Health ministers to meet on COVID measures

(AP Photo/Mark Baker)

The federal health minister is set to meet with his state and territory counterparts, after the government ordered a review into COVID-19 vaccine contracts.

Mark Butler will meet with other health ministers on Friday, where managing the coronavirus will be high on the agenda.

Ministers will talk about ways for more vulnerable people with COVID to get access to antiviral drugs.

Mr Butler said it was important to expand the use of the antivirals to help manage the pandemic.

“We’ll be talking about ways in which (state and territory) communications with COVID-positive patients that happen as a matter of course, can draw the attention of vulnerable groups to the availability of these drugs,” he told reporters in Canberra.

“There will also be consideration by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee in due course later next week about whether the existing eligibility criteria should remain or should be, in some way, relaxed.”

It comes as the federal government announced it would hold a review into whether Australia’s vaccine contracts were well-placed to handle emerging COVID-19 variants, which are more transmissible.

The review will be headed up by former health department head Jane Halton, who will examine the contracts for the COVID vaccine that were signed by the previous government.

Mr Butler said such a review was a matter of urgency to ensure the country had the best possible access to health measures.

“It’s not about looking back and examining the rights and wrongs of the former government’s approach to negotiating these contracts in the first place, it’s about the now and the next 12 to 18 months,” Mr Butler said.

“I’m absolutely determined to ensure that Australians have priority access to the best available vaccines and treatments from around the world.”

The health minister said he wanted to have the review conducted in weeks and not months.

As new variants emerge during the Australian winter, Mr Butler said speed in the review would be critical.

“We need to make sure that we have the best information available to us sooner rather than later,” he said.

“I’m also asking Ms Halton … to cast forward and to provide us with some advice about likely developments in this area over the rest of 2022 and into 2023.”


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