DANICA DE GIORGIO: Well the booster shot interval has been officially brought forward to four months, making millions of Australians eligible. Joining me now live is the COVID-19 Task Force Commander, Lieutenant-General John Frewen. Good morning to you. Thank you so much for joining us. Are there enough vaccines available so that every eligible Australian can get their booster?
JOHN FREWEN: Absolutely. Yeah, no - we've got more than enough vaccines for everybody who is eligible. The real challenge in this now is distribution and just making sure that we're getting the vaccines to the- to where the demand is so that people can get through.
DANICA DE GIORGIO: Well, how long will that distribution take? I had a look online before, some GP clinics aren't offering the vaccination for another five to six weeks. So how long are you expecting that to take?
JOHN FREWEN: No, look, there are still bookings available on the sites in days ahead. So yesterday we had four million- bit over four million people who were eligible, and about 60 per cent of them have been through to get their boosters. Today, of course, another four million Australians become eligible. At the end of this month another eight million Australians will become eligible. So I just do ask people to have perhaps a little bit of patience if they can't get an immediate booking. But I'm sure if people try a few different avenues, that- they'll be able to get their boosters pretty quickly.
DANICA DE GIORGIO: What happens if you're a GP or a pharmacy and you run out of booster shots in a day or in the week? How quickly can they get them?
JOHN FREWEN: Yeah. So there's two different pathways. Our Vaccine Operations Centre has met all of the orders that have come in from GPs and pharmacists. There's more vaccines being delivered this week; more vaccines being delivered next week. But if there is an immediate problem, the first thing we do is we have got a group in the vaccine operation centre that look around to find out where there are vaccines sitting on shelves in other providers, and there are over four million doses already sitting on shelves out around the country in GPs and pharmacists. And then we marry up the providers with other providers who have got additional supply at the moment. And if there are- in other cases where there is really urgent circumstances, you know, it might be a remote area where there aren't other providers nearby, we'll arrange an emergency delivery.
DANICA DE GIORGIO: Will this rollout impact the kids' rollout? Of course, that's starting on 10 January, are there supply issues with both rollouts at the same time?
JOHN FREWEN: No, well again, the supply- there is no issue with the amount of vaccines. We have got the vaccines available for both the boosters and the paediatric doses for the kids. We have had a good build up for the rollout of the kids. All the planning is in place, people have had a good amount of time now to get organised and get their bookings made and those sorts of things. So we think we are in a good position now to bring in these additional people today for their boosters. And we are in a great place to step off on the 10th with the kids.
DANICA DE GIORGIO: And of course, at the end of January, the eligibility criteria from the second to third dose changes to three months. How are you preparing for that?
JOHN FREWEN: Yeah, so that's- you know, it's a big jump at the end of the month, I mentioned it's another eight million people become eligible. So I think what will happen through January is, we've got more than 10,000 places now where people can go to get their vaccines, whether they're GPs and pharmacists, whether they're state and territory hubs. But through January, what we're going to see is we are going to see a ramping up of capacity, particularly in the state and territory hubs, particularly in Victoria and New South Wales, because it was those two states that got the large numbers of vaccinations done when they had the outbreaks around about, you know, August, September last year. So we are going to need to see a real ramp up of capacity there, and we are working with the states and territories to do that. So you'll see not only more and more people able to go through some of these hubs, but we are starting to see magnificent efforts through the pharmacies now as well, who are really starting to carry a much bigger portion of the rollout as well.
DANICA DE GIORGIO: And what has the take up been like so far when it comes to Australia's booster rollout?
JOHN FREWEN: Yeah, well, I mentioned the- yesterday, the 4 million that were eligible, we had two and a half million people. That's 60 per cent of people had already come forward for their boosters, and through the Christmas/New Year holiday period. So I think that's been pretty amazing. Yesterday was a public holiday in much of the country, 44 thousand people came forward for vaccines yesterday, 36 thousand of them were for boosters, so demand is strong. People are turning up, which is great. A lot more people are now eligible to come forward, and I really do encourage people to come forward as soon as they can once they become eligible.
DANICA DE GIORGIO: And are you finding that the rollout or the take up for the booster is quite quick compared to what it was for when the first two vaccination rollout came out- came about?
JOHN FREWEN: Yeah, well, look, we are in a very different place. You remember at the start of the rollout, we did have supply challenges and we were having to manage bringing in the most vulnerable cohorts as we went. Now, this time around, you know, the infrastructure has been set up. We have got the doses, we have learnt a lot along the way, so I think this is a smoother process now. I think people, you know, understand the COVID vaccination- COVID vaccines probably much better now as well. So I think the vast majority of people that I've certainly spoken to, you know, are really keen to get their booster done as soon as they are able to. They understand the importance of it. I think that the medical advice has been made sort of very clear for people around, you know, why you need to come forward for a booster if you've already had your first two shots. So you know, I think we are in a good place and I'm looking forward to seeing as many of those new four million people come forward as quickly as they can.
DANICA DE GIORGIO: Good to hear. Lieutenant-General John Frewen, we have to leave it there. Thank you so much for joining us.
JOHN FREWEN: Thank you.