Press Conference with Prime Minister the Hon Scott Morrison MP, Doherty Institute, Melbourne, Victoria

Interviewer
media conference
Subject
mRNA vaccine research and manufacturing, Omicron,
E&OE

Joint press conference with the Prime Minister the Hon Scott Morrison MP, the Minister for Health and Aged Care the Hon Greg Hunt, the Federal Member for Higgins Dr Katie Allen MP, acting Premier of Victoria the Hon James Merlino MP, Victorian Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy the Hon Jaala Pulford, Professor Deborah Williams and the General Manager of Moderna Australia and New Zealand Mr Michael Azrak 

DEBORAH WILLIAMS: Good morning, everybody. My name is Professor Deborah Williams, and I'm director of the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory, located here at the Doherty Institute. Before I begin, I'd like to start by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land, the Wurundjeri people and pay respects to elders past, present and emerging. Unfortunately, the director of the Doherty Institute, Professor Sharon Lewin, had an immovable commitment and can't be here this morning, but I know will be very interested in this morning's proceedings. 

I'd like to extend a very warm welcome to our distinguished guests here this morning, the Prime Minister of Australia, the acting Premier of Victoria, and other distinguished ministers and guests from the Parkville Precinct. Prime Minister, you last visited us here at the Doherty Institute in February 2020. Since then, we have continued to play a critical role in state, national and global responses to the pandemic, from diagnostic innovations, genome sequencing, clinical trials, science communication and leadership, vaccine development and evaluation all the way through, of course, to modelling to inform the national plan. We've strived, I guess, to be at the forefront of the response to this pandemic, and that's really what we do here at the Doherty Institute. We prevent, we treat and we cure infectious diseases, and we do that work with dedication and we do that work with pride. So thank you, Prime Minister, and we'd like to thank you for your continued support and recognition of our work. Thank you. And I'll hand over to Katie Allen.

DR KATIE ALLEN: Thank you so much, Deborah, and welcome everyone and welcome to the Prime Minister to Melbourne. This is an exciting announcement because Australia doesn't take a backseat when it comes to our response to COVID. And here in the heart of the Parkfield precinct at the Peter Doherty Institute, where Peter Doherty, a Nobel Prize winner for Australia, actually discovered how our cells interact with viruses. It started in Australia with regards to understanding the way that the body responds to viruses and then Australia here again at the Peter Doherty Institute with sequencing the virus, the coronavirus, which has changed our lives around the world. So I'm so delighted to welcome the Prime Minister and all the ministers and dignitaries who are here today to an incredibly important announcement that he's going to make a significant difference to Australia's capabilities right here in the Peter Doherty Institute, in the heart of the Parkfield precinct. Welcome, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you, Dr Allen. And to the acting Premier, it's great to be here with you, James and ministers, colleagues who have joined us today and of course, Moderna. It's great to have you here with us, but the Doherty Institute. Thank you so much for hosting us here today. You're right, it was in February 2020 I was here with Greg Hunt and I got to stare into the face of this virus because it had been reproduced here for the first time anywhere in the world. And since that day together, Australians have been staring this virus down. We've made some big calls. We've got the balance right, I believe, working together as a country, working together with states and territories, working together with our health and medical science and research community, which has enabled us to achieve incredible things in this country. We have the lowest fatality rate of almost any country in the world saved more than 30000 lives. We have one of the strongest economies powering through this pandemic, and as the lockdowns have lifted, with some seen some 350000 jobs come back into place. And of course, we have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, and that vaccination program is taking another big step, with Western Australia joining the 80 per cent club today, the last of the states and territories to do that. And that was the product of a national plan, as you said, that was informed by the science of Doherty, the best of the best to ensure that these vaccination marks that we set, which enabled us to open safely and and remain safely open. Victoria is experiencing that now. Other states and territories are, but in all of these steps, there are more always to be taken. 

