In breaking news this morning, two oral treatments for COVID have been given the green light in Australia - the pills from Pfizer and Merck granted provisional approval by the TGA.
Let's bring in Health Minister, Greg Hunt, now, who joins us from Somerville in Victoria. Minister, good morning to you. Thanks for your time this morning, we always appreciate it. How important are these new treatments? And how do they work?
So these are two very important new treatments - Paxlovid from Pfizer and Molnupiravir from MSD, or Merck Sharp & Dohme.
Basically they're pills or tablets. It's a course of treatment for people who have mild to moderate symptoms and are considered by their GP or the hospital to be vulnerable of progressing to a serious illness. And so you would, in particular, focus on the elderly or people who are immune-compromised.
They have been approved by the TGA this morning. We're expecting the first deliveries in the coming weeks into Australia. And all up, over the course of the year we have 800,000 of these courses of treatment. So, it helps protect; it helps prevent graduation to serious illness; and, it's a complement to the vaccinations.
And we've just seen Australians pass 95 per cent first doses and almost six million, 5.8 million boosters.
One, one of the hard things, I think, Minister, which I'm sure you concur, is when you have this virus, you don't know how it's progressing, you don't know how quickly it's going to progress, you don't know how worried you should be about small changes in your own body.
So, at what point do you know that you would qualify for something like this medical treatment, when invariably there will be a lot of people at home in isolation when they're dealing with it.
Yeah. So, for the vast majority of people, it's asymptomatic or mild to moderate symptoms. And people will be very experienced with the sore throat, the lethargy, the cough, the, the runny nose.
But the general practice, your GP, Telehealth is there, is available. We've had over 90 million Telehealth consultations since that started almost two years ago during COVID.
And so they're the ones to give you the advice, they are the experts. And they're also the ones that will be able to prescribe these tablets. They're skilled, they understand symptoms, and they're able to, to recognise and take those precautionary steps.
Okay. The booster shot being brought forward to just three months. How long does the protection from that third jab then last? Because does that then mean, say, as we come in to winter that starts to wane? And we're potentially going to need a fourth jab?
So, at this stage what we see is that there's good, strong protection. Already you get protection against serious illness from the first two doses, but much less in terms of transmission. The booster helps significantly with prevention of transmission and adds to the very strong protection against serious illness.
The next thing is we're always looking around the world at evidence as to whether or not additional shots are required. There is the potential that over time it may become just like the flu, an annual shot, but that's to be determined.
But we've acquired enough, 60 million Pfizer this year and 15 million Moderna as well as 51 million Novavax, that if an additional shot were required we're prepared, we're in place.
And we're also setting up Moderna manufacturing in Australia, that's one of the two big new mRNA drugs that are available, or vaccines that are available. And they’ll be established in Australia to look long-term over the course of the next decade and beyond for COVID, and potentially for other vaccine requirements.
Okay. Dan Andrews looks to be pushing towards mandatory third booster shots in certain sectors of the community.
Are we heading, in this country, towards a wider acceptance of that for basic day-to-day things? So, access to things, plane trips, for example, getting into restaurants? Is it going to be wider than it is right now?
So that obviously will be medically driven.
As a general principle our focus on mandated vaccines has been aged-care and disability support workers, and the states are focused on hospitals. So, I’ll leave that to the, to the states.
But that's been our focus and where we've confined the work that we want to do. And what we've seen through is that a 99 per cent vaccination rate amongst aged-care workers, one of the highest in the world.
And so that's helping to protect people in that environment. That the role and you know, with this virus it's about planning for the next thing and the next thing, and, and sharing that. The treatments now, the boosters are roaring along; kids will pass half a million vaccinations today in just over a week. And so Australians are really taking steps to protect themselves.
How do you feel about surfing legend Kelly Slater who has not declared his vaccination status? Is there any chance he's going to get into Australia for the World Surfing Championships this year?
I think we've been pretty clear with the Novak Djokovic case of no-vax, no-play. That's a pretty simple message. Doesn't matter what sport, and we're even-handed. I hope he gets vaccinated and I hope he comes.
Greg Hunt, good to talk to you.