Date published: 
4 August 2022
Media type: 
General public

CHARLES CROUCHER: Australia will be one of the first countries in the world to vaccinate children against COVID-19 when jabs are rolled out for immunocompromised children aged six months and above. To discuss, the Health Minister joins us now from Canberra. Mark Butler, good morning. Half a million doses of child specific Moderna jabs have been ordered. Will it be enough to meet demand?
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: It will. The public health experts, what we know as a ATAGI, your viewers will have come to know this group as the technical advisory group on immunisation, provided me with advice a couple of days ago to vaccinate those children of that age six months, up to five years of age, who are particularly vulnerable to severe illness. So they might be immunocompromised, for example, because they're receiving cancer treatment, they might have multiple complex health conditions like diabetes type one or chronic lung disease and such like. Or they might have severe disability like cerebral palsy or Downs that requires assistance with activities of daily living. These really young kids are susceptible to severe illness, so we will be one of the first countries in the world. The US and Canada have already led off - one of the first countries in the world now to secure supplies of this brand new vaccine and to start rolling them out in September to give protection to some of our youngest, most vulnerable kids.
CROUCHER: Australians will remember when we rolled out the original jabs that went to the immunocompromised first and then to the rest of the population. Will the same thing happen here with kids between six months and five years? Do you see it being expanded once we can vaccinate these most vulnerable children?
BUTLER: You're right that did happen largely as a result of constrained supply. It also happened without 12 to 15 year olds, our young teenagers, because that group, ATAGI, at the time, didn't feel confident about the availability of data for the broader population. That's really what they've said again in relation to these very young kids. They think it is important to provide that protection to very young ones who are at risk of severe illness but they say that there's not a there's not really a significant risk of severe illness to otherwise healthy kids aged six months to five years. So they're going to continue to monitor the data that's particularly going to come out of the larger vaccination programs for this age cohort in the US and Canada. And as they describe it, keep it under consideration.
CROUCHER: National Cabinet is meeting today. This is one of the things they'll discuss. There is speculation, though, already that we may have passed the winter peak when it comes to COVID. Is that what you're hearing?
BUTLER: That is what I'm hearing. We're not calling it yet. There is what we've seen through the pandemic, something of a school holiday effect where transmission seems to dip off because of the different types of activity in school holidays. But it does seem clear cases are starting to peak and maybe drop off in some states. And very pleasingly hospital numbers have dropped off over the last couple of weeks. They're still very large: there's still about 5,000 Australians in hospital with COVID. That's placing enormous pressure on our hard working doctors and nurses and other hospital staff. But we are quietly hoping that we have reached the peak earlier than we than we expected to. What is clear Charles, is that we're certainly past the peak of influenza, and that's relieving some pressure on our hospital system.
CROUCHER: Well, that is some good news. Minister, we appreciate your time this morning.
BUTLER: Thanks, Charles.