The booster program has had its biggest day in the last 24 hours, and those boosters are so important as we as we stare down Omicron. In dealing with Omicron, we are, we are determined to ensure that we do stare it down and we don't go back. We have to face it down. We have to live with this virus. We cannot allow us to take it back, take us back. And that's certainly what we're determined to do, and we're able to do that by the great work at the Doherty Institute does, and so we look towards a 90 per cent double dose vaccination rate around the country shortly. And that booster program continuing to grow and grow, and I encourage all Australians to go and get their boosters. But of course, that involves the partnerships that we have with those who are providing those vaccines. It was in this country that already we've produced here in Victoria, twenty five million AstraZeneca vaccines in August of 2020. We did the deal to ensure that that could be done right here in Australia and that provided the workforce the backbone of the vaccination program that has seen us get to where we are today. But we also know that during this pandemic, as we've learned many lessons, no governments got everything right. I'm sure James would agree with me. We've all sought to work together to make the best calls we possibly can. But the mRNA vaccines have proven to be, I'd argue, the biggest scientific discovery over the course of this pandemic. And that means that they are a big part, a massive part of the future of vaccines, not just here in this country, but all around the world. And so we set about the task of ensuring that we have the manufacturing capability to do that. First of all, to keep Australians safe and to protect their health not just against COVID, but against the many other communicable diseases. And with Moderna, we have a partner that ensures that their IP, their knowledge, their advances and medical science can be brought here and be part of a an ecosystem here that will see Australia also be a leader in this area.

So we're protecting Australians by keeping them safe, by advancing with this new partnership. We are building our sovereign capability here, which protects Australia's national interests, our sovereign capability to manufacture these vaccines here in Australia, 100,000 (sic, 100 million )  up to a year capacity to do this in this arrangement is extraordinary. But we've got it right. We've spent the time to get it right. This is not an arrangement that you just rush into and do it deal in a coffee shop somewhere. This is something that you do the meticulous work on. You work with your state partners. We work with a number of states and we came to the very, I think, sensible conclusion that here in Victoria, we have the strong foundation to continue to build not just a great research and collaboration infrastructure, but a powerhouse of medical manufacturing, which plays exactly into our economic goals of securing the economic recovery. 

A million Australians are now employed in manufacturing. We've restored that and medical manufacturing will play a key role. So we welcome the partnership, both with Moderna and the Victorian state government to make this happen over 10 years. 

And finally, it's about future proofing. The John Hopkins Institute, in their latest research, showed that Australia is ranked two in the world for pandemic preparedness. That's an extraordinary achievement by everybody, particularly those here in this room who've enabled us to achieve that and the wonderful health and workers who are out there on the front lines even now, each and every day. Australia remains ready. We are resilient and we're able to move forward because of the great experience that we've drawn together to ensure that we can face down this pandemic. So just as I was here several years ago and stared into the face of that virus, we continue to stare in today, but we do it with much more confidence because of what we have been able to achieve together. And the partnership with Moderna and the state government, I think, is a cracking partnership for Australia. It's a great partnership for Victoria, but more importantly, as Prime Minister, it's a great partnership for the country and our region where we will be a real powerhouse in this area. So I want to thank acting Premier for their partnership and I want to thank Moderna as well, and I'm happy to pass on to the acting Premier. 

