Date published: 
6 July 2021
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

LISA MILLAR:

Okay, let's stay with our coronavirus coverage on that vaccine availability and bring in Lieutenant General John Frewen, the Coordinator General of the National COVID Vaccine Taskforce. He joins us now from Canberra. Good morning. Welcome to News Breakfast.

JOHN FREWEN:

Hi Lisa. Great to be with you.

LISA MILLAR:

Lots to ask you about this morning but let's stick with the aged care, you would've just been hearing Pat Sparrow talking about the difficulties of getting the workforce vaccinated. Why has it been so slow when they're a critical workforce, only a third of aged care workers vaccinated?

JOHN FREWEN:

Sure, Lisa. So you've heard- this has been a rolling program and decisions have been made along the way based on the best information at the time. I- my understanding is that early in the program, there was a decision made to prioritise the most vulnerable who are the aged people themselves. You know, hindsight's a wonderful thing. We're dealing with limited supplies and having to prioritise. But right now this is an absolute priority focus for us. As you know, it's now going to be mandatory for all aged care workers to have their first dose by September. We are accelerating efforts to get those aged care workers vaccinated. They are at about 36 per cent now, which is actually above the broader national average. So progress is being made. The Government has now implemented an $11 million grant that will help aged care workers either, you know, take time to get vaccinated if they need to take time off because of the side effects of the vaccines and so on. And there are also multiple pathways for the workers to now get priority access and access to Pfizer as well.

LISA MILLAR:       

Can I talk about this meeting you're holding today with the health officials from various states. How critical is this problem that looks like it's heading our way of not having enough staff to actually carry out these vaccinations?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Yeah, look, the importance of the activity today - I've done a review of the national program, and I've formed my opinions on where I think we have opportunities to accelerate the rollout and where I think we have got some areas that we really need to focus on. What's really important about today is now it's bringing in the states and territories and us working in partnership, in conjunction, to look at how they're going to approach each of their own jurisdictions, how that nests with our national plan. And as we go around the country today with the states and territories, we'll get to understand exactly what the pressure points are for each of the states and territories. Where they think their rollout will go particularly quickly, and where some of those areas are where we might need to work together to potentially tailor solutions, to help make sure that the rates of vaccination do, you know, increase across the country in the most uniform way that we can achieve. And supply is one of the variables, workforce is clearly another. And then it's the motivation of the Australian people to turn up. I know some of the jurisdictions are concerned about workforce, I am too; we'll be working with them to look at how we alleviate that.

LISA MILLAR:       

What are the ideas? What do you do?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Well, we can either bring into play workforce that aren't already involved in the vaccine rollout.

LISA MILLAR:       

Like who?

JOHN FREWEN:    

We can maybe train up additional workforce. Well, we've got- there are more GPs, there are more pharmacists, there are qualified nurses. But then there are also workforces that might be able to be upskilled. There are classes of medical students. There's a whole range of options. But when we do the plan as all of the jurisdictions and the Federal Government together, if we decide that some of the jurisdictions will be able to very quickly achieve, we may be able to shift workforce from one jurisdiction to another. So all of these sorts of options are on the table. We're looking for every opportunity we can to accelerate the rollout.

LISA MILLAR:       

You saw thousands of young Australians rushing to get AstraZeneca last week, I think about 7000. Are you seeing the same numbers now? Do you suspect that demand's going to remain?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Yeah, look, the number I had yesterday was it was almost up to 8000 people under 40 since the National Cabinet and Prime Minister's announcement around opening up AstraZeneca. The demand at the moment is holding up. I think- I've said last week; I think it's important people have a choice. People have a choice now to wait for later in the year, to access mRNA vaccines, or if their circumstances right now want them to be able to access the vaccine we've got available, then they can make that informed choice with consultation with their GP.

LISA MILLAR:       

So what do you think the uptake's going to be across the general population? There's been so many figures thrown around of what it might end up being. Where do you think it's going to end up?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Yeah look, the modelling is being done right now for the government to decide on what that target will be. I'm very confident every Australian who wants to access a vaccine this year will be able to do so. I- at the moment, my sense is that Australians are very willing to get vaccinated and, you know, and I'm sensing real demand. But, of course…

LISA MILLAR:       

[Interrupts] So what? More than 80?

JOHN FREWEN:    

…we've got a long way to go between here and the end of the year.

Look, I'm not going to be drawn on a target just now, Lisa. But whatever the target the government sets is, then we will run as hard as we can at making sure we get to that. And I think that Australians realise that vaccination is absolutely essential to keeping our most vulnerable safe, our communities safe, and getting us back to the freedoms that we want to enjoy.

LISA MILLAR:       

You've been talking a lot about the Pfizer and Moderna that's going to turn up in the country. Two things; when can under 40s expect to have access to the Pfizer, be eligible for the Pfizer, and is there any risk at all that we might see what we've seen in the past, which is the ordered doses not turn up in the numbers you're promising?

JOHN FREWEN:    

So, as a military planner, we're always considering the setbacks that can be achieved. The forecast we've got at the moment, you know, start to see real upticks in mRNA vaccines from September, October. You know, at the moment, we have confidence that could be the case. But in our war game today, we'll be looking at all sort of setbacks, major disruptions to supply, potential additional complications coming up around some of the vaccines like we've seen before, things that can very, you know, significantly affect public motivation to get vaccinated. So we will build all those potential setbacks into the plan.

LISA MILLAR:       

[Interrupts] And the under 40s?

JOHN FREWEN:    

But, at the moment-

LISA MILLAR:       

And what month are they going to be eligible for Pfizer?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Yeah look, we'll- we will look at that in the war game and then we will form a view and then it will be a matter for government for when we open up those cohorts. But, you know, September, October, I'm confident that we will have a greater range of choice around the vaccines.

LISA MILLAR:       

Alright. John Frewen, thanks for your time this morning. See you on News Breakfast again soon.

JOHN FREWEN:    

Thanks Lisa.

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