Lieutenant General John Frewen's press conference on 4 August 2021

Read the transcript of Lieutenant General John Frewen's press conference on 4 August 2021 about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

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JOHN FREWEN: Well, good afternoon everybody. Today, I'm very pleased to be able to announce that yesterday, we released the National Campaign Plan for the vaccine rollout. This is the roadmap that lays out exactly how we will approach the national rollout through the rest of the course of this year. It lays out some key milestones. Also helps people understand exactly how we are approaching prioritisation and how we will work towards the targets towards the end of the year. I'm also pleased to note that yesterday was another record day. We did over 213,000 doses in a single day, so that means we're now up over 12.8 million doses nationally. We are at 80 per cent first dosing for over 70s. We're at 60 per cent first dosing for over 50s. And in the general population above 16, we're now at 40 per cent first dosing and 20 per cent of Australians are fully vaccinated. Thank you.

QUESTION:  You note in your document, you talk about hitting 80 per cent potentially by late December, is it? Is this doing things out of the ordinary or are you looking at a superhuman effort in September, October, November?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah, look, the estimates in there are about potentially being able to hit 70 and 80 per cent later in the year. Mathematically, we can get there. I think we'll have the supply. We'll have the distribution notes, but it really is about people in Australia coming forward and coming forward with some urgency to get vaccinated. So really, I think we'll have everything in place to be able to get to those sorts of numbers by the end of the year, but public willingness to come forward is key. And I'd really- all of us need to keep encouraging everybody to get their vaccinations booked and to get out and get vaccinated.

QUESTION: On public willingness, we've seen a debate about incentives. Why the opposition towards cash incentives if it helps increase that urgency, which as it says in the report and you've said, is the key thing when it comes to getting people vaccinated?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah, so right now- I've said incentives is something we will consider. But right now, Australians are coming forward. In the last seven days, we've had 1.2 million doses going into people's arms. Demand is still exceeding supply right now, so the time for incentives, I think, maybe later in the year when we're getting into some of the more hesitant sort of group. So I'm really encouraged by the approach of Australians to vaccination at the moment.

QUESTION: And those incentives, can you imagine them being a cash incentive, which has been proposed and discussed a lot across the country in the last couple of days.

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah. Again, I've said, we'll look at all of the sorts of possible alternatives. I mean there's cash. There's the ideas of lotteries, all of these things have been discussed. But what is resonating with people right now really is being able to get back to the sort of lifestyle we used to enjoy; international travel, not having to do quarantine, not having to go into lockdowns and those sorts of things. Getting vaccinated is the right thing to do. It's the right thing for individuals and it's the right thing for our nation.

QUESTION: How do you cut through to communities where uptake has been lower? How do you deliver messages to those communities? And will you consider hubs where- in terms of places of worship?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah, absolutely. So look, we will increasingly become aware of where they may be pockets of hesitancy or even where some parts of the country are moving more slowly than others. We will absolutely be tailoring messaging to those groups. And if they're culturally and linguistically diverse groups, then we will work with the communities. We have already seen examples of those sorts of things happening in south-west Sydney right now. We're working with community leaders down there. There has been campaigns focused in both hubs. And even mosques down there. So all of those things we absolutely will need to do.

QUESTION: The Doherty Institute makes a pretty compelling argument that under 40s are one of the main transmission groups at the moment.


QUESTION: That you should flip the switch and make Pfizer available to them urgently. What is holding you back from doing that? What do you need to see before that happens?

JOHN FREWEN: So all of those age groups can access AstraZeneca right now, and I would encourage them to do so under informed consent. The main reason for not opening up all cohorts to the available mRNA right now is really around public expectation of filling up booking systems and people not being able to realistically access the stuff in a reasonable period of time. So the forecast that we have and the idea that I think for 30 to 39s, we'll open mRNA towards the end of this month, early next month, probably at the latest, means that when people are told that they can access the vaccines, that they'll be able to do so in a reasonable period of time.

QUESTION: [Indistinct] this is another critical [indistinct], isn't it, that you have an authority saying you need to do this, but there isn't the supply to do it. So the Government's leaving these people expose, the younger people.

JOHN FREWEN: AstraZeneca is available right now under informed consent. The Doherty modelling also says that AstraZeneca is equally as effective as Pfizer with the Delta variant. So people need to make a decision now about whether they want to get the available vaccine right now or whether they wish to wait.

QUESTION: In the report, you go into some of the issues that have hampered the rollout to date. Some of them you can't control, but some you probably can, like having more warehouses and a bit more of a uniformed response from jurisdictions in terms of who can get vaccines and when. How much more uniformity do you want to see across that? We know that states like Tasmania, ACT, WA are opening up vaccines to 30s and over. Do you want to see some state agreement on that?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah look, we're working, I think, very well with the states and territories. I've now got additional coordination mechanisms with the states and territories where we're talking at a bilateral level almost every other day. But I've now got a weekly coordination meeting with all of the states and territories. One size won't fit all in Australia. The jurisdictions will want to take slightly different approaches. I think that is fine. We really need to work on what is best for the particular jurisdictions, and even within jurisdictions, there would be remote regional areas, there will be cultural groups and all of that, so we'll work closely with them to make sure that we get the best solutions across the whole country.

QUESTION: Just on that [indistinct] responses by different states, you said yesterday that it would be available to 30s and over from the end of the month. But could that be different depending on where you are?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah, well, it already is. So we've- already, you might have seen Tasmania has opened up mRNA Pfizer to 30 to 39-year-olds. The ACT has followed. I have said to those jurisdictions who think they can open up that sort of access now under their own management, that they should be able to do that. And that's what those two jurisdictions have done.