JAMES MERLINO: Terrific. Thanks very much, PM. To my federal ministerial colleagues, Michael to your team at Moderna, to Minister Jaala Pulford, who has led this project from Victoria's perspective. So my thanks to Jaala, to all our medical leaders, Deb and everyone in this room who have just been brilliant through, particularly this last two years with the pandemic. As far as announcements go, this is a big one. This is a huge announcement and it's incredibly exciting for Victoria. And as the PM said, for our nation. When you think about medical research and biotechnology, you think about Boston, you think about London and you think about Melbourne. This is the place to be. Boston, London and Melbourne. The three great leading cities when it comes to medical research and biotechnology. In Melbourne and Victoria, 30,000 jobs in medical research, biotechnology across our industry, universities and institutes such as the Doherty and thank you for hosting us today. Forty per cent of the nation's medical tech and biotech companies are based here in Melbourne, and 60 per cent of the nation's pharmaceutical exports come from Victoria. So this is a great announcement and it's the logical place to do it and you think about what this means. National security in terms of vaccine supply. And when you think about mRNA, this is a huge announcement because this is the first time in the southern hemisphere that we all have mRNA manufacturing based in this nation and 25 million vaccines, the ability to ramp up to 100 million. And it's not just in regards to vaccine developments, whether it's variants of coronavirus right now, pandemics of the future, but beyond beyond that. Treatment of cancer, treatment of rare diseases. This is a massive game changer. And to have that manufacturing capacity, the research capacity right here in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia is a great thing. This will create jobs. 1,000 jobs, 500 in construction, 500 ongoing. But beyond that, it saves lives, whether it's dealing with a pandemic, treatment of cancer, treatment of rare diseases. This is a major, major announcement. 

My thanks PM, to the Commonwealth and to Moderna. This is a great deal for citizens right across this country. Just in closing, can I just back up what the PM was saying about the importance of booster shots. You know, we are not out of this pandemic and all the evidence in terms of Omicron, all the evidence points to the importance of booster shots. The date has been brought forward, so it's five months from your second dose. If you are due for your booster shot, please get it done. If you have not been vaccinated yet, please go and do it. And for my role as Minister for Education, the paediatric vaccine, the rollout for 5 to 11 year olds and great news that it's available from January. Great comfort to parents. We've got to get our kids vaccinated before we head into winter next year. So we are not out of this yet. We need to get the booster shots done. We need to get our kids vaccinated and we'll work with the Commonwealth to make sure we get that done as quickly as possible. But back to this announcement, great partnership. A great deal. It will save lives. It will provide national security in terms of vaccine supply, and we're just delighted to be partnering up and delivering this as we are the home of medical research and biotechnology. Thanks very much and I'll hand over to one of my federal colleagues. 

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Angus, Angus together with Greg, who brought this deal together from the Commonwealth point of view, I want to thank both of them for the great work they've done and of course, the Secretary of Health and others.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks Prime Minister, Deputy Premier, ministerial colleagues, Katie, Moderna. It's brilliant to be here. What a fantastic announcement. This announcement is a magnet for medical technologies, for medical technology capabilities and organizations, and I look at the organizations involved in mRNA, whether it's Melbourne University, Monash, Doherty, of course, Walter and Eliza, you name it. There's a whole range of organizations not only in Melbourne but across Australia, who can be involved in creating this ecosystem, this hub and ensuring that we develop that capability in Australia to be world leading. Now, not only is that across a range of organizations across a range of capabilities, whether it's research, capability, development, manufacturing, operations, engineering. There are a whole range of capabilities that will be required and necessary, creating those jobs that we just heard about and building those capabilities to be leading edge here right here in Australia. Now this is what modern manufacturing looks like. It's a collaboration. It's about organizations working together. It's about a range of capabilities working together, and it's about creating jobs by being world leading. And that's exactly what we are doing here. Over $1.3 billion in our modern manufacturing strategy dedicated to making sure that we build those capabilities here in Australia. And it's working. As you heard from the Prime Minister, over a million people now working again in manufacturing in this great country. It's absolutely wonderful to see as Industry Minister and we want to see more of that in the coming months and years. And that's exactly what this is all about. A huge thank you to all those who have been involved. Michael, Moderna, you are part of that ecosystem and we need you here. We need a range of private sector organizations that will be involved, as well as public sector organizations to create the hub, to be part of the magnet that will attract those extraordinary world leading capabilities that Australia has done before. And we'll keep doing it. Thank you. 

PRIME MINISTER: Thank Angus. 

