Lieutenant General John Frewen's interview on ABC News Breakfast on 4 January 2022

Read the transcript of Lieutenant General John Frewen's interview on ABC News Breakfast on 4 January 2022 about coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination program.

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FAUZIAH IBRAHIM:  Now, the national vaccine booster program will be accelerated as of today. It is now open to anyone who had their second jab four months ago.

ISKHANDAR RAZAK:  Lieutenant-General John Frewen, Coordinator General of the National COVID Vaccine Task Force, joins us now from Canberra. Lieutenant-General, good morning to you. Thank you for your time. I just want to know, where do we sit with vaccines right now? How many Australians have had their booster, their third dose, and how many more are eligible from today?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah. So as of yesterday, a little over 2.5 million Australians have come forward to have their boosters. Now, on yesterday's numbers, that represents about 60 per cent of the eligible people, which I think, considering that we've just been through Christmas/New Year and a lot of people are on holidays, that was- that's been a very strong response. Of course, another- bit over four million people have just become eligible today, and at the end of January, another eight million people will become eligible as well. So there is lots to be done, lots of people who are now, you know, able to come forward, and I do encourage them to do that as quickly as they can.

ISKHANDAR RAZAK:  It really is ramping up, but we are hearing, anecdotally, from health clinics and pharmacies that sometimes they can't meet demand, people want to book in and that they don't have the vaccines on hand. Is there a distribution problem that you're hearing about?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah. Look, so supply absolutely isn't a problem. We've got more vaccines than people who are eligible in the country right now. We are working to get those vaccines distributed as quickly as we can. But there are ample vaccines out and about. Now, in some areas, demand has been a bit higher than others. Sometimes that demand has exceeded what particular, you know, pharmacies and GPs might have ordered. But we're working to also help provide additional, you know, emergency deliveries if necessary, or really to help people get to where stuff is sitting on shelves, because in some cases you might have, you know, a pharmacy or a GP a couple of blocks away that haven't had the demand. So we're working to make sure that we can get people married up with where the supply is. But, you know, I think we've had pretty good turnout so far. So, yeah, there's some anecdotal stories of some issues, but we're working to resolve those as soon as we can.

ISKHANDAR RAZAK: [Interrupts] So those emergency supplies that you just kind of mentioned, they're going to, say, remote or rural areas. Can you give me an example of an emergency situation where things are being redirected?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah. So, look, really, it's- you know, if there has been demand, you know, absolutely beyond the sort of anticipated demand, and it is an area where there aren't those other sorts of pathways for people to go to. So they're the sorts of things that we've been resolving. But again, the vast majority of people have been able to get booked in, you know, very quickly. And I do encourage people- you know, four million additional people as of today. Clearly, that is a big ramp up. But ask people to either get a booking in. If you can't get a booking through your immediately preferred pathway in a timeframe that suits, then try around, try the pharmacies. And we've got the state clinics coming back online in a big way as well, particularly in New South Wales and Victoria. So I think there are lots of good options and I think people should be able to get their boosters pretty quickly.

ISKHANDAR RAZAK:  The other aspect of the vaccine rollout is not just supply and getting it out there, it's the health staff. Health staff are saying that they're struggling, they're overworked. What's being done to help health staff keep on delivering the boosters that we all need, especially in remote and regional areas, Indigenous communities, where vaccine rates aren't as high as we'd like?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah. So, look, you know, the health staff have done an amazing job all through COVID, whether they've been involved in vaccinations or whether they've been involved in the frontline care of people. With vaccination staff, of course, we've got those GPs and pharmacists that often run their own facilities. We've got state hubs where there are, you know, state health workforces has been involved. We've also got contracted vaccine providers. Now, in all of those workforces, you know, the efforts last year were great. Now, many of them have taken an opportunity to have a bit of a break over Christmas and New Year's, but not all of them. But we're, again, working across the board where we can, to make sure that this is a sustainable effort. You mentioned Indigenous communities in particular, and we work really closely with the ACCHOs, and the ACCHOs have carried a lot of the effort that we've been running to try and get those communities vaccinated as quickly as possible. So, some of the ACCHOs have had a break, but we're also working with the states and territories to get workforces to places where we need them most importantly.

ISKHANDAR RAZAK:  Lieutenant General John Frewen, thank you so much for your time.

JOHN FREWEN: Thank you very much



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