MARK BUTLER, MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE: Well, thanks everyone for coming along this afternoon. I’ve talked over the time I’ve been Health Minister about the importance of our vaccine efforts and our efforts to get out these extraordinary oral antiviral treatments that are now available to Australians. The Australian community responded magnificently once vaccines actually arrived in the country, and we have some of the world’s highest rates of double dose vaccination amongst adults and amongst teenagers. Well more than 95 per cent of eligible over-16 year olds have had two doses of COVID vaccines; a magnificent effort and, as I said, one of the best rates in the world.
We are not performing as well, though, on our third and fourth dose boosters. Still there almost 6 million Australians who are eligible for a third dose who have not yet had it. I encourage all Australians who are eligible to go to your pharmacy or your GP and get that third dose, because the health advice is very clear: you are not fully protected, particularly against the Omicron variants, unless you have three doses of the vaccine. Two doses does not give you sufficient protection against these new variants. I've also talked about the need to lift our efforts in getting fourth doses into the arms, particularly of aged care residents. And I'm pleased to say that that rate has increased by about 10 per cent since I was last before you a week or so ago. There's still more to do, there's no question about that. Only 64 per cent of aged care residents eligible for their fourth dose have now got it. I want to see that rate increase dramatically. Again, the aged care sector has responded to the challenge of third dose boosters really well; 95 per cent of aged care residents have had their third dose, but we need them to get that fourth dose, particularly as we see COVID cases to continue to increase as we have over the last few days.
And I've also said that we need to do better in getting these oral antivirals out into the community. The former government, to their credit, contracted 1.3 million doses of Molnupiravir, and also Paxlovid – 1 million doses of Paxlovid, the Pfizer oral antiviral that is very, very effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalisation and even death amongst vulnerable Australians. But we're just not getting the doses out that we need to get. So I've asked my department to include that as part of their information advertising campaign. As you probably know, health ministers are meeting tomorrow and we'll be talking about ways in which their communications with COVID positive patients that happen as a matter of course can draw attention of vulnerable groups to the availability of these drugs. And there will also be consideration by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee in due course later next week about whether the existing eligibility criteria should remain or should be in some way relaxed, which is obviously a matter for them.
There are right now, though, around the world, a range of developments that communities and governments and health professionals are coming to grips with them – some of them very good; some of them, frankly, not so good. Firstly, almost every day we read news about the encroachment of the new sub-variants of Omicron – BA.4, BA.5 – into our community. Those sub-variants are starting to become the predominant sub variants on the eastern seaboard, and they are starting to see not just case numbers increase in a number of jurisdictions, but very worryingly, hospitalisation numbers increase as well. We still have a few thousand people in hospital across Australia with COVID – hospitals that are also dealing with the pressure of influenza for the first time in a couple of years, as well as all of the other conditions people have when they present at hospital. And we're still seeing about 300 Australians lose their lives to COVID every week.
This is still a very serious health challenge. We're only still starting to understand the impact of BA.4 and BA.5 in terms of its transmissibility, in terms of the ability for people who might have had one of the other sub-variants of COVID earlier in the year to become reinfected with this new sub-variant. And also, whether or not this new sub-variant is or is not more severe than some of the other sub-variants, with some research indicating that it might impact the lungs a little bit more than others. Suffice it to say, this is still a very worrying development that health authorities, not just here in Australia but around the world, are watching very closely.
On the more positive side, we've seen over the last few days news reports around the world that the FDA in the US, and the European equivalent the EMA, and in time our TGA as well is looking at applications to approve new variant vaccines. These are vaccines that are being developed by Moderna and Pfizer, particularly targeting the Omicron variant. They’re bivalent vaccines, so they have a bit of the original strain in them as well as the new Omicron strain. The clinical data is looking very, very good and regulators are now dealing with those applications before them. The TGA has an application before it, and it will be dealing with that in the usual way over coming weeks. As well, you would have seen that the under-five paediatric vaccine by Moderna and Pfizer has been considered in America. It's been approved for Moderna; it is rolling out in the US already for under-fives. It's only in the first week or two of the rollout, but that- the Moderna paediatric vaccine is also before the TGA here in Australia. And so we'll be going through that process if it's approved by the TGA, we’ll then go to the advisory group ATAGI, the vaccine advisory group, to consider the degree to which it should be rolled out here in Australia.
