The World Today (interview)
Reporter: Gillian Bradford
ELEANOR HALL: After weeks of toing and froing, the Federal Government has announced it will now fund the cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil, from next year.
Health Minister Tony Abbott initially said the vaccine couldn't be available until at least 2008, but under pressure from the Coalition's own backbench, the Prime Minister intervened to force a faster process.
The vaccine will be targeted at 12 and 13-year-old school girls and the Health Minister Tony Abbott says the Government has extracted the best price from the drug manufacturer after weeks of negotiation.
Mr Abbott has joined us on the line, and he's speaking to Gillian Bradford in Canberra.
GILLIAN BRADFORD: Tony Abbott, good afternoon.
TONY ABBOTT: G'day Gillian.
GILLIAN BRADFORD: Now, the drug company knew you were under pressure to fund this vaccine, so why are you so confident that you've got the best price?
TONY ABBOTT: Because the company in question is very reluctant for us to publish the price we've got and that makes me pretty confident that we have got a very competitive price.
GILLIAN BRADFORD: Now, you did initially say early 2008 was the best the Government could realistically manage for a roll out of this vaccine. Now it's going to be April 2007. Is that what happens when the Prime Minister gets involved?
TONY ABBOTT: No. All of us were very keen to get this vaccine rolled out as quickly as possible and what's enabled us to do it next year has been the willingness of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee in the special circumstances of the need for a school based program to consider this at an extraordinary meeting.
So it's really the PBAC's readiness to change its normal procedures because of these extraordinary circumstances, without compromising all the ordinary due process and cost effectiveness rules, which has enabled us to do it sooner than would otherwise have been the case.
GILLIAN BRADFORD: Now the PBAC did have some concern about the long-lasting nature of this vaccine. Will girls need a booster shot later in life, beyond what they get at school?
TONY ABBOTT: That's something that we don't yet know, but the company has certainly entered into a… I think a very appropriate and satisfactory arrangement for the funding of any booster shots that might be needed and this has helped us to bring the vaccine within the ordinary cost-effectiveness parameters.
GILLIAN BRADFORD: So you can't be sure at this time that this vaccine is a cure-all, basically?
TONY ABBOTT: As best we know at this time, the Gardasil vaccine prevents the human papilloma virus, which causes 70 per cent of the cases of cervical cancer.
Now, if you are vaccinated you'll still need to have regular pap smears, but certainly this vaccine, over time, will do a great deal to reduce the number of cervical cancer deaths, currently running at about 270 a year, which is why today's announcement is such good news for Australian women.
GILLIAN BRADFORD: Tony Abbott, thanks for joining us today.
TONY ABBOTT: Thanks a lot.
ELEANOR HALL: And that's the Health Minister Tony Abbott speaking to Gillian Bradford.