Coronavirus update | Monday 17 May 2021

Last Updated: 20 May 2021 4:43pm

We’ve officially reached two important milestones today.

Firstly, it has been 12 months since Tasmania recorded a case of COVID-19 in our community, which is testament to the hard work of all Tasmanians.

Being in such a safe place, it’s easy to forget that COVID-19 still ravages the world and some countries -- obviously, some more than others -- have been impacted detrimentally.

It’s claimed more than 3.3 million lives.

It’s why we continue to ensure we have a risk-based approach here in Tasmania with strong safeguards in place. I want to thank Tasmanians for their efforts, because it’s been fantastic that they’ve worked with us through this.

Now, we know that getting vaccinated is a key safeguard, and over the weekend we’ve reached another milestone, with 100,000 doses of the COVID vaccine now administered to Tasmanians.

This has been a massive logistical exercise.

It’s a credit to all of those who have been involved to ensure that this has worked and, importantly, to the Tasmanians who’ve rolled up their sleeves and been vaccinated.  Thank you.

As a result, Tasmania is leading the way in Australia’s vaccination effort.

We now have 19% of our eligible state population having received their first vaccination, compared to the current national total of only 13%, so we are well in front of what’s occurring on the national level and, as I’ve said, that’s a credit to our Health Department and professionals.

We’re making real progress, but the program still has a way to go to reach everyone.

From today, there’ll be 93 Tasmanian GPs open to Tasmanians aged 50 years and over, meaning more people will be able to go to their GP for a vaccine.

This means that if you’re 50 years and over, you have three options to make a vaccination appointment, at a participating GP, a GP respiratory clinic or one of our Tasmanian Government community clinics.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll also have access to more Pfizer doses, allowing us to offer the vaccine in more locations around the state, not just in our city and hospital hubs.

There are appointments available across the State for everyone who is eligible, and I’d encourage you to call the Public Health hotline or visit the coronavirus website to find out where you can get your free vaccine.

A reminder that we have a coordinated rollout. Right now the priority continues to be those aged over 50 and those working in frontline health settings.

We will communicate with Tasmanians each phase of the rollout, as we work our way through.

Before I handover to Kathrine Morgan-Wicks, I just want to once again thank Tasmanians. 100,000 vaccinations is a fantastic effort, leading this country in terms of the eligible population is a fantastic effort.

The other matter, as I touched on, the fact that we’ve now gone 12 months without a case of COVID in our community is something that should be celebrated, so, thank you.

Thank you, Premier.

So I’d like to give an update on how the Tasmanian vaccination program is progressing. As the Premier said, we finished week 12 of the program having delivered over 100,000 doses which is a fantastic result. Our phased rollout strategy saw us focus on protecting our oldest and most vulnerable Tasmanians first. This has been working well and I’m pleased to say that around half of all Tasmanians aged 70 years and over have already received their first dose. Almost 30 per cent of those 50 years and over have received their first dose. In terms of regional coverage across the state, almost 20 per cent of those who live in the north of the state have received their first dose. Almost 15 per cent in the north west and over 16 per cent in the south of the state have received their first dose. In terms of a more detailed breakdown of our 100 000 doses. We have delivered 49,739 doses in our state clinics 8,674 have been delivered in aged care and almost 42,000 have been delivered by GPs. And we are now at over 19 per cent of Tasmanians over 16 years of age having received at least their first vaccine dose.

Our community clinics continue to open across the state and today sees the first day of operation of our Rosny clinic for those people aged 50 years and over. We will start the first of our clinics on the east coast with the Triabunna clinic from this Saturday. This week we're also operating a clinic on Flinders and Cape Barron Islands and King Island the following week for those Tasmanians aged 50 years and over. In the north west we have a clinic in Latrobe and our Devonport clinic opening on the 24th of May. In Smithton we'll open a clinic for those 49 years and below in early June. We are also investigating delivering sites on the west coast in partnership with local GPs and we'll be able to provide more information about that soon.

A reminder to everyone that our community clinics will move around over time. As one clinic closes after delivering the first dose the clinic will move to another location and its community and then we'll come back to that first location to deliver second doses 12 weeks later. These clinics are in place for a limited amount of time so I do encourage everyone to make a booking if they're in your area to avoid missing out when the clinic is there.

The increased doses of Pfizer vaccine that we have been given will allow us to take more of this vaccine into different areas of the state.

As the Premier noted, this week we have clinics on Flinders island and Cape Barron Island and anyone on the island who is under 50 is encouraged to get vaccinated. The local GP is vaccinating everyone 50 years and over. If you are on Flinders Island you can book but we are also accepting walk-ins to maximise the number of islanders getting a dose. Next week we will have an under 50 clinic on King Island and the local GP is doing everyone 50 and over.

