COVID-19: Vaccination, 9 February 2023

Senator BABET (Victoria—United Australia Party Whip) (14:41): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Minister Gallagher. In November 2022 I raised with you the issue of excess mortality as reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The most recent full report from the ABS shows that, for the first nine months of 2022, there were nearly 20,000 excess deaths, which is about 16 per cent more than the baseline average. Of those, 8,160 deaths were attributed to COVID-19. So where are the rest from? Minister, can you please confirm if the department of health have investigated this large increase in excess mortality, and, if they have, can you advise the Senate what is causing this spike in deaths?

Senator GALLAGHER (Australian Capital Territory—Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Finance, Minister for Women, Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Vice-President of the Executive Council) (14:42): I thank Senator Babet for the question and also for the advance indication that he would be asking a question around excess deaths. I can say that the department of health would, as routine, look at the reports that come out through the ABS. As the senator indicated in his question, there are reports that the ABS does on mortality statistics and reports they do on the causes of death, and of course the department of health would look at those and examine them to see if there are any trends or issues of concern. I’m advised that it’s important to note that increases in deaths from a range of causes not related to COVID-19—because there is an indication of excess deaths related to COVID-19—have also been observed in 2022. Examples include deaths due to dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, which were 25.6 per cent above the baseline average in June and 21.8 per cent above the baseline average for the year to June.

While the number of COVID-19 cases and associated deaths has increased in 2022, I think it is important to understand that the proportion of COVID-19 associated deaths relative to the numbers of cases of COVID-19 has decreased overall, which highlights the positive impact of the health measures, vaccination, the changes in transmission and the reduced severity of the omicron variant and subvariants when compared to earlier COVID-19 variants such as delta.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Babet, a first supplementary?

Senator BABET (14:44): Minister, you mentioned some causes of death there, but you didn’t mention myocarditis and pericarditis. This is an issue which is now in the mainstream media. Even Karl Stefanovic talked about it on Channel 9 recently. He said he wouldn’t take more than two jabs, because he had concerns relating to heart issues. Minister, is the government confident that none of this is because of the mRNA injection?

Senator GALLAGHER (14:44): I thank Senator Babet for this supplementary question. COVID-19, as a virus, also impacts health and has those health consequences, like pericarditis and myocarditis. If you have a severe case of COVID-19, that is a side effect and consequence of that. The data shows that those who are unvaccinated—so they haven’t had a vaccine, primarily an mRNA vaccine—are much more likely to end up in ICU or passing away. That includes those who are not vaccinated or not up to date with their vaccination. People in my age group are 32 times more likely to end up in hospital if they’re not vaccinated. So the answer to the question is: yes, we are confident. The government and the approving authorities are confident that the mRNA vaccine is safe, and we urge people to be vaccinated. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Babet, a second supplementary question.

Senator BABET (14:45): Minister, given that you’re so confident that mRNA is so safe and is so effective, when is the government going to release the data to support this claim? When are you going to talk to ATAGI and tell them to give us the information? Are you going to do this, Minister?

Senator GALLAGHER (14:46):  In terms of the safety of the vaccine: whilst ATAGI has a role regarding the provision of the vaccine and determining who should be provided the dose, the approving authority is the TGA. They do publish adverse events through quite frequent reporting. I think it’s either weekly or monthly that they report on adverse events relating to vaccination status.

Of course, people are entitled to get advice from their health professional about whether the vaccine is safe for them and take that advice, but I would also urge people, with the fifth dose becoming available, to please remain up to date with your vaccinations. It’s not just an individual decision. This is the thing. It’s not just about an individual’s decision and keeping yourself safe; it’s keeping other people safe from this virus—people who aren’t able to be as protected as some of us. It’s actually a community responsibility to be vaccinated.