I'm happy to announce that Pfizer has also been granted provisional approval to put in an application for its paediatric vaccine to the TGA here. Presuming it does submit that application, it would be considered in the same way in due course. And again, these treatments that I've talked about, the oral antivirals that people can take at home without having to go to the hospital and receive the antiviral treatment intravenously, which was the case for most of the pandemic, continue to show fantastic results in preventing severe disease, hospitalisation and even death amongst vulnerable people.
Now, as a new Government, it goes without saying we have inherited a range of different agreements and contracts with vaccine companies and companies that are producing these new therapeutics or treatments. And it is entirely proper, I think, that we conduct an independent review of those arrangements to ensure that they are fit for purpose, both now over the course of the rest of the year and into 2023. So I'm happy to announce today, I'm very delighted to announce that Jane Halton AO has agreed to conduct that review for our Government as a matter of some urgency. We need to see the results of that review in a pretty timely way. We obviously want it done properly, but we want some feedback through this review in the reasonably near term. There is, I think, no better person in Australia to conduct this review. As you know, Jane is a former secretary of the Department of Health and of the Department of Finance. She is widely respected across the community, and importantly in this building across the aisle by both parties for whom she has worked in government. She, as you all know, conducted the quarantine review for the former government and is better connected to the global landscape in this pandemic, I think, than any other Australian. As a former chair of the World Health Assembly and the Health Committee of the OECD, she is also importantly the co-chair of COVAX, which is the organisation set up to ensure that developing countries have access to these COVID vaccines. And the Chair also of CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation, which is funding a lot of the innovative trials for the next generation of vaccines beyond the variant vaccines I've talked about, but really quite innovative projects to get even more effective vaccines onto the market for COVID. So Jane is absolutely the right person to conduct this review for Government.
As I've said, there is no hard deadline for this review to be completed, but it's obviously something we want conducted in weeks, not many months. We need, given the developments I've talked about—both in terms of the spread of these new sub-variants, but also the opportunity being presented by new vaccine and treatment products—we need to make sure that we have the best information available to us sooner rather than later. I guess the key elements of Ms Halton’s review will be firstly to take stock of the current contracts and the existing supplies we have in country of vaccines and treatments. All of the vaccines for all different age groups, obviously also taking into account the developments in relation to one- to five-year-olds. I'm also asking Ms Halton, to the extent this is possible, to cast forward and to provide us with some advice about likely developments in this area over the rest of 2022 and into 2023, both in terms of the likely development of this virus and what that might throw at countries around the world but also the likely developments in relation to vaccines and treatments. And thirdly, obviously, whether any changes to the existing arrangements that we've inherited from the former government should be made in the light of that examination of the landscape over the coming 12 to 18 months.
Can I say that we are determined, as a Government, to stay on the front foot in the fight against this virus and ensure that the Australian community has priority access to the best possible vaccine protection against this virus and all of its variants and the best possible cutting edge treatments to prevent severe illness and death for vulnerable Australians. Tom.
JOURNALIST: Will the review look at the failures of speed for vaccines getting into Australia last year? And if so, is it possible that Brendan Murphy's position would be reviewed?
BUTLER: There will be a time, as I think I've said before, for a proper inquiry into the country's response to this pandemic, whether that's a Royal Commission, as was recommended by the Senate Committee, or some other very deep inquiry, and that will examine all of our responses, whether they’re health responses or economic responses. I don't want this review to go to that. What I want this review to go to is to some good, independent advice to Government about our existing arrangements – the contracts that we have inherited from the former government, both in relation to vaccine delivery over the coming 12 or 18 months and treatments, and also what supplies we currently have in country, whether they are adequate for our needs or potentially even surplus to some of the needs we have. So it's not about looking back and examining the rights and wrongs of the former government's approach to negotiating those contracts in the first place; it's about the now and the next 12 to 18 months. Sarah.
JOURNALIST: Are you doing this because you have some concerns about the situation we are currently in, either in terms of contracts already signed or contracts not signed? Is there any reason for instigating this review? And also, are you going to go ahead with the cuts to telehealth that are due to come in tomorrow, particularly given the environment that you've described and the risk environment you've described, and the AMA saying that cuts to telehealth will make the situation for immunosuppressed and vulnerable people worse?
BUTLER: I'll deal with your first point first. I think it's entirely appropriate for us to have some independent advice about incredibly important arrangements that we have inherited. I have no pre-conceived view about them. I want Jane to feel, Ms Halton to feel, that she can provide that advice to me as Minister and to the Government more broadly without us having a pre-conceived view. I genuinely want some advice about what those arrangements on vaccines and treatments present us, by way of protection of the community now, but also, importantly, over the course of the rest of 2022 and into ’23.
