It is confirmed and ATAGI has recommended Australians 50 and over get a fourth COVID jab. The extra booster will also be offered to anyone aged between 30 and 49 from Monday. The decision comes as COVID continues to put the health system under strain. Nearly 4000 beds across the country are currently filled with COVID patients.
Joining us now is Health Minister Mark Butler who confirmed the recommendation today. Minister, what's led to this decision to open up the boosters to people over 30?
MARK BUTLER, MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE:
We're finding out more about these boosters and antiviral treatments as this pandemic goes on, but what we're particularly committed to doing is to really pull out all stops to get us through this winter as safely and as healthily as we possibly can. It's why we extended funding to the states for their hospital systems with COVID. It's why we've rolled out an information campaign to encourage people to get their boosters and why today we've expanded eligibility for the fourth dose which will bring down severe disease and relieve pressure on our hospitals.
The health advice up until now is that there's not enough data that supports giving a fourth dose to younger people. Has that changed?
Well it certainly has for younger people 50 and over which I'm happy to call myself and that's why the big change today I think was to recommend a fourth dose for anyone 50 or over. We really want to see that roll out as soon as possible, it does very much bring down the risk of severe disease. In terms of 30 to 49 year olds though, the evidence still is a little less clear and that's why the technical advisory group didn't make a firm recommendation for that age group. But certainly said if you want that boost in your immunity you should feel free to choose that and go out and get dose number four.
I mean throughout this whole pandemic young people have been really leading the charge with vaccines. We've been rolling up our sleeves. I mean my friends and I have even been talking about booking our boosters and brunch now that this, you know, it's opened up for us. But why is there been so much hesitancy with the fourth dose for people over 65?
Well it is still relatively new, only three months for dose number four for over 65 . But I have said I'm concerned that 40 per cent of that age group still haven't gone out and got their fourth dose, I really encourage them to do that. But also across the broader population, there are still more than 5 million Australians who have been eligible for their third dose, that first booster shot, for more than six months but haven't got it and I really want to urge people to get out and get that additional shot.
Mark, you were really critical of the former government particularly when it came to vaccine rollout and you were promising a lot in terms of making sure we got to the right targets on third doses. You’re now announcing these fourth doses. I know you've only been in a short time but what are you actually doing to make this a reality? I'm not really seeing big momentum here to get everyone up to where they need to be.
We've rolled out an information campaign only over the last several days as soon as I was appointed the Health Minister I started to roll that out. I've also asked my department put in place an information campaign to improve awareness of the antiviral treatments that are now available on the PBS—incredibly effective at bringing down that risk of severe disease as well. I've re-doubled.
[interrupts] Can I just check though, is that the 11 million winter vax campaign is that what you're talking about?
Yes, that's right. That's right. The builds on campaigns that state governments have also been putting in place.
Is that really enough? I mean, that pales in comparison to the big public push we had early on don't we actually need a far bigger commitment than that if we're serious?
Look that's not going to be the end of it. But what I said when I came in was that we needed to act very, very quickly. Winter was upon us, not only were we starting to see the early stages of this third Omicron wave that's really hitting our hospitals pretty hard right now. But on top of that, all of this was compounded by flu. We couldn't spend long periods of time coming up with developed campaigns. We needed to roll out something very quickly and we got that out in a matter of days.
Are we likely to see fifth, sixth, seventh jabs Health Minister Ted Lasso?
I have to say I don't think any of us know that for sure. But I don't think this virus is disappearing anytime soon. It is continuing to mutate. There are some really exciting developments happening across the world with new generation vaccines, which I think will be even more effective than the ones we're currently rolling out right now. There's even just a variant vaccine that Pfizer and Moderna have both developed to deal with Omicron in particular. We've certainly moved to a separate phase of the pandemic move beyond the high level emergency that we all had to live through for the first couple of years. But this is by no means behind us yet.
Minister. I'm not the first person to say you look exactly like Ted Lasso, right?
I've been called much worse than that, I’m a big fan.
Well, he's very popular that show’s very popular. So maybe you could do some kind of cross promo with the next jab. It's all I’m saying.
That's a great suggestion. I'm not sure Ted Lasso would approve though.
Minister thanks for your time tonight.