TV interview with Minister Butler and Michael Rowland, ABC News Breakfast - 8 July 2022

Read the transcript of the TV interview with Minister Butler and Michael Rowland, ABC News Breakfast - 8 July 2022 on new advice for fourth doses of COVID-19 vaccines; vaccine rollout and uptake; public health restrictions and the UK politics.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Now from Monday almost 7.5 million more Australians will be eligible to get a second COVID booster shot. It follows the recommendation made by the expert advisory panel, ATAGI, for people over 50 to take up the extra dose while those aged between 30 and 49 can receive it if they want. The Federal Health Minister Mark Butler joins us now from Adelaide. Minister. Good morning.
 
MARK BUTLER, MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE:

Good morning, Michael.
 
ROWLAND:

Does this recommendation reflect, I guess, growing fears, growing anxiety amongst officials about how dangerous this new wave of infections is?
 
BUTLER:

I think health authorities across the country are becoming increasingly concerned about what is a third Omicron wave just for 2022. Case numbers are rising, hospitalisation numbers are rising quite dramatically, and we've probably still got several weeks or a couple of months to go. We are committed to doing everything we possibly can to get Australia through this winter safely. We've extended funding arrangements to the states to help support their hospital systems. We're rolling out information campaigns to encourage Australians to get up to date with their booster shots. As you say, yesterday, I accepted the advice from the technical advisors on immunization to expand eligibility for that fourth dose to people over the age of 50 because we know they're at particular risk of severe disease.
 
ROWLAND:

Okay, that's the over 50s, so what is the actual advice for younger Australians, those aged between 30 and 49?
 
BUTLER:

For 30 to 49 year old’s, the group has essentially said it's a matter of your choice. There is not the evidence that that group is as at risk of severe disease as people over the age of 50. It's not a direct recommendation but if people of that age have had their third booster dose and want to get that little bit of extra boost to their immunity over the course of this winter, they're able to do so through our vaccination program. We are particularly focused on people over the age of 50 because we know, unfortunately, they are at higher risk of severe disease in this growing wave.
 
ROWLAND:

Do you worry there's a bit of vaccine fatigue out there?
 
BUTLER:

I think we do have to do everything we can to re-energize the booster campaign. I said that in the lead up to the election campaign, which is why we've got an information advertising campaign out there right now. Still, there are more than 5 million Australians, many perhaps viewing this program this morning Michael, who had their second dose more than six months ago, but still haven't had their third dose, that crucial booster that really lifts your immunity. I encourage all those people to go out and get it. For those aged over 65 who have had access to the fourth dose now for more than three months, still 40 per cent haven't had that. Again, I encourage you to go out and get this vaccine. A really important message Michael is that even if you had COVID earlier this year, that does not protect you from getting COVID again. This new sub variant BA.4 and BA.5 will get around that immunity you might have had because you have COVID over the course of the summer way for example.
 
ROWLAND:

Minister deaths are rising hospitalisations are on the increase, infections are off the charts compared to even last month. Would you as Federal Health Minister be more comfortable if your state counterparts and state chief health officers brought back more COVID restrictions like mask mandates?
 
BUTLER:

Talking to my colleagues, we had a very productive meeting of health ministers last week in Canberra. And also, the advice from the chief health officers, indicates that we really have moved beyond the era of very broad mask mandates, lockdowns and things like that. We're deep into the third year of this pandemic. Clearly, there are still mask mandates for situations like aged care facility visits, on public transport, on aeroplanes and the like. I don't see a return to very broad-based mask mandates is the advice I'm getting but clearly the message is take responsibility, make your own choice that if you're in an indoor space, you're not able to socially distance give serious consideration to wearing a mask because it will increase your protection.
 
ROWLAND:

Okay, but we do know and there are studies reflecting this, but compulsory mask mandates have pretty close to a 100 per cent success rate versus what you're saying just asking people to wear masks. You're not worried about people not making the right decision here?
 
BUTLER:

Really the job of our chief health officers and leaders of government is to balance the circumstances we face deep into the third year of the pandemic. We do have good rates of vaccination. I want to see those rates increase for third and fourth doses. But we're also deep into the third year of the pandemic and we need to make sure that people feel that they're able to take control of their own circumstances in this third year. That's why I encourage people to consider wearing a mask if they're indoors and they're not able to socially distance.
 
ROWLAND:

By not taking steps to minimize transmissions and I know it's pretty much a state responsibility. We have a very high death toll more than 10,000 Australians dead from COVID, most of those this year, aren't we Mark Butler as a society implicitly accepting that death toll and are you comfortable with that?
 
BUTLER:

This pandemic is still going on and the virus continues to mutate, evade immunity, and present real challenges to our health and as you say, more than 300 Australians are losing their life every week tragically to this virus.
 
ROWLAND:

Do we just accept it?
 
BUTLER:

We don't sit back and accept it which is why we're boosting our hospital capacity, boosting the booster campaign, making sure making sure people are up to date with their vaccinations. I've got a strong case before the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee this week to expand access to antiviral treatments which are very effective at bringing down severe disease and the risk of people ending up in hospital, or worse. We need a full armoury of responses to this pandemic that continues to go on.
 
ROWLAND:

Okay, just before you go switching gears altogether, you're the first senior Australian Minister we've spoken to this morning. Big events in the UK overnight with the resignation of Boris Johnson, what's the Australian government's response to that?
 
BUTLER:

Of course, we've got such a close relationship with our brothers and sisters in the UK. We work with them very closely no matter what political party or which political leader is at the helm from a particular time. I know that many Australians were watching events overnight. They were pretty extraordinary, watching events overnight very closely as well as watching Wimbledon. Whatever happens with the UK Government we'll continue to have that very close historical relationship.
 
ROWLAND:

Mark Butler in Adelaide appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.
 
BUTLER:

Thanks, Michael.

 

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