we start on March the 22nd. March 22nd okay and could take up to four months? We're expecting considering the cohort is so big that we're having to vaccinate 180,000 Tasmanians, we will expect it will take some time. It's also important to remember for the AstraZeneca vaccination there is a longer gap between when you have to have your second vaccination, so that's around 12 weeks. So obviously as we roll this out there will be lag as we need to get to the second vaccination up 12 weeks after people have their first vaccination.

Do we know how many Tasmanians are in 2a? We have around fourteen thousand Tasmanians in. Oh one? I’m sorry 1a was fourteen thousand Tasmanians.

We've seen nationwide concerns from GPs about the cost of administering the vaccine effective or they don't think it's a proper reimbursement for their time; has that affected the uptake of GPs willing to be involved in the program in Tasmania? Well I know that the federal government has been working very closely with the AMA nationally to make sure that we have got the correct pricing model. The federal government will be providing the vaccinations to the GPs as well as much of the equipment that they need to deliver the vaccination. My engagement with GPs here in Tasmania are that they're very positive about the rollout. We have relied on GPs very heavily in the past when we've had mass vaccination programs. When we saw our meningococcal mass vaccination program in recent years GPs played an absolutely critical role in that, so I'm confident with the partnerships that we have with GPs we'll be able to get the coverage that we need across Tasmania.

We also saw there's been a lot of concerns about the timeline, the October deadline, for getting everyone vaccinated this week - do you still stand by that October timeline for Tasmania as well? Look, I'm still hoping that everyone will have received their first vaccination by that mid-October date. Obviously that is predicated on Tasmania receiving the actual vials of doses, so we're working very closely with the federal government and it's really pleasing to see that we're going to be standing up capacity here in Australia to ensure that we can get the doses that we need. We've got a number of distribution channels for both the Pfizer and the AstraZeneca, so that along with domestic production will see all of Australia able to get vaccinated. It's important to remember that the AstraZeneca does have a 12 week lag in between the first dose and the second dose, so we will expect towards the end of the rollout there will quite clearly be some people that are still waiting to get their second dose.

How many of the 14,000 that are left in 1a still need to be vaccinated or have they? So our expectation is we're going to complete 1a by mid-April. Which was the goal? Yes it's on track. We have delivered our plan very well and it's a great tribute to the staff that worked incredibly hard on this process. The logistics of handling a vaccination that has to be kept at minus 70 degrees are extraordinarily difficult and the team at the Royal Hobart Hospital and as we rollout across the LGH and North West Regional are doing an outstanding job in really unusual and challenging circumstances.

Was there anything that was noted or learnt from that rollout that will be taken on to the next one given the size is significantly different? Quite clearly we have been working on this out for a number of months now in terms of the preparations. Pleasingly the AstraZeneca has less stringent protocols around the handling and the requirement to keep it at such a cold temperature, so that will allow us the flexibility to be able to outreach clinics. It'll also allow GPs and once we get to 2a pharmacists to also be able to participate in the scheme, so we've had lots of learnings from it, but it's an absolute tribute to the team that we have been able to get so many doses out of our first trays that we ever received we saw earlier in the week.

We saw earlier in the week there was a National Cabinet agreement revealed that the government wouldn't say which or where unused doses were in Tasmania - how many doses were unused? My advice is from the Secretary of the Department I'm sure that she could answer this as well, it was very, very close to zero. We had exceptional rates of being able to get doses out of vials and the wastage was close to negligible good. Thank you.

Is there any, I'm guessing, the date for the next phase will just be decided when this the 1b is? (Nods) Okay.