Coronavirus update | Monday 22 April 2021

Last Updated: 23 Apr 2021 4:19pm

With me I’ve got Kathrine Morgan-Wicks, Secretary of Health and Dale Webster, who’s the Deputy Secretary and is in charge of the rollout of the vaccination program.

Today at National Cabinet met to consider the national vaccine rollout. As I outlined earlier this week, Tasmania remains on track to achieve our targets under the first phase.

As at 21 April, 60,820 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Tasmania.

This means that 12.2% of Tasmanians over 16 have now received at least one dose of the vaccine.

There is still a long way to go and it’s critical that as many Tasmanians as possible get vaccinated when they become eligible.

Today we all agreed that Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout will be recalibrated following recent advice from Australia’s vaccine experts about the AstraZeneca vaccine.

There was unanimous agreement at National Cabinet for the need to fast track the administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people aged 50 or over. Given this, we will open up the vaccination rollout to all people over 50 from 3 May in state community clinics and GP practices will come on line on 17 May. This means the 2A phase will be brought forward and anyone over 50 years of age will be eligible.

GP and state community clinics will open to those aged 50 to 69 years and there may be some who can take up vaccinations before that date but only after priority has been given to those over 70 in their areas in terms of GPs.

Aboriginal Tasmanians who are between 50 to 54 have also been brought forward and are eligible to receive their vaccine from an Aboriginal Controlled Health Service, a GP clinic or a state community clinic from today.

The prioritisation strategy remains and it is imperative we all work together to roll out the vaccines as quickly, safely, and efficiently as possible.

Over coming days, the Tasmanian vaccination team will work with the Australian Government to ensure Aged and Disability Care Workers have access to vaccines as a priority in state community clinics or via a GP Clinic.

The Australian Government is close to completing the vaccination of residents in Aged Care and that program will continue until completed in the next few weeks.

Disability residents will be vaccinated in a joint approach between the Tasmanian vaccination team and the Australian Government and will be also prioritised.

National Cabinet also decided to follow the expert advice and give priority to eligible people under 50 to receive their vaccines in Pfizer Vaccine clinics and continue the community rollout of AstraZeneca, including to those people under 50 years of age who make an informed decision to receive it.

In line with the product information for the Pfizer vaccine those Tasmanians who are 16 and 17 will now be eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine in Phase 2B.

For those over 50 who decide to wait for Pfizer:

To those Tasmanians, who are over 50 and are thinking about waiting till more Pfizer becomes available, I do encourage you not to wait.

What we know is the AstraZenca vaccine is highly effective at preventing severe COVID-19 hospitalisations and deaths and the benefits to people aged 50 and over greatly outweigh any of the minor risks.

I emphasise that this is the expert advice based on an assessment of the risk and benefits of the vaccine for each segment of our population.

Both vaccines have been assessed by the TGA and approved for use in Australia. The Pfizer vaccine is the preferred vaccine for adults aged under 50 years. While the AstraZeneca vaccine has been linked to an extremely rare health condition, the expert advice is that it can be used in adults aged under 50 years where the benefits are likely to outweigh the risks and the person has made an informed decision to have it.

Again, the AstraZeneca vaccine is highly effective at preventing severe disease or even death from COVID-19.

Tasmanians have all done an excellent job of managing COVID-19, but the risk of an outbreak still remains and will be for the foreseeable future.

The way forward to avoid getting seriously unwell or even dying from this virus is through vaccination and it is in everyone’s best interest for this to occur.

This is a collective effort and I would ask all Tasmanians to take up the opportunity to get a free vaccine as soon as it is available to them.

As has been the case throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to follow the scientific advice.

If you are eligible for a vaccine, but you have concerns about your personal circumstances, please see your GP and have an informed discussion about the risks and the benefits before you make a decision.

I’ll handover to the State Health Commander, Kath, in a moment who will provide you with the details on this for our State.

But on another matter I want to touch on, wastewater treatment testing is underway in Tasmania and I think it has been publically noted on a couple of occasions. The results will be available in the coming days. We will provide an update once these results are available. Now, as a result of viral shedding, it is possible we may receive news of a positive test result. My advice is that in the absence of other evidence within the community such as community transmission or other cases, that this is not a matter to be concerned about. But once we receive those results we will provide that information publically and I would expect that to be in coming days.

I’ll handover to Kath.,

Thank you Premier.

I’d like to provide an update on our Tasmanian vaccination program which is now well into its ninth week.

To date, we have delivered 30 573 doses in state clinics including 8 217 second doses to our Phase 1A workers on our borders, in quarantine hotels and on the health frontline.

This means that the State has now effectively completed vaccinating our priority frontline border, quarantine and healthcare workers in Phase 1A.  As new staff join these workforces they will also receive priority for vaccination.

To 21 April, the Commonwealth has delivered 6 291 doses in residential aged and disability care and GP clinics have delivered 23 956 doses in Tasmania.

