Minister Butler doorstop in Canberra - 4 August 2022
Read the transcript of Minister Butler's doorstop on Monkeypox; COVID-19 hospitalisations; and vaccines for immunocompromised children.
The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
JOURNALIST: On the agenda in National Cabinet, a few things, but one of them is monkeypox. Where are we at with vaccines? What can you tell us about the additional vaccines coming out?
MINISTER FOR HEALTH MARK BUTLER: I'm finalising my advice in the next couple of hours, and I'll have an announcement later today about monkeypox vaccines, as well as our broader monkeypox response. But I'll have more to say later today.
JOURNALIST: How big is the concern of that particular disease?
BUTLER: Case numbers are certainly growing in countries that haven't traditionally experienced monkeypox – countries outside of Africa. There are more than 25,000 cases I saw last night on the US CDC site, most of them in North America, the UK and Europe. There are, at last count, about 55 cases having been recorded here in Australia. We're certainly running well behind the level of case reporting you see in the US, Canada, Europe and UK. But we've been working very hard on this response for the last several weeks, and I'll be able to announce it later today.
JOURNALIST: What about where things are on the COVID front, it looks like things might be a bit better?
BUTLER: Certainly the data we're seeing right now indicates that we might have reached the peak earlier than we expected to, earlier than most modelling suggested we would. We're being a bit cautious about that, because what we've seen through the pandemic is the school holiday effect, which shows that numbers and transmission takes a slightly different course because of different activity in school holidays. Hospital numbers pleasingly are down. They're still high, at about 5,000 across the country but they're certainly down from the peak we saw a couple of weeks ago. We'll really be monitoring this very closely over the course of coming days. I'm meeting with my colleagues, state and territory health ministers, again, we meet on a weekly basis. We're meeting tomorrow morning, we'll have a further discussion about that.
JOURNALIST: Minister, have you been told to separate your social media accounts on a different phone? Are you worried about your data being breached by foreign entities?
BUTLER: I'm not going to go into the advice that we've received from national security agencies, but we are conscious about these risks. I'm not a TikTok participant myself, thankfully, to my staff. I'm not going to go into security details but of course, we try to follow that advice.
JOURNALIST: Minister, many parents may be quite eager to get their young children vaccinated, when are they going to be able to register to do it? Is that something that's available to them now?
BUTLER: The first tranche of doses, I'm advised, arrived last night, which is 250,000 doses, well- more than we need to vaccinate the population would be recommended by ATAGI, which is about 70,000 very young children. Those vaccines are going to go through a range of processes like batch testing, we also need to set up booking systems because largely, we'll be doing this through state infrastructure, so state children's hospitals, paediatric hospitals, and other health centres. As well as in rural and remote Australia it will be through the RFDS, Aboriginal community controlled organisations and the like, so there's a bit of work to set up the infrastructure. There is some training that staff need for the different vials involved. That is why we've decided the program will start on the 5th of September. Over the coming couple of weeks, families will be advised about ways in which they can book for that vaccination appointment. I stress though that those bookings are not open now.
JOURNALIST: How close are we to having a vaccine that is effective against the new some variants?
BUTLER: Moderna and Pfizer have both submitted variant vaccines to the US FDA, which not only target the, the original strain of COVID, but also target the Omicron strain as well. That's not yet been through a process of approval here in Australia. As I’ve said before, I’ve had discussions with Pfizer, and Moderna for some time now to make sure we're able through our existing purchasing agreements to get as much of that vaccine as we possibly can. But those arrangements haven't yet been finalised because of the TGA processes.
JOURNALIST: You do speak to people who are sort of holding off getting their fourth jab thinking I'm going to wait and get one that won't have a disability, what would you say to those people?
BUTLER: Look, I really, really encourage anyone who is eligible for a booster shot, whether it's a third dose or a fourth dose, get it now. Get the vaccine that is in front of you. The existing vaccines we have in this country, on all public health advice, are highly effective at protecting against severe disease. There's still 5 million Australians eligible for their third dose who haven't got it. They've gone more than six months since their second dose. I strongly urge you to get that booster. there are still more people eligible for the fourth dose who haven't got it yet, although the fourth dose numbers have been very high. In the last three weeks since we expanded eligibility about more than one and a half million people have got their fourth dose over the last three weeks alone which is really pleasing but if you've got a booster in front of you take it.