Lieutenant General John Frewen's interview on ABC News Breakfast on 25 October 2021

Read the transcript of Lieutenant General John Frewen's interview on ABC News Breakfast on 25 October 2021 about coronavirus (COVID-19).

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MICHAEL ROWLAND: Let's stay with the vaccine rollout, and there's a new push this morning to get more Indigenous Australians immunised against COVID. The Coordinator-General of the National COVID Vaccine Taskforce, Lieutenant General John Frewen joins us now from Canberra. General Frewen, good morning.

JOHN FREWEN: Hi, Michael.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Firstly, Indigenous Australians, the double dose race is closer to 50 per cent, it's more than 70 per cent for all of Australia. I want to ask you about this new campaign. But firstly, why has it been so poor? Has it just been a shortage of vaccines for Indigenous Australians?

JOHN FREWEN: No, supply hasn't been the concern, Michael. The Indigenous people have been prioritised since early in the program. But we are encountering, there's hesitancy in some areas. There's misinformation. There's complacency. So there's a range of challenges. But really encouraging over the last fortnight, the first dose rates for Indigenous Australians have exceeded the national first dose rate. So that's a positive sign and we're just hoping to keep building on that momentum.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: And what's the basis of the new campaign you're launching? How practically will you get more jabs in arms for Indigenous Australians?

JOHN FREWEN: Yes. So, there's some great ads that have been done called For All Of Us, focused very specifically on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. There's some great Indigenous talent in there, there's Samantha Harris, there's Baker Boy and others. And they really are just talking about if you want to both protect Indigenous heritage and protect Indigenous future, that you need to get vaccinated.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. And there's another campaign as well trying to get vaccination stragglers, I guess, for want of a better expression, to go up and get the jab. We know states like WA and Queensland are a bit behind the rest of Australia. How can you fast track the rollout in, say, WA and Queensland?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah. Well look, the vaccines are available now. We've got more than enough vaccine available to fully vaccinate everybody who's eligible in Australia now. There is many, many places people can go even without bookings. So convenience is there now as part of the rollout as well. There's full choice of vaccine. So it's really just about people stepping forward. So the ad that we've just launched as well last night, the Spread Freedom ad, really just tries to emphasise that close link between vaccination and being either able to get our freedoms back or protect some of the freedoms that some of the states are still enjoying.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Let's talk about booster shots or third doses. When will that roll out begin?

JOHN FREWEN: So look, booster doses for the immunocompromised have already started, and that's just to bring those people up to the same level of protection that the rest of us achieve through just two doses. But we're just waiting on ATAGI's advice now around boosters. We expect it's imminent that advice, and we think what's going to happen is that a booster shot will be made available from- six months from your second dose. So we'll work the priority groups in the very first instance, aged and disability, front-line health workers, those sorts of areas. But we think what will happen is that as people become eligible from six months, they'll just be able to go and grab a booster shot.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. Now we're talking about the mix of vaccines as you say. So casting ahead, say two or three months, is it correct to say that AstraZeneca will start to fade out with a greater focus on the mRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah, AstraZeneca will remain available. But already increasingly, Pfizer and Moderna are seeing prominence. We think that mRNA will be the main stay of the booster campaign. At the moment, we understand that Pfizer has got the right approvals in place, so they'll immediately be brought into play once we've got the ATAGI advice and then we would hope to see Moderna soon after that

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay, General Frewen, as always, appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

JOHN FREWEN: Thanks, Michael.


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