Date published: 
19 January 2022
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

NEIL BREEN:                        

There's no doubt vaccines are saving lives during the pandemic. If it weren't for vaccines, the daily death toll we're seeing would be much higher. Currently more than 95 per cent of Australians over the age of 16 have had at least one dose. 93 per cent are fully vaccinated. In Queensland, the numbers are 88.8 and a tick over 91. But there's a lot more to do. Lieutenant General John Frewen is the Coordinator General of Operation COVID Shield, the national vaccine taskforce. He joins me on the line. Good morning, Lieutenant General.

JOHN FREWEN:                   

Hey Neil. Good to be with you.

NEIL BREEN:                        

Okay. Our attention has turned to boosters. And look, everywhere I go someone sort of whinges about: oh, I couldn't get a booster, I had to book in here, I had to book in there. But I showed some endeavour. I went to the Noosa Leisure Centre when I was on holidays. I sat outside for two hours. It opened up, I got my booster. It can be done.

JOHN FREWEN:                   

Yeah, it can, Neil. You know, there are actually bookings available every day. There's more bookings coming online every week. I understand it has been a little bit frustrating for some. But the booster numbers have been amazing. We're seeing around about a quarter of a million Australians every day getting their boosters. We did another 236,000 people yesterday on boosters alone. We're now up over 5.3 million people who've had their boosters. So, it's moving along. It's moving along at a good pace. But I do understand there may still be some frustrations. But with a bit of persistence, as you've described, people can get in.

NEIL BREEN:                        

I think what a lot of people are doing, Lieutenant General Frewen, is they're ringing their pharmacy, they're getting their booking. And if you ring a pharmacy, they'll say: oh, we have no openings until February 20. But then other people write to me and go: hey, go to Doomben Racecourse - which is the big, you know, health facility that's set up. You can get in there. So I think people get frustrated. They think, oh, I like the safety of the pharmacy and the doctor. But going to the public ones that are put on can be quite simple and quite easy.

JOHN FREWEN:                   

Yeah, absolutely. And particularly for adults, we've tried to bring as much convenience into the program as we can. And you described those fantastic rates of, you know, 95 per cent of the nation have come forward for their first dose. I mean, these are extraordinary numbers. Convenience has been a part of that. You know, we've learnt a lot along the way, and there are all of these avenues now. There's more than 10,000 places across the country where people can get their vaccinations. And I think particularly for adults, the convenience is a good thing.

Now, kids are cracking along too, the five to eleven year olds. We've done more than 380,000 kids in the first week of this. Now, some parents do prefer to take their kids to their GP and that's understandable, and the kids can be a bit nervous and the like. But there are also pathways to kids through pharmacies and state-based clinics as well. So, again, just check around. Pharmacies, some of them are booking, some of them aren't. But sometimes late in the day, pharmacies, they've got places available that people haven't taken up and these sorts of things, so, yeah.

NEIL BREEN:                        

[Talks over] Correct, correct. Yeah. Well, we took our children to our GP just because we wanted- you know, our GP, keep a record of it. It's all fairly straight down the line. But I went to the public facility for my booster and it was as professional as any GP you'd go to. They went through all the questions with me, you know, not just the who I was and everything, but all sorts of double checks and everything on where you are. So it's perfectly reasonable to do.

Hey, I've got to ask you about aged care. There's reports.

JOHN FREWEN:                   

Yeah.

NEIL BREEN:                        

There's reports some residents are reluctant to get them, and I get these- you know, the deaths in Queensland and then this many people didn't have a booster. Is there something going on in aged care we need to know about?

JOHN FREWEN:                   

No, look, aged care, of course, these are amongst our most vulnerable. They were a very high priority in the early stage of the rollout. They've been an absolute priority for us, particularly over Christmas and New Year. There's about 2590 facilities across the country. There's almost 500 facilities in Queensland. We've been working as hard as we can right through the Christmas and New Year period to get them all a visit for boosters. We've got about 70 per cent of them done across the nation. We've got a plan in place to have them all- to have the opportunity for their first booster visit before the end of January. But of course, people have to either want to take the booster; people have to, in some cases, get consent of families to take the booster. So we're presenting the opportunity for facilities to get people boosted, but it's really up to the people and their families to take up that opportunity. But like we have all through this, vaccines are the best way to protect yourself against COVID, whatever variant it is. So we really are strongly encouraging people to take up the opportunity as soon as they can and once they become eligible.

NEIL BREEN:                        

And the stats are in. If you had a double dose of AstraZeneca, an mRNA booster will help you no end, there are indisputable facts. What about a fourth booster? Have they tapped you on the shoulder and said- you're still going?

JOHN FREWEN:                   

[Laughs] Yeah, no, look, we're planning for a whole range of contingencies. That's one of those things that is out there under consideration now. That's done by the medical authorities, and we will accord with that, but we're putting contingency plans in place there. The good news is there's more than enough vaccines that if that was to become a thing, that we'd be ready to go. At the moment, it's not a thing. It's all about just getting a booster on your first two doses. People are people are coming forward. But again, it's good that we just keep encouraging people to get it done as soon as they become eligible. Now, we shifted from a- to a four-month duration right at the start of January. We're about to go to a three-month duration at the end of January, so a whole lot of people are going to become eligible at the end of January.

NEIL BREEN:                        

[Talks over] Eligible.

JOHN FREWEN:                   

Yeah, but as I said, 10,000 places across the country, lots of good options, GPs, pharmacies and state hubs. as you've described. There's a good chance people can get through as quickly as they want to.

NEIL BREEN:                        

Okay. End of January is when it comes down to three months for your booster. Novavax, we-

JOHN FREWEN:                   

[Interrupts] Yeah, Novavax. Yeah, it's- look, it's still under TGA approval- pending approval, but we think that approval is imminent. And again, we're ready to distribute it across the countryside. We sort of think there's probably about one or two per cent of the population that may have been holding out for Novavax. You know, that's a choice that they have made, but once it's approved, it'll be available. And again, if anyone has decided that's what they want to wait for, they'll be able to get it as quickly as they can.

NEIL BREEN:                        

That's right. Just as people waited for Pfizer and then Moderna, and then they want to wait for Novavax - well, they're all there. Hey, Lieutenant General John Frewen, Coordinator General of Operation COVID Shield, thanks for all the work you're doing and thanks for your time on 4BC Breakfast.

JOHN FREWEN:                   

Good on you, Neil. Thanks for the talk.

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