Onto your second point, as you know, some arrangements in relation to telehealth, particularly allowing telephone consultations for longer consults, were due to finish at the end of December and were extended on a temporary basis by the former government to the end of June, so until today. It's important to stress that, first of all, people will always be able to have a phone consult with their doctor for shorter consults. So a level A and level B consult up to 20 minutes. Beyond that, they will always be able to have a remote or virtual consultation with their doctor, provided it's a video consult. It's not our intention to change the decision of the former government, that that additional telephone consultation for the longer consults will end today.
What I am doing, though, is I am deferring the compliance arrangements that were due to take effect tomorrow. Those compliance arrangements were essentially based upon a particular ratio of telehealth consultations as a part of, particularly, a GP's day. I don't think it's appropriate that those compliance measures start tomorrow, as the former government had decided they would, given what GPs and patients are dealing with right now. And so, given the level of respiratory illness in the community, more and more people, more and more GPs for that matter, are choosing to have consults conducted virtually, and I don't want GPs punished for that.
JOURNALIST: How long will that be deferred until?
BUTLER: At the moment, I've decided to defer that for three months. I think it is important to have good compliance or quality control measures in place for telehealth. I think broadly people accept that. I don't think it's a good idea to drop it in the middle of the winter that we're experiencing right now. Obviously, depending on where we are at the end of September, if there's good reason to defer that again, I'll look at that. But at the moment, the decision I've taken is to defer it for three months.
JOURNALIST: Minister, just wanted to follow up on Sarah's first point there, are you concerned about the Department of Health's procurement process of our contracts for vaccines, particularly if those contracts meet, say, the forward next two years of what we need in terms of vaccination levels?
BUTLER: Now, I make no judgement about the existing arrangements. I don't have the advice before me that would allow me to do that. I've had really fruitful discussions with Moderna and Pfizer over the last 24 hours about some of the developments I talked about, both in terms of the challenges we're all facing with these new sub-variants but also the really positive developments in vaccine technology. They have done a great job in providing Australia- let me finish. They've done a great job in providing Australia with supplies that have got us as protected as we are. I make no judgement about the existing contracts. I have no reason to think that they're not appropriate. But this is a fast-moving landscape. We need to make sure that we are agile here. We stay on the front foot to ensure that arrangements that might have been fantastic three months ago are fit for purpose for the rest of this year and into next year.
JOURNALIST: Minister, with the vaccines for under-fives, when would you hope to or when would you anticipate that such vaccines might be made available? Would there be the consideration that looking to what the US does or how the rollout overseas goes? And given that the rollout for five-to-11s, the percentage of children in that cohort getting the vaccine is far lower than, say, for 12-to-15s or the rest of the population. Do you share similar concerns that the vaccine take-up for six-month-olds to five-year-olds will also be kind of low? What sort of measures do you think might be needed to make sure that that cohort is protected?
BUTLER: Can I say the first thing I would say to parents of under five-year-olds, younger children, right now is get your child vaccinated for influenza. That is the biggest priority for under-fives. Under-fives are particularly vulnerable to influenza, particularly under two-year-olds, and we are seeing significant numbers of presentation with severe influenza amongst some of our younger members of the community. So that is the priority right now. If I have a message for parents of younger kids: get them vaccinated with the influenza vaccination.
As for the COVID vaccine, the TGA will take the time it needs to take. That's always been our approach. It was the former government's approach, as is proper. The TGA needs to do its job properly, according to its statutory charter. And then, if they do approve the paediatric vaccine, it needs to go to the advisory group, and that would probably be a matter of some weeks or a couple of months. But that really is a matter for them. I'm happy with however long they take to do the job properly.
As for the take-up, I don't think any of us know, frankly. You're right that the take-up for five-to-11-year-olds is much lower than early teenagers. It's still running at about 40 per cent double dosed for the five-to-11-year-olds. It's about 80 per cent for 12-to-15-year-olds. And I'm not sure that anyone really knows the reason for that vast difference in percentage. We have a great track record in this country of nought-to-five immunisations generally, and we don't have any evidence across the world. As I said, the Americans have only started this in the last week. So what the take-up will be by parents of under-fives is a little unknown. We’ll be considering what support and information, obviously, we provide to parents about this once and if approvals are given by the TGA and ATAGI. Can I say though that I've had discussions with Moderna and Pfizer to ensure that in the event these vaccines are approved for under five-year-olds, that we have quick supplies available to Australians for them to be actually delivered. And that is something that my department is negotiating more formally with those companies about. Jonathan.
