JOURNALIST: Right, so to start off if you can tell us about these two new vaccines, what are they and should we get it?
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: This is the latest variant of the vaccine produced by Pfizer and by Moderna and it reflects the scheme of variants that are spreading right through the world, the so-called “X.BB family” of variants. These are all part of the Omicron family and our technical advisors on immunisation advised me over the weekend that they have a modest improvement on the existing range of vaccines that are currently being delivered through pharmacies and general practices. I accepted the advice to approve that vaccine as one of the COVID vaccines. We have about 3 million doses in warehouses right now. They'll go through batch testing by our Therapeutic Good Administration, ordering systems will be set up over the coming days, and Australians will be able to access those new vaccines in December.
JOURNALIST: So those vaccines as a modest improvement, should people be going out to get their booster now or should they wait until December when they can get the new vaccine?
BUTLER: The advice from our experts is the best vaccine is the one you can get. The technical advisors really stressed that the existing vaccines that are in the system that are available today in pharmacies and your general practices still provide very good protection against severe disease.
JOURNALIST: And can you just explain, so my understanding is that these vaccines are approved by the TGA and about a month ago and just received your targeting. The Shadow Health Minister was concerned there was some delay, has there been a delay at all?
BUTLER: This has been the same process that's been followed with every generation of vaccines. There is approval by the TGA that looks at safety in particular, and then the technical advisory group come together and consider all of the different data they were able to gather from around the world around the effectiveness and really which population cohorts should be targeted. They had their meeting on Friday last week. They provided me the advice over the weekend and I decided yesterday to accept that advice.
JOURNALIST: Will the Government be rolling out a new information campaign alongside these new vaccines?
BUTLER: We've had information campaigns running over the course of the year. We’ve tried to stress the importance of getting a booster over the course of 2023. So if you're out there and haven't had a boost yet, then we encourage you to get a booster. Clearly COVID cases are rising right now. We do want to see particularly vulnerable Australians protected against severe disease.
JOURNALIST: And just on those rising cases, we've had a few instances, there’s a hospital in Mildura for example, that is bringing in masks again and other sort of screening measures. Is that a reasonable response to what we're seeing at the moment? Do you think that will be more broadly adopted?
BUTLER: This is the sixth way of Omicron in the last couple of years and hospitals and aged care facilities in particular will make those decisions according to what they think the level of risk is in their community.
JOURNALIST: At the moment, what do you think you know, for people getting new COVID vaccines? What is your advice you'd give to them?
BUTLER: My advice is the advice from the technical advisors, which is if you haven't had a booster yet, in 2023, go out and get one. If you're over the age of 75 and it's been more than six months since your last booster go out and get another one. That is the clear advice from the technical advisory group. These vaccines are very effective in protecting you against severe disease. If you are vulnerable through age or if you have compromised immunity, it's very important in particular that you are up to date with your 2023 boosters.
JOURNALIST: And you know with doctors and experts warning on the eighth wave of rising COVID-19 cases do you think more action is needed such as mandatory mask wearing in certain settings?
BUTLER: Individual hospitals and aged care facilities will make an assessment about the level of risk in their community. I think they're well informed and well experienced now after the last few years of COVID. Those decisions will be will be made appropriately by them.
JOURNALIST: The booster numbers are pretty low. It was something like five and a half per cent of young Australians under 64 had had a boost in the last six months. Is that disappointing to you?
BUTLER: We’ve been doing what we can to get that message out to the broader community that staying up to date with the booster doses is a really important thing to do. That message is particularly important for Australians who will be at risk of severe disease. This is the particular effect of COVID vaccines. They are highly effective at protecting against severe disease and the cohorts in the population that are most at risk are older Australians and Australians who might have compromised immunity. To those people in particular, I say, just check whether you are up to date with your COVID booster and if it's been more than six months, particularly if you're over the age of 75, talk to your pharmacist or your general practitioner about getting a new booster.
JOURNALIST: Just again on the Shadow Health Minister, Anne Ruston, there's been some criticism saying there's been a lack of awareness and media campaigning on these new COVID vaccines. What do you say to this?
BUTLER: I'd encourage my shadow to pay a bit more attention to the public information campaigns that have been running over the course of 2023. They’ve been well informed by research and we've been making sure that the community is up to date with all of the information they need to know about the COVID booster program.
JOURANLIST: Just on another topic, in Pearcedale in Melbourne’s outer fringe, it's not possible for international medical graduates to work there but 10 minutes away in Frankston it is. Will this town be given the same status?
BUTLER: Pearcedale sits within a GP catchment area that was the subject of a review by an independent panel last year and that found that that whole catchment area had more GPs per population than the national average. It wasn't approved for a distribution of priority access designation that would allow to recruit overseas trained doctors. What I've also said over the course of today, is that we recognise that the existing systems for those assessments haven't really kept pace with things that have happened over the last few years - the COVID workforce crunch. The way in which workers, including health workers, are working right now means that we need a review of those systems. I recognise that wherever you draw the boundary, it means that that some practices the wrong side of the boundary feel that they're they're not able to access the system that that that is important for their ability to provide care. We've announced today a review of those systems. I want that review to happen pretty quickly so the results will be provided to government in the middle of next year.
JOURNALIST: Are you confident that you know something by the middle of next year could be enough to make sure GPs in that position don’t close in the meantime?
BUTLER: Obviously we want to do everything we can to stop GP clinics closing. That's why we've put in place the most significant investments in general practice for many, many years, particularly in bulk billing, but beyond bulk billing into other elements of general practice as well.