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

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:           

Well, with one million new Pfizer vaccines in the country - and that's the very good news, they rolled into the country overnight. And a million a week now until- and I- at least until the end of August, I understand. Lieutenant General John Frewen is the Coordinator General of the National COVID Vaccine Taskforce, and he's feeling pretty happy that all of this stuff is now in the country. He has the job of rolling out and coordinating an, until now, rather uncoordinated vaccine rollout program.

Lieutenant General John Frewen, good morning. Tell us about the millions of doses arriving today. Where are they going to be distributed to and on what basis?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Yeah, hi Virginia. This is really good news, this arrival of a million doses a week. We expect the same amounts now, at least until the end of August. They'll be distributed on a per capita basis around the countryside, and then they'll go through our distribution networks out to all of those areas where we've got vaccination points of presence, whether it's in regional areas or metro areas. But the breadth of the country is the answer.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:           

A million doses a week for how many weeks?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Well, at least out until the end of August. We're contracted for 40 million doses this year, so they will come. This, at the moment, is what Pfizer are able to allocate us for now. So we will just keep watching. We're working with them to bring forward as much of that amount that we're contracted for as early as we can. But right now, this is what we are expecting.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:           

And will there be a higher priority? You say a per capita basis and states are getting their proportional share, but will there be more allocated to the hotspot areas, the areas that have been deemed hotspots by the Commonwealth?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Look, we're working with the states and territories. We had previously brought forward amounts from states and territories allocations where we have been able to. That's certainly happened in Victoria during the last outbreak. That's happened just recently with New South Wales just now. But of course, during an outbreak, it's the lockdown measures, the testing, tracing and isolation that is most important. Vaccination more broadly is important to the country. But right now, you know, those- getting the testing, tracing and isolation done is what gets the greatest effect.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:           

So you're actually saying that vaccination is not the highest priority right now?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Look, vaccination for the most vulnerable is the highest priority right now. So, we're working to ensure, you know, people over 70 are getting down to get vaccinated, that we're getting into aged care centres and making sure that those people are vaccinated as the immediate health priority. But, yeah, right now, then we need to keep the vaccination program rolling broadly across the whole country.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:           

I'm sorry to press you on this, Lieutenant General, but I'm just a little surprised. I would have thought that as the Coordinator General of the National COVID Vaccine Taskforce, that you'd see mass vaccination right now as the highest priority, as the only thing that's going to get us out of all of these lockdowns and these outbreaks?

JOHN FREWEN:    

We are vaccinating across the length of the country, Virginia. This additional million gives us a good opportunity to really accelerate that program now. We're bringing on additional GPs, we're bringing in pharmacists. States and territories are bringing on in some places mass vaccination clinics like you've described. And in other places they've got different approaches. But getting the vaccination rolled out across the country right now is the national priority.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:           

And we're hearing reports- in fact, the direct first person reports of people making their appointments right now, even in the absence of the one million new doses a week coming in, and not turning up, and good vaccines going to waste and being thrown out and being offered to anyone who walks past the mass vaccination centre. Why is that happening?

JOHN FREWEN:    

I'm not- you know, aware of the precise examples you're talking about. But when it comes to [indistinct]…

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:           

[Talks over] I have a precise example from a Channel Nine reporter who was offered the vaccine yesterday at the front of a mass vaccination centre because about 20 per cent of people who made their bookings hadn't shown up.

JOHN FREWEN:    

Yeah, well, I can't speak to why they hadn't shown up, but the wastage rates are very low across the country. We're running at one per cent or less of wastage. And I can understand because the vaccines come in vials, once the vials are open, it does- it's important to get those vaccines used if possible. So if there are opportunity targets like that, then that certainly is something that has occurred and it's better to have the vaccine in someone's arms than not.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:           

Well, absolutely. So is there something as head of the taskforce that you'd like to do to try and deal with this hesitancy?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Well, right now, we're- I'm very encouraged with the numbers of Australians who are keen to get vaccinated, so I'm right now working as hard as we can to make sure that they've got opportunities to get vaccinated as quickly as possible. So I just would encourage all Australians to get booked, to get their first dose. And if they've had their first dose, get their second dose. I'm particularly keen for the over 60s to make sure they get down and get fully vaccinated as quickly as possible.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:           

And as the Pfizer comes into the mass vaccination centres and also the GP clinics - and as you mentioned now, chemists will be coming online as well - can anyone request Pfizer?

JOHN FREWEN:    

No, we still have to prioritise the Pfizer. I think you'd be aware of the priorities right now. So- but as more and more of this Pfizer becomes available, we'll be looking at the eligibility by age groupings and by priorities, but right now, we're prioritising the Pfizer into the most vulnerable. So, right now, you know, one area that we're really keen to get the numbers up on is the aged care worker sector. So they are now being given priority access to all registration(*) places, and they're being given access for Pfizer.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:           

This is the aged care workforce as part of 1A…

JOHN FREWEN:    

[Talks over] Yes.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:           

… that was supposed to have been vaccinated by Easter. It's taken such a terribly long time to get them done, hasn't it?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Yeah, but the good news is in the aged care facilities themselves, we're now up over 80 per cent of fully vaccinated residents, but the workforce now is the next priority there. So we're working really hard at the moment to make sure they get vaccinated as quickly as they can.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:           

Regions are really struggling to get their hands on vaccines. We're hearing from people who are trying to make bookings right across the state and having to travel hours and hours to get there. Are you thinking of pumping more vaccines out to the regions of the states?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Yeah, well, over the course of this month, we're bringing on 1300 additional GPs. Many of those are focussed in remote and regional areas and they'll be delivering Pfizer vaccines. We're also now bringing on pharmacies across the country and many of them will initially be in remote regional areas as well. And for now, they'll be doing AstraZeneca, but in the [indistinct]. And then they'll also be able to do the mRNA vaccines as well. But we're very much very conscious of making sure that the distribution of these vaccines is as equitable as it can be and that there is access right across the country.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:           

And what about workplaces doing vaccinations? Will that have to be- will they have to exclusively only offer AstraZeneca because of the storage challenges of the mRNA vaccines?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Look, I've been working closely with industry. I did- a week or two ago now, the Treasurer and I had a forum with industry leaders and we've said to them that to get workplaces done in earnest, we're probably better off waiting to maybe late September or early October when we have got the much greater suppliers of Pfizer coming through. And at that stage, they'll be able to then, you know, offer potentially both vaccines. But industry now have- they've got a timeline to work to. They're going out and getting their workplaces and their workforces prepared now for that. So the good news is I think that they'll be in a really good position by the time that we can make all the vaccines available to them.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:           

It's great news it's coming to the country. And thank you for joining us today, Lieutenant General John Frewen. Thank you.

JOHN FREWEN:    

Thanks Virginia. Cheers.

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