Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Thursday, 20 January 2022
David Koch: The interval for COVID booster shots is being brought forward to three months in an urgent move to protect parents and dampen another explosion in cases when schools go back next week. It comes as the federal government admits it was blindsided by the rapidly spreading Omicron variant. Scott Morrison says he knew it was contagious, but wasn't prepared for just how severe it could be. For more, I'm joined by Finance Minister Simon Birmingham. Minister, how will bringing the shots forward help see a return to normality again?
Simon Birmingham: Morning Kochie, this is about continuing to work with and follow the medical and health advice that we're receiving, and we've done that at each step of the vaccination rollout. More than 5.5 million Australians have had a booster shot already, and those boosters are shown to improve the immunity response to reduce the potential for transmission of COVID-19 amongst individuals and where the health advice is now indicating that people can bring that booster shot forward, get it a little bit earlier, and it's going to help with reduce the severity of impacts and reduce those transmission rates, then that can only be good news to continue to help to suppress the spread.
David Koch: Minister, give us an insight into the future because we just can't keep getting booster shots every three months, can we? That's going to be impractical. What's on the horizon to get us back to normal? What are you looking at?
Simon Birmingham: So once again, this is about following advice from immunologists and other experts in their clinical fields, but you're right, very clearly you can't expect a situation where every single three months, every Australian is urged to go out and get another jab. However, it seems as if each of these different exposure points in terms of exposure to the virus that's happening with Omicron right now, which thankfully is 70 per cent less severe than previous variants of COVID-19. Combined with the application of the double dose vaccinations, more than 90 per cent of Australians, the booster shots that are now happening all build that immune response and are likely to have-
David Koch: Have we got other drugs coming?
Simon Birmingham: There are definitely other drugs in development is one of the reasons why we made the commitment and the deal with Moderna late last year to see them come to Australia to establish a factory, to build those mRNA drugs. And one of the things they're pursuing is the development of a combined flu-COVID jab for the future. Now, whether that comes off is a matter for science and for their research. But Australia is going to be well placed if they do pull it off.
David Koch: Okay, now. Surfing legend Kelly Slater has been told no chance of coming to Australia for the Bells Beach and Margaret River competitions if he's not vaccinated. Obviously, you're trying to avoid another Djokovic situation and tightening the processes up. But what are you doing about George Christensen? How are you going to shut him up? We deported Djokovic, not because he was unvaccinated, but because he was undermining the vaccination system. You've got a coalition politician doing exactly the same thing. What are you going to do about it?
Simon Birmingham: Well in this case, we're talking about somebody who's an Australian citizen, so we can't toss him out of the country-
David Koch: No, unfortunately.
Simon Birmingham: - he's meant to be, he's meant to be leaving the parliament at the election and I would urge him to cease and desist in his remarks. I condemn any undermining, particularly the childhood vaccination program. I urge all parents to do what nearly one in five have done to date, including me with my kids, and that is to take them out, get their first dose and to make sure you have confidence in the vaccine program.
David Koch: Is he dangerous?
Simon Birmingham: I think undermining that sort of confidence does present a degree of danger in terms of individuals and not getting the type of response you would ideally want. But Australians have shown they're ignoring those messages. Kochie, I mean, that is what's driven us to the fact that more than 95 per cent of over 16s have had a first dose that is an overwhelming response. One of the best in the world ahead of New Zealand, ahead of so many parts of Europe or the US. It's a very impressive outcome by Australians, and so they clearly don't pay credence to this type of rubbish.
David Koch: He is just so annoying. Minister, thanks for joining us.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Kochie. My pleasure.