JOURNALIST: Minister, can I just ask in regards to vaccinating those aged between six months and five, does the Government have any data on the number of children in that demographic who have died exclusively from COVID, not with COVID? And just as a second question, we're starting to see the repealing of rules which prevent people who are unvaccinated returning to the workforce. Is that something that you support?
BUTLER: Well, on your first point, I don't have that hard data before me. There have been deaths of under five-year-olds from COVID this year through the Omicron wave, several of them. You know, it's obviously very difficult to make a clear distinction of dying with COVID or dying from COVID. And it's not an area, particularly as a non-clinician, I tend to get into. But there have been deaths by COVID of under five-year-old Australians over the course of just 2022. As I say, there are significant complications for under-fives from influenza and I want to encourage parents to think about that vaccination. As to you second point, as mask mandates are progressively lifted, I think it's always been envisaged that that would happen as the Doherty plan was progressively implemented. Masks obviously provide strong protection for people who are concerned about their vulnerability to contracting COVID and potentially contracting severe illness. There are still mandates in place at state levels for public transport and for…
JOURNALIST: I’m talking about vaccine mandates.
BUTLER: Sorry, vaccines. Sorry, I thought you were talking mask mandates.
JOURNALIST: Those unvaccinated, teachers, paramedics.
BUTLER: Look, we have an incredibly high level- given that vaccine mandates only ever covered second dose other than some very particular areas like aged care. It's not surprising, given that we're well over 95 per cent of over 16-year-olds with a double dose, that those mandates are progressively being relaxed. I'm not surprised by that at all.
JOURNALIST: Minister, in Opposition you, and I suppose the now Government, were advocating for a Centre for Disease Control. Is that still your position and what's the progress on that?
BUTLER: Yes, it is very much a policy of our Government. This is this is something that we will roll out in close collaboration, firstly with state and territory governments. For a CDC - which is in place in pretty much every other OECD country - for a CDC to be effective, to be valuable in a federal system, it must have buy-in from state and territory governments that have so much responsibility for the delivery of healthcare. So I'm meeting health ministers tomorrow. I intend to flag this process with them. This is not going to happen overnight. We want to do this properly in close collaboration, obviously, with state and territory governments, and then also with other health care stakeholders. I've detected in my few weeks as Minister a great level of enthusiasm through the healthcare system for this model, particularly given what we've experienced as a country over the last couple of years. But we're going to take this carefully. It's going to start with a discussion with state and territory governments, and then a process to bring in other healthcare stakeholders. James.
JOURNALIST: Minister, you were fiercely critical of the former government's vaccine procurement policies and its handling of those processes for, I guess, most of the last 18 months. Now you say you make no judgement about the sort of current arrangements in place. Could you explain that contradiction? And secondly, in Ms. Halton's review, how can she make improvements to the program to purchase vaccines if she doesn't consider the mistakes that were arguably made in the past?
BUTLER: James, you're right, I was fiercely critical and I was not alone in being fiercely critical through particularly the early part of 2021. Chris Bowen, as the Shadow Health Minister at the time in late 2020, had clearly advised the Government to consider a range of vaccine options. Four to six, he said, was best practice, not a number he plucked from thin air, a number he was advised by experts about. We made that point. We also said that the Government needed to act more promptly to secure deals, not just with AstraZeneca or with the prospective vaccine at the UQ that didn't end up working out, but with a range of other suppliers, obviously, including Pfizer. And look, I stand by our criticism over the course of that time.
I think materials that were released largely under Freedom of Information that showed that while other countries were securing deals with Pfizer in June, July and August of 2020, our negotiations were just let slip. They just weren't treated as a priority. And instead, we didn't ink a deal with Pfizer until Christmas Eve, months after the rest. And so when we started to deal with the impact of the Delta wave, we were just too far behind the rest of the world in vaccination. I make no apology for that criticism. I stand by it. But we're not at that point now. We're at a point now where we have arrangements. I think they were secured too late, but they are arrangements now in place to supply significant amounts of vaccines to the country, particularly through Moderna and Pfizer into next year as well. We're in a different position. And at some stage, of course, the country's response at all levels to this pandemic will need to be the subject of a thorough inquiry. This is not that inquiry.
JOURNALIST: Minister, can I ask the Government when you expect the next new variant vaccines to come online in Australia, and just how effective you think they will be in preventing sickness and death in Australians? And just on a separate issue; do you support the ACT, Northern Territory making their own assisted dying laws and are you personally in favour of a new measure?
