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

LAURA JAYES:      

Well, today, the Commander of the vaccine taskforce, Lieutenant General John Frewen, will wargame with the states about the vaccine rollout and this crunch that will come at the end of the year. So far, we've only received a fraction of the 40 million Pfizer doses on order, and we'll start to get 2 million a week in October. But until then, the vaccine supply will remain somewhat slower. I spoke to General Frewen about what this war gaming with the states might look like today, whether there's going to be a crunch and a rush on vaccines that might put pressure on the workforce towards the end of the year, and if we're on track for that 2022 deadline.

[Excerpt]

 

LAURA JAYES:      

General Frewen, thank you for your time. Yesterday, the New South Wales Health Minister described the vaccine race as The Hunger Games. Is that an apt description?

 

JOHN FREWEN:    

Look, Laura, we're managing the supply and demand issues as best we can. I'm very pleased that Australians have got a desire to get vaccinated, and I really hope they maintain that enthusiasm throughout the year and I certainly encourage all Australians who are yet to either make a booking or to get vaccinated, to please do so, because vaccination is our best pathway out of this.

 

LAURA JAYES:      

We're still only receiving 300,000 Pfizer doses a week, is that right?

 

JOHN FREWEN:    

That's what we've had in recent weeks, but through this month, we're confident that those numbers will start to increase. And then you've probably seen from the supply projections I've released, that those numbers really start to ramp up later in the year through September and into October.

 

LAURA JAYES:      

How many doses of a vaccine, any vaccine, have we got in Australia ready to go right now?

 

JOHN FREWEN:    

Look, I haven't got the exact number at my fingertips, Laura, but those numbers have been released in the supply forecasts. But we are feeding all of the available vaccines out through the states and territories. The Pfizer vaccine at the moment, it's being administered to its full capacity. AstraZeneca, there is still strong take up for AstraZeneca. And I've got more AstraZeneca available if- as was announced last week, you know, people under 40 wish to make a choice about having AstraZeneca now rather than wait till later in the year for the opportunity of an mRNA vaccine.

 

LAURA JAYES:      

Some of the states have loudly complained that they're on the verge of running out of doses. How can you possibly plan? How can the states plan when, for example, we don't even know what our allocation of vaccines from Pfizer will be in August?

 

JOHN FREWEN:    

I'm very committed to releasing as much information as we can. You know, prior to my arrival, they were only- the states and territories were only being given those month by month sort of allocations. We've now given them our best forecast right out to the end of the year, a range of planning parameters, the lowest level that we expect and potentially the highest level we expect. But you've got to remember, this is a global pandemic and there is high global demand for these vaccines. The companies that are producing them, you know, we're working very closely with. They're doing fantastic work. Things happen on supply lines that are variable. And some months they manage to produce more. Some months it's a little bit less. So it's a- it's not a perfect science, but we're getting those vaccines as quickly as we can and we're getting them out to the jurisdictions as fast as we can.

 

LAURA JAYES:      

At the beginning of the year, CSL committed to producing 1 million AstraZeneca doses a week. It was then going to be the workhorse of vaccinating Australia. Are they still producing a million doses a week?

 

JOHN FREWEN:    

Look, CSL, you know, I think have been doing great work as well. AstraZeneca has been and still is the workhorse. We're still- you know, far more AstraZeneca has gone into Australians than Pfizer just now. But with the availability of AstraZeneca, you know, another important thing we are doing is we are moving that through DFAT out into the Pacific as well. And we are supporting our Pacific partners as best we can as well, because they have got, unfortunately, a far greater risk of community transmission right now. So they're accepting the AstraZeneca with open arms right now. But at the same time, we are making what we have available to those people under 40 who can make informed choice. And I think choice is an appropriate thing for Australians to have when we have vaccine available.

 

LAURA JAYES:      

But have CSL pulled back on producing 1 million doses a week because of people not taking them up, not wanting them to expire?

