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Question: Ensuring Public Access to COVID-19 Vaccine

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (14:30): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question to the Minister for Health and Wellbeing about a coronavirus vaccine.

Leave granted.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: The federal government has announced some $66 million towards finding a coronavirus COVID-19 vaccine. I know that the Hon. Frank Pangallo locally has put himself up to be the very first test guinea pig. My question to the Minister for Health and Wellbeing is: what steps are we taking to ensure that whatever vaccine is discovered and works is made publicly accessible and available to the most South Australians, and Australians, possible?

The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (14:31): I thank the honourable member for her question. I would make three points. I think it's really important that we don't predicate our strategies on the basis that a vaccine will become available or become available anytime soon. That's why we are taking extraordinary measures in Australia to suppress the transmission of the disease.

The other point I make is that the same values that have driven the Australian response to suppressing the virus will be the same values we take to the issue of distribution of vaccines. Australia has not only a universal healthcare system, but in our response to the pandemic we have demonstrated Australian values of care for those who are most vulnerable. I particularly highlight the work of my colleague the Hon. Michelle Lensink in relation to providing services to homeless people. For example, Australians who are refugees and do not have Medicare will still get free coronavirus testing.

In terms of the rollout of all our strategies, I believe that Australian communities, of whatever political persuasion, have demonstrated Australian values by standing up for those most vulnerable. Also, to be frank, in the context of a public health crisis, it is fundamental self-interest to make sure the vulnerable are looked after because the person you pass in the street might be the person who transmits COVID to you, so it is in your personal interest that everybody is supported and protected.

The honourable member particularly highlights the challenge in relation to vaccines. Again, Australian values are reflected in the National Immunisation Program, which is particularly targeting the vulnerable. I am sure the same values will be reflected in the vaccination program. We certainly need to make sure that as a vaccine becomes available it is only made available when it's safe to do so.

One of the challenges going forward is that there will be some who will want to take risks on vaccines. I would be one of those strongly arguing that we can't afford to take risks with vaccines. Not only would it threaten those who might be receiving a vaccine that is not safe to use, it risks undermining the ongoing support of the community for vaccination programs. We need to make sure that it is rolled out in a timely way and that it is rolled out in an equitable way.

Now, that doesn't mean that a vaccine for coronavirus can only be available through the national program. For example, with influenza, we make sure we look after vulnerable South Australians and Australians through the National Immunisation Program and through some limited state-funded programs, but also people who are able to afford to buy the vaccine, are actually self-funded.

I certainly expect that as a vaccine is identified, as it is made available in Australia, Australian governments will do what they have done in the early stages of this pandemic: they will continue to operate in accordance with Liberal values—sorry, Australian values which are also Liberal values! In fact, I would argue that the Liberal Party embodies Australian values.

Members interjecting:

The Hon. S.G. WADE: Now that you taunt me, I'm reminded that this is the party—

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order!

The Hon. S.G. WADE: —that has served the longest term of government in the federal sphere, demonstrating that not only I believe it reflects Australian values, the Australian people believe it reflects Australian values. Please do not hector me; I don't want to keep preaching about how much I love the Liberal Party.

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order!

The Hon. S.G. WADE: Going back to the honourable member's question, I think I am completely resonating with the honourable member's aspirations and that is that any vaccination program is fair and promotes the public health of all Australians.

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