BUTLER: That was a lot. Look, the variant vaccines- the Moderna variant vaccine has been before the FDA in the US for quite some time, some weeks, and has published data both about its effectiveness against the original Omicron variants or sub-variants, BA1 and BA2, and more recently in relation to BA4 and BA5. And they both show pretty impressive results. Again, I'm not the clinician, but I think broadly they're accepted as showing impressive results. Pfizer released data on its two candidates, one of which is a monovalent, that targets Omicron in particular. And the other of which is like Moderna's a bivalent that targets are Omicron and Wuhan, and it also shows pretty good results. So I think around the world, regulators and people watching this space with expertise feel pretty good about the protection provided by these vaccines. But obviously, they've got to go through a regulatory process. They haven't gone through that yet in any country, to completion at least, in the US or Europe or here. And the TGA has to do its job, and I respect their right to do that job.
JOURNALIST: So will we get it this year?
BUTLER: Well I think if the TGA is going to approve this vaccine, it will be done much more quickly than that before the end of the year. And then obviously we are also- as I said, I have had discussions with the two companies about the availability of this variant vaccine, as well as the paediatric vaccines for under five-year-olds. There are negotiations underway between my department and those companies. As I've said, I am absolutely determined. I do think this is a race. I'm absolutely determined to ensure that Australians have priority access to the best available vaccines and treatments from around the world. On the ACT and the NT's ability to legislate around health measures; I am a general supporter of the rights of Territory Parliaments to legislate on matters that impact the health of their populations. I think the interference in that aspect of a Territory Parliaments powers is overreach by the Commonwealth Parliament. That that's my personal view. It's one I've held for a long time. I am a supporter of voluntary assisted dying. That directly is not a Commonwealth matter, but I personally have been a supporter of that for some time. Properly regulated, properly constructed, and I think it's been extraordinary the speed with which the AD, or voluntary assisted dying laws, have passed through so many state parliaments over the last couple of years. And I think broadly they've been well constructed based on good consultation with obviously the community and patient groups, but also with clinicians. And seem to be working, in their early days, seem to be working very effectively.
JOURNALIST: When did you first have those meetings with Moderna and Pfizer about supply for the paediatric vaccines? And if Moderna's jab is actually approved by our health authorities…
BUTLER: The paediatric jab?
JOURNALIST: Yep. Do you expect that it will be included as part of the supply that we're already due to get this year?
BUTLER: That's still a matter under discussion, your last point. There have been there have been ongoing discussions between - particularly my department and also my office - with those two companies for some time now. I met with them both yesterday. Yes?
JOURNALIST: Just on aged care. Sorry, just on aged care. The Government's providing a 1.7 per cent increase to funding aged care providers, but they are facing a 5 per cent inflation rate and a wages bill that's due to rise tomorrow. Given that in the lead up to the election, Labor made such big promises on aged care, why hasn't there been a bigger increase in that funding, given the strain they will find themselves under come tomorrow?
BUTLER: The first thing I would say is that I recognise that aged care facilities have been operating under real pressure for some years now, going back to big budget cuts in ‘16 and ‘17. Obviously real pressures around attracting workforce and keeping it and the added pressures of COVID. So I'm very much alive to the pressures facing our aged care systems. I know how many of our facilities are really on the edge, financially, in terms of their viability. So we are alive to that. We never went to the election saying that we would change indexation arrangements for aged care immediately. I never said that, no one in Labor ever said that we would come in and change longstanding indexation arrangements for aged care, and frankly, the aged care sector knows that. What we have said though is that we would retain in place the changes that the former government made to pricing, including indexation in response to the Royal Commission report. And those will roll out over time. The Independent Hospital Pricing Authority needs to have its remit extended to include aged care. They will consider the potential for new indexation arrangements as part of their pricing review that take account of things like wages obviously, which would be part of an aged care facilities budget. But having been in this in this job for a matter of weeks, we never said that we would change the indexation, longstanding indexation arrangements for aged care immediately.
JOURNALIST: They do face an immediate problem, though. So is there any relief that can be given to the aged care sector in the short term before those longer term changes come into effect?
BUTLER: Well, there are funding changes that are due to take place in October that were initiated, again, by the former government, to their credit, in response to the Royal Commission report. I have said that they require legislative change that the former government was not able to get through the Parliament and I've said that that would be a priority for our Government to ensure that that legislative change can take effect and can put in place new funding arrangements for the sector that will overall increase their level of income as early as October.