MICHAEL AZRAK: I want to thank you, Prime Minister, acting Premier and other ministers and most importantly, the the Doherty. I'm thrilled and proud to be here today to announce that Moderna will be pitching tent in Australia upon the finalization of our agreement. We've played a critical role during the pandemic and as we've all learned, pandemics can come at the time we least expect them and having preparedness is absolutely critical. The facility we're envisaging will have the capability of at least 100 million doses if need be. I'm extremely excited by the opportunities for Moderna to be part of the R&D community across Australia and especially Melbourne. The comments have been made about the hub that we do have here in Melbourne. I was actually in Boston a couple of weeks ago and it's tremendous to see the advances that are being made in the mRNA, not just in the science but also in the advanced manufacturing capabilities that Moderna is developing. Moderna continues to invest in and that Moderna is going to bring right here in Australia by Australians for Australians. And it just gives me immense pride as an Australian to be able to do that and to work collaboratively with the Commonwealth and Victorians in making this happen. So I really look forward to the finalization of the agreements so we can get cracking because we're ready to pitch in Australia.

GREG HUNT MP: Thanks very much PM, acting Premier colleagues, Michael Azrak, but above all else, to our amazing researchers. This precinct is home to some of the world's great researchers. It's named after a Nobel laureate, and Melbourne will be a global center of mRNA research and manufacturing. Victoria will be a global center of mRNA research and manufacturing. Australia will be a global center of mRNA research and manufacturing. On top of this agreement, there's a $25 million MRFF Research mRNA Clinical Trials Infrastructure Program, which we're opening and that will invite more work right across Australia. So all of these things come together for health security, economic, security and national security. The fact that we have a regional headquarters and the ability to support our regional partners across the Pacific and South East Asia says that we're committing to the region over the long term. 

Now the other thing that's really important, of course, is that Australians have stepped forward and been vaccinated, and we've just had over 150,000 vaccinations yesterday, the highest day since November the 12th, the highest day, the record day for boosters, as the PM said 74,000 boosters, a near doubling of the previous highest day for boosters. We know how to do this. This pandemic will bring challenges. It's done that. But our results as a country, are some of the best in the world and only yesterday Australians stepped forward to be vaccinated. So if you haven't had your booster, now's the moment if you're eligible. And if you still haven't had a first dose or second dose, come and join the 93.4 per cent of Australians that have had a first dose. These vaccines can save your lives and protect your lives. I can say I had the Moderna booster two days ago. I'm feeling fit and healthy, and so that's my message. Come and get your booster. It won't hurt, but it will help. And so take care, everybody and step forward. I do also want to acknowledge Robin Bishop, who donated his time to the Commonwealth in Victoria and worked as a wonderful partner between Moderna, the Commonwealth Government and the Victorian Government. It's been a real partnership of public, private, philanthropic and Australians will be better protected over the long term. Thank you. 

JAALA PULFORD: Thanks everyone. Prime Minister, acting Premier, colleagues, Michael, to you and your team from Moderna, we open our arms to you and welcome you to Victoria. I'd like to also recognize our extraordinary scientific community, our Scientific Advisory Group, who have supported our mRNA ambitions and indeed all the industry partners who have so much to offer here in Victoria. Like the Commonwealth, we are investing significantly in mRNA research capability, with a grants program now open for research grants. $23 million. We established mRNA Victoria. We have worked closely and will continue to do so with science and with industry. There are only two organizations on the planet that can currently perform end to end mRNA COVID-19 vaccines and having Moderna pitching tent, as Michael said, here is so important to us. It's something we're incredibly proud of and something that we value deeply. We're excited about that sovereign capability, but we're also very, very excited about the research partnerships that will flow from this into things like diseases that affect parts of our region, into the new and emerging therapeutics for things like cancers and other rare diseases. This is a very, very significant moment in the history of medical research for this precinct here, of which we are so proud and for Moderna, and so we are delighted now to be moving on to the next very busy and important stage to ensure that for both our Commonwealth Government partners and and Moderna, that this is a successful endeavour delivered very quickly and realising all the hopes and ambitions that all of us that have been involved in it have for, thanks very much. 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, happy to take some questions if I could ask me to, if we could take the focus of the questions on the announcement today. If you have other questions, then I'll take those in the first instance from my colleagues and and not kind of ask the others to join us for that. But I'm sure the acting Premier will then be happy to take our questions on other matters. So on on the matters of today. 