This brings us, as the Premier mentioned, to a total of 60 820 doses delivered in Tasmania, with just over 12 percent of our eligible Tasmanians receiving their first dose of COVID vaccine.

Over the last two weeks, the Tasmanian vaccination team have been working closely with the Commonwealth and other states and territories to recalibrate our State rollout and prepare for the changes National Cabinet has approved today and which the Premier has just announced.

As the volumes of vaccines, both Pfizer and AstraZeneca, increase over the next few weeks, the State will increase our capacity to administer both Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines to the increased number of people that will now be eligible to receive them.

This means increasing our capacity to administer AstraZeneca vaccines to the over 50 population, with significant support from the approximately 100 GP clinics that are now involved in the rollout; and by opening up additional State Community Clinics.

We will also increase our capacity to deliver Pfizer vaccine to the remaining 1A aged care workers and disability workers and residents and the eligible 1B under 50 population.

From next wee,k we will have a Pfizer hub operating at the Mersey Community Hospital for north west residents who are eligible.

From the middle of May we will be opening weekend Pfizer clinics in both Hobart and Launceston, in addition to our existing Pfizer clinics at major hospitals.

We will also be providing in-reach Pfizer vaccinations to groups of disability residents to assist the Commonwealth with their rollout.

These additional clinics will allow us to take on the additional priorities for the Pfizer vaccine decided by National Cabinet while continuing our original strategy through our Pfizer hubs.

For under 50s in the aged or disability sector, we are increasing the availability of Pfizer clinics and will be providing information early next week on when and how you can make an appointment.

We will get this information to you through employers, care providers, GPs as well as through our usual avenues such as our coronovirus website and our Facebook page.

Our existing Community Clinics in Kingston, Brighton, New Norfolk, Wynyard, Mowbray and Deloraine will continue until mid-May and return to those same locations for second doses from mid-June.

From mid-May we will open a new community clinic in Clarence and are working on new locations in the north east and on the east coast.

We are in close liaison with the Australian Government and the local GPs to develop a plan to cover the vaccination of Tasmanians living on the Bass Strait Islands in late May and June.

As the Premier has said, the rollout continues.

If you are 70 and over or have a chronic medical condition - book now through your GP, through one of the three GP respiratory clinics or through a state community clinic.

If you are over 50, you can book from 3 May in a state clinic or 17 May for a GP or sooner in some areas – look out for the information about available appointments in your area with your GP, the GP respiratory clinics or the state community clinics.

If you are eligible and want an appointment at a state community clinic, you can make a booking online at our coronavirus website at: www.coronavirus.tas.gov.au

This will take you straight to the Tasmanian Vaccination Booking System where you can register to make an appointment.

If you would like some help to make the booking, please phone the Tasmanian Public Health Hotline who can assist you on 1800 671 738

I want to reiterate what the Premier has said about the importance of vaccination. Vaccination is the best way for Tasmanians to protect themselves, their loved ones and their community. You only have to watch or read the news to see globally the havoc that COVID-19 is continuing to wreak on vulnerable populations, and the serious long-lasting impacts on your health if you catch COVID-19.  The vaccine is here to help stop these severe consequences.

Finally, if you are eligible for a vaccine, but you have concerns about your personal circumstances, please talk to your GP or to one of our health professionals in our State Clinics, and have an informed discussion about the risks and benefits before you make a decision.

Thank you. Any questions on vaccinations?

Maybe just to clarify, so those over 50 will be getting the AstraZeneca? That's thing is that? Yes, so generally over 50s will now, from 3 May in state clinics and from 17 May for GPs or sooner if those clinics are actually available and ready to take bookings for over 50s. If you are over 50 but in one of our priority groups, so for example, with a disability or an aged care worker, that's over 50 and you'll have other arrangements made for you.

And just for the under 50, to clarify that availability would they just be able to go along as normal and then sign some sort of form or do they need to go through a GP first? So for the under 50 years they want to get AstraZeneca because you explain it's still an option, would they be able to just turn up and say: yes I sign this form or would it be a case of going through a GP? What's the process? So under 50 still have to remain within a priority group so within the phases so under 50s with an underlying medical condition for example falling within Phase 1b may still choose after a discussion with their GP and through informed consent to take AstraZeneca.

So that it's not open for them the ramping up is only open to over 50s? So the ramping up and what National Cabinet has determined today is that over 50s which were previously in Phase 2a have been brought forward in terms of timing. So now for anyone that's over 50, the vaccination is open and available for you.

In terms of the disability and aged care sectors, for workers and patients, when do you hope to have all of those vaccinated? Are we still on track for July? So in terms of our disability and aged care workers, the state as the Premier has previously announced, has indicated that we will support the commonwealth in assisting to vaccinate those workers. So we're in the process and are already booking in aged care workers for example for vaccinations.