JOURNALIST: Minister, does calling the Jane Halton review express any lack of confidence in the Health Department, given that assessing vaccine stocks and costing forward on vaccine needs would be pretty ordinary work for health department officials?
BUTLER: Not at all. Not at all. This is, I think, quite an unremarkable thing for an incoming government to do, given the magnitude in importance of these vaccine and treatment arrangements, to have someone independently cast their eye across those arrangements and provide us with some advice. I mean, I wasn't at the table negotiating these. These are arrangements that we've inherited. And as we assess our ability, as I said, to stay on the front foot against a moving landscape, I want to have an independent eye cast over those arrangements and advice provided to us about their suitability for what we can expect coming down the road over the course of the rest of this year and next.
JOURNALIST: You talk about surplus requirements potentially. Just to clarify, would you expect- would you imagine that this review could, I guess, recommend the cancellation or alteration of some contracts or the signing of new ones with companies we currently already have contracts with?
BUTLER: As I've said, I don't want to predetermine what Ms Halton should or should not come up with. But what I've said is I want her to look at the current arrangements in relation to vaccines and treatments, ensure their suitability- assess their suitability for what we know now, but also what we can reasonably predict is going to come down the pathway over the course of ‘22 and ‘23. And if changes need to be made, to recommend what those changes might look like. Now, I have no view about whether changes will need to be made and whether she might recommend them. But if she makes an assessment—and she is as well-placed as anyone in this country to do that—if she makes an assessment that given the changing nature of this pandemic, we might need to make some change, we'd obviously look at that very carefully. Jonathan?
JOURNALIST: If there are on the surplus- found to be surplus supply, do you have a preference as to what we would do with that surplus? Would it go to the Pacific or would you like eligibility for fourth doses to be relaxed for Australians?
BUTLER: Well again, I don't want to predetermine what Ms Halton might recommend about that. And if she- and if it does turn out that we have a surplus, then I'd want to have a range of options in front of us as to what to do with any surplus vaccines we were contractually required to take. I think the advice that I'm getting, both from Health but also from Foreign Affairs, and reflected by external stakeholders who know what's happening globally, is that there is a bit of a surplus of vaccine around the world right now. And although six, 12 months ago, developing countries in our region and beyond were keen for us to donate surplus vaccines, my advice is that we have not been able to land even donation arrangements with countries right now because there is so much vaccine on the market, if you like. The US has put a huge amount of vaccine into the global market for developing countries, and other countries have as well. Obviously I want to make sure that if there is any demand, particularly in our region, in the Pacific, Indonesia, PNG particularly, that we are ready and willing to help meet that demand, but my advice at the moment is that that is not the case.
JOURNALIST: So do more Australians need it? I mean, there's a million Australians not taking the vaccine who are eligible. What would we do with those excess doses?
BUTLER: Well, that really will be a matter for Ms Halton to provide some advice about. I've said on a number of occasions, if you are eligible to get a third dose, please, please go and get it. It is an important health measure. Two doses is not sufficient protection against even the sub-variants of Omicron that we've been dealing with over most of this year. And the newer sub-variants appear to be even more transmissible at the very least. Sarah?
JOURNALIST: Just a question. Why on earth can’t Brendan Murphy and the entire establishment of the Health Department give you the answers to these questions you have? And if not, why not?
BUTLER: I don't think it's remarkable that that an incoming Government that has inherited very important contracts and arrangements would want an independent eye cast over those. Obviously, Ms Halton will be working very closely with the Department of Health in the development of this report and the conduct of this review.
JOURNALIST: Are we going to start to see yearly boosters for COVID? Has that been decided yet?
BUTLER: No, I don't think it has been decided yet. And I think it's frankly, as far as I can tell, an open debate across the world. There are different views about that. But obviously, I think we would want this review to consider if that were a potential for 2023, particularly as we were leading into the winter of 2023, whether we had arrangements that would ensure that Australians would be protected. But I don't think there is a consensus view about that yet.
JOURNALIST: We’ve become very accustomed to these press conferences with the Minister having the Chief Medical Officer beside him and also General Frewen, the man in charge of the vaccine rollout. You obviously today have decided to have neither beside you. Are both of those positions being replaced?
BUTLER: No, you shouldn't take anything from the fact that I've come here by myself. Obviously, if I wanted particular health advice communicated to the Australian community, I would very strongly consider having the CMO.
JOURNALIST: Are you replacing them, though?