JOURNALIST: Where is this actually going to be built in Melbourne? Where is the actual manufacturing facility?

MICHAEL AZRAK: We're currently under discussions on that. We've looked at a number of sites. We can't tell you today where that will be, but I'm very hopeful once we finalize the agreement, we'll be able to make another announcement on the location. 

JOURNALIST: Is there a timeframe? Months? 

MICHAEL AZRAK: I would hope it's as soon as practically possible, and I know that's the goal that we all have together to really mobilize this as quickly as possible. 

JOURNALIST: What's the contribution from the state and federal government to get this deal? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this this arrangement, as you now and may have been briefed, is commercial in confidence when it comes to these sums because as in the same way that all of our vaccine purchases. These are sensitive matters and it's a rapidly evolving area. But I can say this is a very equal partnership when it comes in bringing the base capability here. And as you've already heard, I mean, the Victorian government as has the Commonwealth Government are doing things beyond that agreement to further support the work, the Medical Research Future Fund, the grants the Minister has outlined. So this really is a very, very natural partnership because we are already moving in the same direction. And I think what this partnership does just aligns that even more going forward. And the Moderna project here, I think, just reinforces that. I mean, the support that is provided, whether it's Doherty or many other organizations have these incredible facilities here. What we both want to achieve is to ensure we are building on this strong foundation. So we are genuinely co-partners in all of this. There are different roles that we're playing and of course, the Commonwealth has a particular role when it comes to the purchase of vaccines over the decade. And but in terms of getting it here and getting it happening, the end to end manufacturing process, I think, is really important. It's not just fill and finish here. It's from go to woah on this. This is the whole deal. And as we've just heard, this hasn't been done in any other country that wasn't doing it when the pandemic started. And so here we are together, as I understand Michael with both Canada and South Africa, but we intend to get to that starting gate here in Melbourne before those other two locations, and we're moving rapidly to do it. But it's an equal partnership. James did you want to add anything more on that?

JAMES MERLINO: No, no, I'm happy. It's as you've already heard, these are commercial in confidence arrangements. But if you think about that, the national interest of having secure vaccine supply and the capability from research right through to manufacturing in terms of cancer and other rare diseases like this is a brilliant announcement. But Rich, in terms of the the details of the of the arrangement, they are commercial. 

JOURNALIST: What will the taxpayers have, either from you or the Prime Minister, a financial stake in this, given both the Victorian and federal governments contributing money, contributing, I guess, money to build the private facility? 

JAMES MERLINO: Well there's investment on behalf of Australian citizens by the Commonwealth and Victoria by the Victorian government. So yes, there is investment by the state and the Commonwealth government to make sure we can get this deal done, get this facility manufacturing capability in Victoria, in Australia and this is the right thing to do. You think about variants of this particular virus, you think about future pandemics and you think about future capability. This is a very, very significant announcement and an investment, frankly, that government should be making. 

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] Australia will always be first in line for Moderna vaccines?

PRIME MINISTER: Greg might want to speak to this as well. This is the whole point when it comes to sovereign manufacturing capability, the same reason the Commonwealth took the decision of August of 2020 to ensure that we could produce what has been 25 million AstraZeneca vaccines. I'm sorry to mention a competitor, but we work with everybody to get the job done. That's what we've been doing through this pandemic. So in the same way, we created that sovereign capability. And just imagine for a second, had that not been done and where Australia would be today, and that decision was taken in August of 2020 and ensured that we were able to achieve what we have had with supply of those vaccines. This is very similar in that we have that capability here. 100,000. Sorry, 100 million, 100 million a year. I mean, just think about that. And that's what Australia will have on tap here, and that will not just enable us to meet Australia's needs, but it will also enable us to continue to play an important role here in the region. It gives us a great sense of pride that when I meet with Pacific leaders in particular, that we have been able to be their family in the time of the crisis, that we have been able to provide those vaccines to them. Fiji in particular, was in a terrible dilemma. And Australia led the way in ensuring that Fiji was vaccinated. Similarly up in Timor-Leste. And supporting countries like Vietnam and others in South-East Asia. I think that is a boast of great pride from Australia in our own quiet way. And having that facility here for mRNA vaccines will enable us to not only support the Australian population, but our dear Pacific family and our region, but Michael.

