Radio interview with Minister Butler and Shane McInnes, 3AW 693 - 6 July 2022

Read the transcript of the radio interview with Minister Butler and Shane McInnes on expanding access to fourth doses; Omicron third wave; boosters and fourth doses.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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SHANE MCINNES:  Before the break, you heard from Dr Anthony Fauci, the Chief Medical Adviser to the President of the United States who made it clear that more still needs to be done to fight the COVID pandemic. Your thoughts on that interview are welcome. 133 693. Agree, disagree you're always welcome to call in. However, there are still some questions that need to be answered from an Australian point of view and for that, the Australian Federal Health Minister Mark Butler has been kind enough to join me on this Wednesday afternoon. Minister, good afternoon, and thanks for your time.
 
MARK BUTLER, MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE:  No problem, it’s quite an act to follow, though.
 
MCINNES: It is a fairly big name, but I'm sure you're up for the challenge

BUTLER: I’ll give it a go.
 
MCINNES: Let me ask, Dr. Fauci, he largely gave Australia's pandemic response the tick of approval but he also emphasised that need to maintain vaccinations. Minister, where are we at, this hour with the advice from ATAGI on a recommendation for a fourth dose for the under 65s?
 
BUTLER:  We haven't got that yet, as ATAGI is still meeting as far as I know. And certainly they take a little while. They don't necessarily come straight out of a meeting with their formal advice, they’ll sometimes work on the details of that advice for a day or two, so we might not hear their final decision today. I don't expect to hear it until maybe Friday. So, it might be a little time coming, but can I say that Dr Fauci, I think was spot-on about the Australian response.
 
Once vaccines finally arrived in Australia, Australians were magnificent in going out rolling up their sleeves and getting those first two doses, but there's more to do, still.  You know, I've always said this is a race and this virus won't stop running, won't stop mutating and it won't stop throwing up different challenges to us. So, two doses, we did magnificently, but two doses is not enough. We need more boosters in people's arms.
 
MCINNES: He was complimentary of our vaccine rollout and the like. He wasn't so complimentary on our use of lockdowns, particularly here in Victoria. At a National Cabinet level, would you talk to premiers about lockdowns and ensuring that we're not using lockdowns in the manner in which Dr Fauci subscribed whereby they're just the first lever to pull and I mean the hibernation that people had to experience over the last couple of years?
 
BUTLER:  I don't think you're going to see that in the future at all, Shane. I mean, the plan that all the governments state, territory and the Commonwealth signed up to last year, before we were elected, developed by the Doherty Institute down in Melbourne saw lockdowns really disappearing into the rear vision mirror. We’re a highly vaccinated population. As I said, we've got to do better on our boosters and I’m happy to talk about that. The third dose, as well as potentially fourth doses into the future. We've got to do better at getting some of these really effective treatments, the oral antivirals, tablets and capsules for older people, particularly vulnerable to severe disease. Got to get them out of the community better, but I don't think you’re going to see lockdowns into the future.
 
MCINNES:  Will supply be an issue of third and particularly fourth doses should people want it? We had a caller earlier who said she can no longer get her COVID vaccine at her local GP clinic. We've had similar calls and emails, and of course, those big vaccination hubs are no more. Are fewer places delivering COVID vaccines when there arguably should be more?
 
BUTLER: Well, there are a few fewer places because we don't need to be vaccinating 200,000 people a day across the country in the way we did at the peak of the middle of last year because we were so far behind. We really were far behind the rest of the developed world. It took us a while to catch up. Now you're seeing a much lower number of vaccinations being delivered every day and I'm confident they can be delivered through the community pharmacy and the General Practice network. A lot of the state governments are telling me, and I met with all of the health ministers at a very productive meeting late last week in Canberra. They're all telling me they need their nurses in the hospital's not in state-run vaccination clinics.
 
I'm very confident that, if there's an expansion of the fourth doses by ATAGI over the next couple of days, we've got more than enough vaccine in the warehouses and more than enough capacity in our pharmacies in our GP surgeries to deliver that as soon as people want it. The real challenge is to get people lining up to get it. There's more than five million people who are overdue their third dose, so it's more than six months since they had their second dose. They're still overdue their third dose and I encourage them to go out and get it.
 
Now there’s still 40 per cent of over 65s who haven't had their fourth dose that's been available for more than three months now, so we're talking about expanding eligibility for these boosters. I do want to encourage people you are not covered, you are not fully detected by just two doses of the vaccine. If you're eligible for an additional dose, please, go out and get it
 
MCINNES: Can people expect to see a ramp-up in advertising and the like from the Albanese Government to get people to get those at the very least, that third dose and potentially even that fourth?
 
BUTLER: There is a new campaign out now. People will be seeing it on social media, on their televisions as well. When I was appointed to this portfolio, I had said in the lead-up to the election, I thought there needed to be stronger information campaigns out there explaining to people the benefits of a booster. It's not just a nice thing to have. This Omicron variant is different to the variants we were dealing with last year. It gets around just two doses. I've been told that if you only had two doses or fewer, so just one dose or two doses or zero doses, you are six times more likely to go to hospital than someone who had got their third dose. You are seven times more likely to end up in the Intensive Care Unit and we're seeing that writ large right now across our hospital system in Australia.
 
Hospitalisations are climbing fast right now because we're in the early stages of a third Omicron wave. The first one was in summer, he second one was in May and the third one is coming our way now with these new sub variants: BA.4, BA.5. You really need to be up to date with your vaccinations to give yourself protection against them.
 
MCINNES: Minister, the United States is already rolling out Moderna vaccinations for children. Here in Australia, we've decided to go with a wait-and-see strategy. All throughout this pandemic, we've been told to trust the science, trust the testing and the like. Why are we not trusting that and waste waiting another two to 3 months after American children are getting their Moderna doses?
 
BUTLER: Well we’re not adopting a wait-and-see approach. In the past, the challenge, frankly, and I was very critical of Scott Morrison for this, the problem in the past was not so much the advice from our experts at the Therapeutic Goods Administration, the TGA or ATAGI. The problem was that Scott Morrison hadn’t organised enough supply. He hadn't done the hard work to get the supply from Pfizer in particular, very late to the table with Moderna. That's why Australia was so far behind. It wasn't the agencies, wasn't the TGA and the experts, it was just not having enough supply. I've already been talking to Moderna and Pfizer, which also has a pediatric vaccine before the regulators right now, to make sure that we have that supply as soon as our regulators give the tick to that naught to five vaccines.
 
Now the TGA is looking at the Moderna vaccine for under-fives. I expect that decision to be made in the very near future. It's only in the last week or two that American kids have been getting that vaccine. They were the first country in the world. The TGA followed that decision by the American regulators very quickly to make sure they did the hard work looking at the data and making sure that vaccine would be really safe for our under-fives.
 
Can I say though, Shane, to parents of under-fives right now today. My message to you is if you haven't had your under-five-year-olds vaccinated for influenza; please, go out and do that. Under-fives particularly under two-year-olds are an especially high-risk group for influenza and we're seeing big numbers of cases in that age cohort, including kids going to hospital with flu right now. So getting that vaccine to you under-five-year-olds is a good thing to do.
 
MCINNES: Minister, appreciate your time.
 
BUTLER: Thanks, Shane.

 

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