Doorstop, Adelaide with Minister Butler on 6 July 2022

Read the transcript of the Doorstop, Adelaide with Minister Butler on Third Omicron wave; consideration to expanded access to oral antivirals; ATAGI meeting and fourth doses; state clinics and capacity; vaccines for under fives and mask mandates.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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MARK BUTLER, MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE: 

What’s clear is that we’re in the early stages of a third Omicron wave. Case numbers are rising, hospitalisations are up by several hundred just in the fortnight and most states governments and the Federal Government are projecting that that’s going to continue to rise for some time yet.

We’re absolutely committed to making sure as many people as possible are protected by booster shots and have access to these extraordinary oral antiviral tablets and capsules that can really prevent severe disease and hospitalisation. We’ve put a submission before the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee to expand eligibility for those oral antivirals. And as you say, the Advisory Group on Immunisation has a case before it I think today to expand eligibility for a fourth booster dose as well; for people under 65. Now where the age threshold might land is obviously up to them but I really look forward to their advice.

But can I make this point, there are still more than 5 million Australians who are more than six months since they had their second dose of COVID vaccine and have not yet had their booster dose. I strongly encourage you to get out and get your third dose. Two doses of vaccine is not enough to provide protection against Omicron—a third dose is crucially important.

And also, for those people over 65, there are still 40 per cent of you who have not had your fourth dose which is critically important to prevent severe disease and the risk of going to hospital if you catch COVID.

JOURNALIST:

Hypotheticals are hard but if it is approved today how quickly can we see the Government roll out a fourth booster dose campaign?

BUTLER:

I’m going to wait for the advice from ATAGI, I expect that will come in the relatively near future. We’re working on this as a matter of urgency. We put an urgent submission before the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee about the oral antivirals, there’s a case before ATAGI about the fourth booster dose, I’ve had discussions with Pfizer and Moderna to make sure that we as Australians have priority access to the new, cutting edge vaccines that are starting to roll out around the world.

We are absolutely committed to doing whatever we can as a Government to get through this winter and get through this third Omicron wave that’s headed our way.

JOURNALIST:

And consumer confidence in the energy market has dropped, what does the Government plan to do?

BUTLER:

You should put energy questions to the Energy Minister, I’m the Health Minister.

JOURNALIST:

I know but you’re my only Government spokesperson now.

BUTLER:

I’m the Health Minister, I’m happy to take health questions.

JOURNALIST:

We’ve just seen a number of mass vaccination clinics close here in SA. If the fourth booster shot does get the all clear for people under 65 how do you see that rolling out? Do you think you have the resources to be able to do that given that’s the plan some states have taken?

BUTLER:

I’m very confident, we now have thousands of points through community pharmacies and through GP surgeries for people to get those vaccines, whether it’s your third booster dose or whether it’s a fourth dose for older Australians—maybe a greater number after today’s meeting. I’m very confident about that.

If we end up having issues with people being able to get in to have a vaccination we’ll have discussions as the Commonwealth with state governments about that. But I’m confident we’ve got the capacity through our community pharmacy and our General Practice sectors.

JOURNALIST:

On the issue of COVID vaccine for children under the aged of five, do you have an update on where that process is at given the TGA is set to meet on Friday?

BUTLER:

You’re right, there’ll be a meeting of one of the committees of the TGA to consider, as I understand it, the Moderna under five vaccine. The Pfizer under five year old vaccine is only now just in a position to make an application to the TGA. It’s going through its proper processes. This is a very new vaccine, it only started to roll out in the last couple of weeks in the United States which is where it was first approved for administration for under fives. The TGA is doing its proper job and I expect to hear some further news about it in the coming period.

JOURNALIST:

It’s going to be tough winter. If ATAGI was to recommend an indoor mask mandate would the Government support that?

BUTLER:

I think most political leaders around the country have made the point, a number of epidemiologists have, we’re beyond the point of mask mandates. But what I do say is that if you are indoors, and not able to socially distance, you should give strong consideration to wearing a mask in those instances.

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