MICHAEL AZRAK: I'd also build on that to say yes, this is a very important facility when it comes to COVID, but it's much more than that. It's a respiratory mRNA vaccines facility, which will also include seasonal flu. So Moderna released some very positive, encouraging data just last week, this week, on flu and we look forward to bringing that to market, as well as other respiratory pathogens that we all know are circulating. So beyond COVID, Australia is going to have access to a world leading mRNA platform that can target diseases that are most relevant to Australia and our neighbours. 

JOURNALIST: What kind of [inaudible], what's the realistic  timeline we're likely to see some vaccines become available? 

MICHAEL AZRAK: We will move as quickly as possible to ensure the site is operational. I know we've got the full support of the Commonwealth and Victorian governments to make that happen. I really don't want to put my neck out right now on a timeline. I know we are saying 2024. I am the ever optimist, and I certainly know that with the elbow grease of Australians, I'm very hopeful that we can try and beat that if possible, because I am that optimist. But we will do everything possible to make the plant operational as quickly as possible. 

JOURNALIST: Does this put us at the front of the queue if there’s a rejigged Moderna vaccine for COVID. Does having the day of the manufacture here give us an advantage in that queue?

MICHAEL AZRAK: Even without our deal, the Australian Government currently has access to the most modern vaccines that we have under development. So if we do develop an Omicron specific booster, the Australian Government under our current arrangements already have access to that. And obviously having our plant here enables that to happen even faster in the future. 

PRIME MINISTER: So we already have similar arrangements with the other providers of vaccines and the Moderna booster, which has been obviously approved here. But I love to the reference, Angus and I and Greg like to talk a lot about meeting and beating targets and look forward to meeting and beating this one. It's a bit like shake and bake. Meet and beat. And that's what we want to see happen here because we want to see this get on on the ground as quickly as possible.

JOURNALIST: Your Minister last year, Karen Andrews promised that there'd be an mRNA manufacturing by October of this year. Is that a failed promise?

PRIME MINISTER: No, that's that's not what she said. And I know that's been misrepresented, particularly by our political opponents in the Labor Party who seem to think you can do this by time travel. But I'll ask Angus to comment on it. 

ANGUS TAYOR: That's not what Karen said, but the point she made was the timeline depends on getting access to the intellectual property. We have that now. Getting access to a site. We're close to having that, as you just heard from Michael, and we're absolutely committed to getting this done as fast as possible. Now it's important to point out that there's been no development of a new mRNA manufacturing facility anywhere in the world since the pandemic struck. And this will be one of the first in the world. So we are in a very good situation to get on to this as quickly as possible and make it as effective as possible, not just for our health outcomes, but also for jobs, the development of a medical technology hub and development of those capabilities I talked about as well. 

JAALA PULFORD: In Melbourne, we have a COVID-19 vaccine candidate that has been manufactured here in Boronia, so it's quite different to what we're talking about today with large scale population scale production. But it's not right to say that this hasn't happened because it has happened here in Melbourne with the Monash Doherty candidate that will be going through some final approvals before Christmas and will be proceeding to phase one clinical trials in the new year with results, hopefully within the first quarter of the new year. 

JOURNALIST: Are we covering the cost of construction or is the funding arrangement more about securing the vaccine supply [inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it ensures that the facility happens, that it gets built, that they pitch their tent here and and the arrangement is designed to achieve that goal and future proof for Australia. But Greg, did you want to add to that? 

