Lieutenant General John Frewen's interview on Today on 5 August 2021

Read the transcript of Lieutenant General John Frewen's interview on Today on 5 August 2021 about coronavirus (COVID-19).

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KARL STEFANOVIC: Some big challenges this morning in our battle against COVID. Among them the worrying rise in children struck down by Delta with more than half of the cases in Queensland under 19. Lieutenant General John Frewen heads the COVID Vaccination Taskforce and he joins us now live from Canberra. Good morning to you again. Thanks for your time. Look, the vaccine rollout so far has been focussed on adults. Will you be prioritising children at some point, and if so, when?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah, Karl, the - just a couple of days ago we published the campaign plan for the vaccine rollout. It gives the roadmap for the rest of the year and when we'll look to include additional cohorts as we go.

KARL STEFANOVIC: In the papers this morning, I think in Victoria they're saying 12-year-olds will start getting vaccinated in around November or December. Does that fit that plan?

JOHN FREWEN: Well that's, of course, pending the correct medical advice and those sorts of things coming through, but you know, by late September, early October, I think we will have the ability to offer far greater choice and to bring in additional cohorts more freely.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Okay. So you'll have the supply there though?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah. Look, the current projections have the supply really ramping up with the mRNA vaccines, both Pfizer and potentially Moderna by late September, October.

KARL STEFANOVIC:  Is it possible for New South Wales to administer 6 million doses by August? I know that you've been going- you need 69,000 a day, I think until the end of August to achieve that goal, and you've only averaged that about nine times in the last 33 days. So is that possible?

JOHN FREWEN: Look, we're hitting records every day now, Karl. We just are about to today, probably, hit 13 million doses nationally. Yesterday we did across the country 213,000 doses. A record day. So the numbers are coming up where we've got more points of distribution opening up. We've got additional GPs coming on doing Pfizer. We've the pharmacists coming on now at speed with AstraZeneca. So, the channels are there, it's really about people turning up.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Okay. On the pharmacies, I know that you may be aware of these reports, there's a level of frustration from some pharmacists out there, 1250 are able to inoculate but only 314 are doing so. That comes down to a sluggish supply chain. Is that being fixed?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah, well look, we're in the process of what we call on boarding pharmacists. There's preparations to go through. We need to check they've got the right facilities, that they've got the right qualifications to administer the vaccines and those sorts of things. And during that process, the normal ordering period is two to three weeks to get the vaccines to them. But we've put in place a hot line, so that GPs and pharmacists who need urgent deliveries of AstraZeneca can get that normally within a day or two. And we've been getting many of those orders particularly down in south-west Sydney.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Are you sorry for the rollout, though? I mean, they're ready to roll.

JOHN FREWEN: Look, it's a process. We've made the decision just recently to bring pharmacists on. So, it takes time but we're doing it as quickly as we can. We've already got almost 50 pharmacists down in those affected areas in south-west Sydney which is fantastic, and they've been straight into it.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Okay. There's also a level of concern amongst some pharmacies about PPE. Has that been strengthened at all?

JOHN FREWEN: Look, PPE is a part of the logistical process as well. So, those demands are being- are met and wherever there's challenges, then we will prioritise and get onto it.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Okay. Some are saying, also, that a number of vaccines are being lost, are being thrown out. Are you aware of those figures at all?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah, absolutely. Our national wastage figure is little more than 1 per cent at the moment. We don't like to see any wastage of course, but in a program of this scale and the millions of doses we're managing, 1 per cent is a very positive number.


JOHN FREWEN:  Yeah, within the margins, absolutely.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Okay. We know Brisbane's being hit at the moment with a cluster. Are you thinking about getting more supplies of vaccinations into Brisbane?

JOHN FREWEN:  Yeah, absolutely. We've already activated roving vaccine clinics to get into some of the aged-care facilities there to make sure that we're immediately checking on the most vulnerable and making sure they've got the maximum protection they can. We're also engaged with the- well, pharmacies are one in Queensland that we're working with now to get additional AstraZeneca to quickly, and we're working with the Queensland authorities to see what can be done around vaccines.

KARL STEFANOVIC: It is frustrating, I mean, even to sit here presenting some of these points of view, especially when they are accurate, that some who are dealing with aged-care, some of those workers are going into aged-care facilities, they're going in to homes for at home aged-care and these people aren't vaccinated. It begs the question, why not?

JOHN FREWEN: Aged-care residents now, we've got over 86 per cent that have had their first dose and over 82 per cent are fully vaccinated. Now, that's a really strong figure. Of course, there will always be people who don't wish to be vaccinated, or who can't be vaccinated. The aged- care workers now are the highest priority for us, and we've got a comprehensive plan in place now to get aged-care workers done as well.

KARL STEFANOVIC: A time frame on that do you think?

JOHN FREWEN: We're seeking to have all aged-care workers vaccinated first dose by the middle of September.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Okay. What about the Year 12s in those areas around the south-west? We saw the vaccination rates yesterday, 14 per cent in the south-west. That's being argued about over the last 24 hours, but 14 per cent's not quite good enough. When will that increase that level and when will the Year 12s be vaccinated?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah, look, the Year 12s are not within our priority cohorts at the moment. And there's only just been ATAGI guidance around 12 to 16-year-olds, and we're focussed on the most vulnerable in that cohort right now. So, I know New South Wales has made some decisions around Year 12 students. But, yeah, their time will come later in the year.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Are you focussed on the south-west of Sydney or is it more just the broad picture?

JOHN FREWEN: Oh, no, absolutely. This is a national rollout but we're working very closely with the New South Wales authorities on south-west Sydney.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Anything else we need to mention today?

JOHN FREWEN: No Karl. Again, I'd just like to, you know, encourage all Australians if they haven't yet booked a vaccine to get out there and get vaccinated. It's really important. I'm really encouraged with the way Australians are turning up at the moment. But we've still got a ways to go and we've got to get it done as quickly as we can.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Okay. Lieutenant General, a lot to get through. Appreciate all of your time today. Thank you.

JOHN FREWEN: Thanks Karl.


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