Lieutenant General John Frewen's interview on the Today Show on 25 October 2021

Read the transcript of Lieutenant General John Frewen's interview on the Today Show on 25 October 2021 about coronavirus (COVID-19).

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ALLISON LANGDON: Australia is on track to become the second country in the world to rollout booster shots to the entire population. The TGA are meeting today to make a decision with authorities, hopeful jabs could be in arms as early as next week.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Lieutenant General John Frewen heads the COVID vaccination taskforce and joins us now live from Canberra. Now, Lieutenant General, thanks for your time today. Look …

JOHN FREWEN: [Talks over] Hi guys.

KARL STEFANOVIC: … what's the story with the booster shots? When will they be rolling out? And will they be tied to vaccine passports?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah. So look, we're just waiting on the finalised medical advice now. We expect that it will recommend probably between six to 12 months is when people should consider having a booster shot. We're ready now to, to commence rolling out booster shots when given the green light. Priority will go in the first instance to people in aged-care facilities, disability facilities and frontline health workers. But I think what the process will be is that as you're six months from your second shot ticks over, you'll be able to come in and, and grab a booster.

KARL STEFANOVIC: But will it be tied- will you have to- you know, will that be linked to your passport when, whenever you show that wherever you go?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah, look, that's- that'll be policy decision, Karl, that I think is yet to be resolved. But for all intents and purposes, if you've had your first two doses, you are, you are vaccinated, you are protected. But boosters just give you that little additional, you know, pep up that just makes sure you've got the best possible protection.

ALLISON LANGDON: Do you expect we will need several vaccinations over the next few years, boosters rather? Or is one booster enough to give us prolonged immunity?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah. I think the, the medical science is still being resolved around that. Certainly, this third shot booster going to be recommended, but I don't think there's any clear guidance yet as to whether this will become an annual thing or not.

KARL STEFANOVIC: You have some issues in WA and also Queensland, not just in regional Queensland but some areas even between the Gold Coast and Brissie, that's in the Logan area. How are you going to fix that?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah. So, we're engaged with the authorities in both Queensland, WA, and other areas of the country that are still lagging behind a bit as well, and you probably know we're doing lot of work with the Indigenous communities at the moment as well. With Queensland and WA, we're just saying that, look, New South Wales, Victoria are going to open up, that's going to see more, more movement, there will be international travel and that means Delta will be starting to get around more than it is at the moment, and it will find a way to the vulnerable. So, vaccination is the best protection that you can have.

ALLISON LANGDON: So, this morning Flight Centre boss, Graham 'Scroo' Turner, has warned Queensland faces being shut off from the world for another 12 months if vaccination rates don't pick up there. What's your reaction to that?

JOHN FREWEN: Well, I mean, we're, we're saying to people the best protection you can have is the vaccine, and getting back to normal life really depends on getting these high rates of vaccination up. Australians have been amazing, we're up over 70 per cent now as you know, and we're, we're at 86 per cent first dose. But in those areas that it's lagging behind, there's still time before Christmas for people to, to go through that, you know, the minimum six-week process to get the full protection. But they've got to, to book in now to be ready.

KARL STEFANOVIC: What do you - sorry, go.

ALLISON LANGDON: Why do you think Queensland and WA are lagging so far behind? I mean they seem to be throwing everything at getting the vaccine to people and making it accessible. So, why are they lagging so far behind the rest of the country?

JOHN FREWEN: So, there- in a lot of the areas where there's- the numbers aren't quite as good as the national numbers, there, there has been some hesitancy - sometimes the hesitancy is fuelled by misinformation. But I think there is an issue of complacency in some of the places where there haven't been the types of outbreaks there have been in Sydney and, and Victoria. And we've seen when those outbreaks happen that really causes an increase in demand for the vaccine.

So, we're just trying to get the message across without an outbreak, and hopefully before any outbreak. So, you know, we've got enough vaccines now for everybody to get fully vaccinated. It's really easy and convenient to get vaccines if you want them now. There's full choice, it's all just about people making the decision. So, I really just implore people who haven't yet, to please come forward and get vaccinated.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Talking of messaging, we just featured a journalist who's leaked a story - an email from Tennis Australia saying unvaccinated players may be welcome in Victoria for the Australian Open next January. What sort of messaging do you think that sends?

JOHN FREWEN: Look, we're just- I keep coming back on to the message, Karl, that vaccines are the best way to protect you, your friends, your family. So really, I just encourage everyone to, to get vaccinated - not just for their own benefit but for all of our benefits.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Very diplomatic, Lieutenant. [Laughter]

ALLISON LANGDON: So, you've launched this new campaign, Lieutenant called Spread Freedom. It's targeted at those who are yet to get the jab. How important is it that people come forward now? What happens when the gates open in December?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah. So, Spread Freedom is- it's really aimed at the last 10 to 15 per cent of us that haven't been vaccinated yet and it just wants to, to make really plain the important link between vaccinations and the sort of freedoms we all want to enjoy in those states where we're about get those freedoms back - vaccination remains important. But in those states where they've had their freedoms for a long while without the outbreaks, you know, vaccination is really important to protect that as well.

We've also got another campaign that we've just launched too for all of us, which is specifically about Indigenous Australians as well. And some great Indigenous talent in there - Sam Harris, Baker Boy, others, really just sort of emphasising the importance of vaccinations to our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities as well.

KARL STEFANOVIC: You're so hip, Lieutenant-General. Just rattling off some of the great young acts. [Laughter]

ALLISON LANGDON: Lieutenant General, we appreciate your time this morning, thank you.



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