GREG HUNT: So what we've done in the past and what we've replicated here is with the purchasing power of the Commonwealth for vaccines, we've been able to underpin the investment. Victoria has also supported very sort of a very thoughtful, long term investment. So between the two, that is what allows Moderna to make their investment. So we're doing the offtake and the purchasing. We did that in relation to long term pandemic flu and then anti-venom and Q fever with CSL. And so that same model is what we've done here. So Australia gets - and this goes to Sumeyya’s question from before. What does Australia get? Australia gets a guaranteed vaccine supply over the long term, but because of the flexible nature of Moderna's capacity, with mRNA, we will have our options for COVID, flu, combined COVID-flu or other respiratory vaccines. And exactly as Jaala was saying, over time, we'll have the possibility of looking at cancer and therapeutics and other treatments with the course of medicine over the course of the next decade, as Katie knows better than any of us. It's towards what's called personalized medicine, where your DNA can be sequenced and a particular treatment tailored for each individual. If you have, for example, a rare form of pancreatic cancer, and I see Ricky Johnson here from Peter MacCallum, they know that this future is coming. We've just invested in the Center for Cellular Immunotherapy CAR-T therapy right across the road. This matches and provides the capacity to make Australia a center for personalized medicine.

JOURNALIST: So why did the government ultimately end up striking the deal with Moderna, [inaudible] because I believe you are also in talks with also, had a separate market approach? 

GREG HUNT: Yeah. So all of this comes through. We looked at all of the different options, and I think as everybody said, there are only two mRNA vaccine manufacturers around the world. This is exactly the point that was made and Moderna was one of them and they can provide that technology and they were willing to put the most in themselves. And in terms of our partner, Victoria was very, very committed and motivated. 

PRIME MINISTER: It was Moderna's commitment to the ecosystem here in Victoria was critical in deciding to go with Moderna and that commitment matched up best with the infrastructure we have here in Victoria and the commitment that was made by the Victorian government. So it really was a meeting of the minds.
 
JOURNALIST:
Just a restrictions question, New South Wales has gone from, you know, under 200 to over 800 cases in about two weeks. We've gone back to our levels of about a month ago, and both states are going to lift some significant restrictions. Do you think that's the right thing to do?

PRIME MINISTER: We're taking Omicron incredibly seriously. We had a very long discussion about this at the meeting with premiers and chief ministers and I last week. We're not going to let Omicron take us back, though. We have decided as a country to live with this virus and Australians have worked so hard to ensure that we can. When you've got vaccination rates about to strike 90 per cent, to be one of the highest in the world. That means we have choices today that we didn't have 18 months ago, and that means that we can continue to move forward and not have to go back. Tomorrow, we will begin welcoming from tomorrow students to Australia again, skilled migrants, working holiday makers under those visa programs. From tomorrow, Korea, as I announced yesterday with the President and Japan, also join with Singapore and New Zealand. But we have watched this very closely and made careful decisions and taken the best medical advice on this. Now the issue is and James, you might want to comment on this as well. We're now in a completely different phase. Cases are not the issue. And I know over a period of time we may have become conditioned to the case numbers being the trigger. That's not the case, I see Jodie McVernon here, we've looked at more epidemiological charts with Jodie. She's trained all the premiers, the chief ministers and I in this great science over these many months and that science shows us that what matters is your public health system and your broader health resources. Now here in Victoria, as you rightly say, you've been having cases of over 1,000 a day for some time, and the Victorian Public Hospital System and health system is coping very strongly. They did the work, they did the planning. New South Wales is the same. So that is the way forward. 

JOURNALIST: Is lifting the masks, is that going backwards or keeping masks on, say for a few weeks in your mind, is that going backwards? Or if they said they need to do it, that would be okay?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we had a pause on the opening that starts tomorrow, and we did that because we are waiting for the picture to emerge a bit more clearly before taking that next step. And now we feel confident to take that next step. And states and territories are doing exactly the same thing. You know, over the course of this pandemic, sometimes there has been that need for patience and I know that can be very frustrating. I welcome, on the issue of patience, Western Australia giving a clear timetable about when it's opening. Tomorrow, Tasmania opens. Tremendous, just in time for the Tassie test next month, which I'm thrilled to see happening. But all of that, I think, goes to the National Plan that Jodie McVernon from Doherty helped us construct together with the premiers, and we’ve stuck to that plan. We're in Phase C now and we look forward to getting to Phase D, and that's all about living with the virus. James do you have anything to add?