So at the moment if you are under 50 years and you are a health care worker, an aged or disability care worker, have a disability or have a specified underlying medical condition such as cancer, heart, lung or liver disease, diabetes or a chronic inflammatory condition such as lupus or Crohn's, you can make a booking. If this is you or someone you know you can call the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738 to make a booking and you can also hop online to www.coronavirus.tas.com.au. We have clinics for these groups located at the Royal Hobart Hospital, the Wellington Clinic the Launceston General Hospital and the Mersey Community Hospital. GPs are receiving more AstraZenica doses this week meaning increased capacity to offer vaccines. You can check which GPs are participating in the program by looking at the clinic vaccine finder online. There are over 50,000 doses available to Tasmanians in the next three weeks so now is the time to book an appointment.

So remember, by contacting a participating GP by contacting a GP, respiratory clinic or by going online or contacting the public Health Hotline.

Finally if you are eligible for a vaccine, but you have concerns about your personal circumstances, please do talk to your GP or your treating health professional and have an informed discussion about the risks and benefits before you make a decision. And thank you again to everyone that is working tirelessly across our vaccination clinics and into our primary care and GPs. It's a whole of community effort to make sure that Tasmanians are safe and are vaccinated, so thank you and I’ll open to vaccination questions.

Fifty thousand doses in the next two weeks - I think you said three weeks - is that going to put us even further ahead of the rest of the nation? Are we going to continue to hold that? So we're very happy about everyone's percentage and you know participation that we're seeing from Tasmanians and really at Health we're just working as hard as we can to get the vaccination rollout happening. And we're doing it by a variety of methods and a lot of which is actually quite personal outbound calling to make sure that we are hitting particular target markets and we're also monitoring all of the statistics that are coming through on our immunisation register to work out where we might have particular geographic regions which are not responding as well as we would like and what we need to do to make sure we get into those communities.

What percentage of the population will we need to be vaccinated in order to consider us pretty much done - the job done? So i think there's been various percentages and certainly Dr Veitch would probably be much more qualified than me to speak to that, but certainly in the 80 to 90 we originally talked about back in January when we were looking at our vaccination targets. So it's something that we are obviously working really hard and really pleased to reach that 19 and there's plenty of vaccine and lots of opportunities for people to get it.

How long do you think it will take us to reach us like that sort of level? So it does as you suggest depend on the volume of vaccine which is actually coming into the state. You know I’m hoping that we're going to hit - you know - some 20 percent given the volumes that we've got coming into the state in May, but it will depend on that that volume and it also depends on the different geographic areas and vulnerable groups we're targeting. So for example whilst you won't see really large numbers coming out of, for example, the Strait islands you know that is taking vaccination teams across there to make sure that that community is protected and vaccinated.

I know it's a Federal issue, but according to Labor, evidence given to the Disability Royal Commission revealed that just eight Tasmanians and disability residential aged care have received a COVID vaccination - is that concerning? So we've looked into that number and we understand actually eight disability homes have been vaccinated and certainly we've spoken here before about the commonwealth being responsible for the rollout to the disability sector. However we have offered to the Commonwealth that support and we are actually outbound calling for example our disability sector workers to assist in vaccinating and working through with aspen who will handle the less ambulatory disability residents and we will handle the ambulatory disability residents so we've been doing some quite detailed planning over the last two weeks on that.

I was just going to follow up if I may the question that David asked Kath and Kath's answer, is that correct? It's great news, we’ve reached 20 or not quite 20 per cent of the population having had their first dose of vaccine, but that's nowhere near enough to stop slowing the virus spreading in the community if we had a case of coronavirus in our midst. If it came we'd be in strife we'd have to mount a response like most states have had to do. As the Premier noted, we've been very fortunate and now having a year since we last had a community acquired case but if we did despite our very good presentative vaccination coverage we would have to act aggressively and probably have a short-term lockdown. In fact cases were in situations where they posed a risk to the population and that's really why we want to keep cracking on with our vaccination uptake to push the vaccination coverage as high as we can get and it probably is somewhere in the range of 80 per cent or higher of the population that we really need to have immunised to have a reasonable degree of confidence that the virus is less likely to spread through the community. We also need to have some evidence about how well the vaccine works at preventing spread and there is some initial encouraging information from some overseas studies that do seem to suggest that the having the vaccine not only prevents you from getting seriously ill and ending up in hospital or dying, but it also reduces the likelihood that you're actually getting infected in the first place or spread the infection. It's early days we need more evidence of that and particularly there's more evidence around some of the new strains of virus that are circulating but it's encouraging all the same. But all that so that adds up to the messages to take your opportunity to get vaccinated when you can, as soon as you can and what's the level at which you would consider different approaches. At some stage in the next year or so we are going to be living with low-level coronavirus in our community. I think you've probably heard some discussion in the national media from the former Deputy Chief Medical Officer and I think also the Victorian Chief Medical Officer was quoted, but of course we're going to get to a point where there will be some low level of coronavirus in the community. We have to get to a point where that's safe and where it's acceptable to the community. It'll be safe when we have enough people vaccinated that they're both personally protected and they're also protecting others from getting infected and i think it'll also be publicly acceptable when everybody's had a chance to get their vaccines so i think those major moves that increase risk if you like but in a controlled way do require a high level of population vaccination coverage.