 

JOHN FREWEN:    

The supply, as I've said, is also variable. CSL production lines go up and go down, but we're managing the supply lines well at the moment. You know, we've got wastage rates across the country of under a per cent right now, so that isn't a big concern for us and we're making sure that vaccines that we can't use here right now are going to areas where they can be used, and the Pacific is the real priority for me and for DFAT right now.

 

LAURA JAYES:      

Is one of the big problems is that we're not getting a steady supply of vaccines from Pfizer? We're going to have a crunch at the end of the year. A workforce could handle it if we were getting steady supply, but that is going to be crunched at the end of the year when we start getting 2 million doses a week. Is that one of the biggest problems you're managing and going to talk to the states about?

 

JOHN FREWEN:    

So, the three variables that I'm managing in the rollout, Laura, are the supply and I've- as I mentioned, we've given the projections for supply out to the end of the year. The next one is the ability to administer the vaccines, and that's both, you know, delivery and then the actual injecting of vaccines into people and that gets to workforce. And then there's the motivation of the Australian public to turn up.

Currently on the supply projections, I'm very confident that every Australian who wants to access a vaccine by the end of this year will be able to do so. Of course, things can happen to supply chains, but right now those numbers look pretty sound. Right now, distribution is comprehensive, but I agree we are going to have to ramp it up.

Today, we are running this wargame with the states and territories. I've done the review of the national plan. Today, we're bringing in the leads from all the states and territories to talk us through how they intend to administer the vaccines that will be available right out to the end of the year. So, by the end of today, we'll have a much better understanding of where the capacity issues might be in each of the states and territories, where some of the states and territories might have, you know, excess capacity, where others might have very specific challenges, you know, maybe in remote areas and the like. And then we will form a consolidated view, a partnership with federal states to decide how we can best support each other as we go out to the end of the year.

Now, you know, bringing in additional workforce, of course, may be one important factor. We've got additional GPs, additional pharmacists in the first instance, for example, that we're already introducing into the mix. But there's a whole range of other options, like mass vaccination clinics, drive through clinics. We're looking at all of the possible ways that we can make sure that those vaccines get delivered at the end of the year.

And then, of course, the final and most important variable, I think, in an enduring sense, will be the motivation of the Australian people to turn up. At the moment, I'm very encouraged that Australians seem mainly determined to want to get vaccinated. But as we get into the later stages of the year, you know, getting us up into those sort of higher percentages across the country, that will really become a- you know, a community effort to make sure that we all understand just how important vaccination is to getting us back to the sort of freedoms we would like to enjoy.

 

LAURA JAYES:      

So, how many doses a day do we need to get in people's arms from October to meet that end of year deadline to have everyone in Australia vaccinated?

 

JOHN FREWEN:    

So, you might have seen last week, we're having sort of record amounts of doses administered, you know, week from week at the moment. We are just shy of administering a million doses every seven days. I think we will possibly see that milestone in the very near future.

If we were to do a million doses a week over the next 26 weeks of this year, that's 13 million additional Australians who would be fully vaccinated. So even at present rates, we're going- we have the potential to get, you know, a large part of this country fully vaccinated. The upper end of those ranges could be anywhere up to 2 million doses a week, I think. But you can see from the numbers that, you know, we've- already, we've got the ability to get, you know, significant numbers of Australians vaccinated, and that's only going to increase as we get additional supply. And we look at all of the innovative ways that we can to get those vaccines delivered.

 

LAURA JAYES:      

And just finally, do you feel like sometimes you've been handed a hospital pass in trying to get this vaccine rollout on track?

 

JOHN FREWEN:    

No, not at all. Fantastic work has been done, Laura. When I arrived, I think we had just over 6 million doses that had already been delivered. We're now over 8.2 million doses. I mean, the foundations for this rollout have been very well-set in, you know, I think it's little more than 140 days since the vaccines became available to us. But I intend to take it and run hard with it from here and make sure that we get as many Australians fully vaccinated as we can this year.

 

LAURA JAYES:      

Thanks so much for your time.

 

JOHN FREWEN:    

Thanks, Laura.

[End of excerpt]

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