JAMES MERLINO: Yeah, thanks PM and Raffy, the answer remains the same. The answer continues to be getting vaccinated. You know, people can go the pub now, have a meal, look forward to Christmas and New Year celebrations because we're at 92 per cent. We're beyond 92 per cent double dosed here in Victoria. The message to Victorians, to Australians is get your booster if you are due, get vaccinated, if you haven't yet, and for families, get ready to vaccinate your children from the 10th of January. But it's because Victorians and Australians have been so focused, so fantastic on getting vaccinated that we have the freedoms that we do now. In terms of what the settings will be in this week, the Minister for Health will make an announcement later, later in the week. It's based on latest health advice, but what we have done is in line with the national plan and we can do it because Victorians have been so fantastic in getting vaccinated. But the answer to your question, whether it's Omicron or Delta or the next variant. It's vaccines that protects the citizen, protects families and means that we can enjoy the freedoms that we do right now.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] things like QR codes in certain settings like NSW are about to do? 

JAMES MERLINO: Look, I'm not, I'm not going to foreshadow today what the decisions that the Health Minister will make under the new pandemic legislation later in the week. There'll be announcements about what the next stage looks like, but it's based on the latest health advice. But it continues to be the fact that vaccinations mean, you know, we can do all the things that we love to do. We can look forward to planning and to travel through the Christmas New Year period, and we're not going to be changing that.

JOURNALIST: The date previously mentioned by the government, was December 15. That's tomorrow. And why not give guidance today of what's coming out of tomorrow?

JAMES MERLINO: Well we receive and the Minister receives under the legislation the latest public health advice taking everything into account mental health, social, economic taking, all the latest health advice into account. The Minister will make an announcement later in the week.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, when you first started this press conference, you said that no government has got it right, including the Australian and the Victorian governments. What do you mean by that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I meant and I said this last night in remarks I made at the Sydney Institute. Yeah, no government has got everything right, but no government can in a pandemic. To think that that was a 100 per cent strike rate on every decision. I think Australians understand and I think the honesty of governments and being able to say that clearly and know the Victorian Government feel the same way I think Australians appreciate. And but what I can tell you is we did make the big calls and we did get the balance right. And the proof of that is the fact that we have saved 40,000 lives based on looking at the average among the OECD. Just think about that 40,000 lives saved because of how Australians respond to this pandemic. One of the strongest advanced economies to come through the pandemic in the world and one of the highest vaccination rates, that is the proof of the combination of decisions and responses that our government and working with other governments around the country have made. No country gets it all right, but I can tell you we got it right a lot more often than so many other places around the world, and Australians are safer today and better prepared today for what's coming next than almost any other country in the world, as the John Hopkins Institute has just found. 

JOURNALIST: Just reflecting back on the last two years. What do you think the biggest failures of both the Commonwealth and Victorian government have been?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, I think what we've done is we've continued to overcome problems. We had problems with the vaccination rollout in the early phases. We overcame them. See when you're in a crisis, it's not unusual to have setbacks. The proof of managing a crisis is being able to overcome them. And we did overcome them. We were able to achieve those vaccination rates that we hope to achieve at the beginning of the year in October when we said we would. And that means you deal with challenges and you get over it. You work together. You solve the problem. We brought in Operation COVID Shield in particular to deal with that. And here we are today with one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, and Australia can now open up. We can open up. This Christmas we're about to have is a gift Australians have given to themselves, by the way they've worked together with the settings that we've put in place. But as James said, it's not over yet. We’ve still got a long way to go. But I tell you, we're better prepared than almost any other country in the world to deal with this and continue to stare this virus in the face and live with it. Thank you very much, everyone, for coming today. Thank you.