Is there a bit of a timeline when you hope to have all of those completed? We don't have an indicative date to actually complete those. We're assisting the commonwealth in terms of actually providing those vaccinations, but we aim to do it absolutely as quickly as we can.

Is there something worked on though because obviously the parameters have shifted with the use of AstraZeneca when would a new timeline be available to know when those cohorts would be vaccinated? So with all timelines, and as we've said right from the very beginning of our vaccination journey, it does depend on the volumes of vaccine that's actually coming into Tasmania. Certainly in coming weeks we're expecting to see increases in both Pfizer and our AstraZeneca vaccines and what the state program has been focused on is making sure that we are distributing and using every bit of available vaccine that we can.

You mentioned then just more than 12 percent of Tasmanians have at least received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, are you happy with those figures? So would you like to have seen more people vaccinated so far? We're very pleased in terms of reaching now over 12 percent of Tasmanians. Certainly as State Health Commander, I'd love to see that figure - you know - as high as possible and as quickly as possible, but in reaching 12 that's a significant effort to reach that to date.

If there's a situation where the AstraZeneca jabs are for offer for over 50 -so the cohort is being brought forward – and there are more vaccines than people, will the next step be to open to under 50s; those that are willing to take it? So we are adding in, opening up, over 50s - we're adding - you know - probably on estimates around well over a hundred thousand to what we've previously been targeting at around 180 000 Tasmanians, so that is a significant uplift. Today that's been decided and really our focus will be now on making sure that we can vaccinate as many people over 50 as possible, but with priority to the existing over 70s, of course.

In terms of those Pfizer hubs opening, are we, can you give us any figures on how many doses you'll be receiving in the coming weeks? So we are still working through with the commonwealth in terms of the available Pfizer that will be coming through noting that we are constrained by the amount of trays for example that we receive in each location. But with the benefit now of freezers that are actually here in Tasmania, improved methods of actually handling it, and also the ability to do in reach Pfizer vaccinations which we will be doing, for example, for more mobile disabled residents.

How are we going in terms of COVID testing and are we still seeing a high number of people get tested? So in terms of our COVID testing rates, and certainly we've seen that continue probably from a few weeks ago, we've had very solid testing rates. So we still continue to be pleased with those testing rates particularly as the number of visitors and also residents of Tasmania are traveling in and out of the state.

Okay.

Any more questions?

A bit more for COVID for the Premier.

Tom?

Premier, on international students, and perhaps backpackers as well, the Federal Government National Cabinet has spoken about perhaps getting them in, but with additional numbers if you like; would Tasmania be willing to look at being part of hotel quarantine, to get people and help the economy in Tasmania as a result? Look, we haven't been asked in terms of that and now discussions with the university here in Tasmania; Bear in mind, we only have one a single university have always been about looking at semester two. But again, at the moment, I think it's a fair point to make that around the world COVID is alive and well and it is very problematic. And so you know in terms of how we move forward, the steps that we put in place with it; we would deal with our seasonal workers first and that cohort of 1 500 we expect to be finished by the end of June with a view then that we would look at next steps then.

So that's on the table just not considered right now? Look, we've made no decisions on that okay.

Gladys Berejiklian has said on COVID that, particularly once the vulnerable groups are vaccinated, so 1a and 1b in particular, we need to stop having such a focus on zero overall cases and perhaps only talk about when there are serious hospitalisations - so that should be the emphasis of the virus - do you agree with that? No, I don't. Now one of the things that I've been very clear on in respect of our approach here in Tasmania, is that we have an older and more vulnerable population in other jurisdictions. In fact that was the reason that we closed our borders, as the first state to do so. The language will change over time in terms of COVID, but in terms of making a step change, as Gladys has suggested, right now we're certainly not in the position where we'd …

Not right now, but so you're saying that change will happen one day but not yet? Well what – well, do you have a timeframe, Tom?

Well I'm saying once the vulnerable people, you spoke about, are vaccinated, then would that be the time to? Well one of the things -well again, one of the things that we would look at is what's the overall prevalence and risk in the country - and not just here in Tasmania - but then again what's happening worldwide with the vaccine as well and so we'd all take all of those matters into account.

And just on capacity for venues, because there's been a push for 100 percent on outdoor and ticketed events, what's Tasmania's path towards that? Well, public health are currently considering - certainly seated ticketed events - with up to 100 not expected would have something to say in early May.

Okay, and the outdoor events? That's been considered as well, but you know, obviously at the moment, you know, one large outdoor event that's matter of public discourse is Agfest which has a ten thousand limit. Public Health are working with the organisers of Afest at the moment and that's an event that would have tens of thousands of people attend normally during the course of the day. That type of event though the characteristics of it are that people come from all around the country to it; they come from all around Tasmania to it as well; and so public health have taken a cautious, safe approach - one which I back fully. And they are working with the organisers on the basis of one in, one out to ensure that we can keep the limitations on that event to around 10 000 people at any one particular time.