QUESTION: General, the plan also talking about the different phases of motivating advertising campaigns. Are we about to shift into another phase? What would that look like? And it also mentions direct text messaging and other ways of reaching people. For a case like south-west Sydney, could that include in the preferred language of that community, that we'd actually see direct messaging to people's phones?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah, absolutely. I've said before that the- right now, we've gone from an information phase to more of a rallying phase. It's important to individuals and their friends and families and communities. Next is going to be more of a national rallying phase that will say: hey, you've seen now, we need to get to 70 per cent, we need to get to 80 per cent, if we really want to return to the sort of lifestyles that we used to enjoy. So there has got to be a collective sort of national, sort of sense of why vaccination is important. So we'll be moving to that. The other thing that we'll be doing in the next phase is really getting to some of these specific groups, the culturally and linguistically diverse groups and making sure the messaging is right, particularly for those people who are hesitant at the moment, to help them understand why it's important to get vaccinated.

QUESTION: Could I just ask about how decisions will be made in terms of allocation of supplies as they come on stream. You have, for example, in this document flagged retail hubs, more mass vaccination clinics, driving clinics and so forth. And there's also talk about, for example, FIFO miners, mining companies being given doses. Who will decide how those doses are distributed or will it be based on a jurisdictional allocation as it has been hinted for?

JOHN FREWEN: Sure. So look, in a number of ways. The way the distribution hubs are developed, I'm working with states and territories, as I've said some prefer particular styles of things. In Sydney right now you're seeing mass vaccination hubs in particular. The plan also talks to the potential for things like drive-through clinics, pop-up clinics and those sorts of things. So we work together, federal authorities and state and territory authorities to decide what might work best. Some of them need particular frameworks put in place. So drive through hubs is one where we have now done the work to say that they can be done in an appropriate way. So that is an option that is now on the table if jurisdictions want to take it up. When it comes to the distribution, I will make recommendations about where major new arrivals of vaccines might go but ultimately this is a matter for this Government and they will ultimately decide.

QUESTION: As in the states and the federal government will decide? Like for example, if you've got a major employer, a national employer who has more employees in certain states, will they be given an allocation sort of over and above that proportionate distribution?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah, so right now the vaccines go into the states in two ways. They go through the federal hubs and they go into a state allocation which the states can manage. I've put in place a mechanism now where we can see which is working best in those two and to reallocate inside the state or territory to make sure we're getting the best use. As we are slowly bringing on additional things like workplace vaccinations, we will have discussions whether that will happen within standing allocations or whether we can do other allocations [indistinct]. So for example, right now the CBA initiative that's now being done by both CBA and Westpac in Sydney around workplace vaccination, that's being done with AstraZeneca in the first instance and I've been able to provide additional AstraZeneca to facilitate that.

QUESTION: How will you decide when it's necessary to move from carrot to stick, for want of a better phrase in that push to 80 per cent. Is there a metric? Is supply outstripping demand? Is there some other metric you'll be looking for?

JOHN FREWEN: Yes, so look my first responsibility is to make sure that every Australian who wants to get a vaccine this year can do so and I'm still very confident that we can achieve that. We are already, as you've seen, I've started to release more and more data and more and more metrics about how progress is going. We will look at progress. We will look at progress at a national level and then we will look at progress at a jurisdictional level. And then based on what we're seeing, we will start to make decisions about where we need to maybe put additional communication efforts, whether we need to put additional vaccination support or additional vaccines.

QUESTION: How far down your priority list is that 80 per cent, if the main priority is everyone who wants it getting one dose by Christmas, where does the other thing fall?

JOHN FREWEN: I'll make sure that everybody gets a dose by Christmas. I'll make sure that we put everything in place that we can to get to 70 as fast as we can and then once we've got to 70 we'll have a look at working to get to 80.

QUESTION: Just on Moderna quickly, we know it's yet to be approved by the TGA but what are your expectations in terms of supply for that vaccine if it comes through?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah, so look there is 10 million doses of Moderna that will come into play through the course of the year as well. What we have done at the moment is to say, for pure simplicity of logistics, that that will go to the pharmacists in the first instance, but we have prepared the pharmacies, now, and we've got almost 1000 pharmacies who have been on boarded now, we hope to have another thousand pharmacists on board every week for the next few weeks. We're preparing them to do both AstraZeneca now and then be prepared to do either Pfizer or Moderna once it becomes available. So it will be just another vaccine but it will come into the mix and we will make sure it comes into play as quickly as we can.

QUESTION: In regards to the drive through vaccination clinics, can you talk to us how that will look practically on the ground for someone wanting to get a jab in that way and how soon are we going to see those? Will there be a trail site or a trial site set up first?

JOHN FREWEN: It's an option now that we have and we've got the parameters around how that can be done safely and effectively, it will really be up to the jurisdictions now to decide if that's a pathway they would like to take. There is a range of aspects there of lining the traffic up in an orderly way, having the way to administer the vaccines, then, of course, having the ability to have people wait for a period of time for observation just to make sure everything is going okay, and then release them. But all of those details are yet to be worked through with the first jurisdiction who takes it up.

QUESTION: The numbers in Sydney are quite stubborn, quite stubbornly high and it looks like one of the paths of infection is the essential workers. Kerry Chant was saying about a couple weeks ago that you really needed to focus on those people. What thought has been given to blitzing supermarket workers, freight suppliers and so on?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah, sure. So in New South Wales the very first thing we did was put additional roaming clinics into the aged care facilities and that is what we're doing in Queensland right now as well. What we have done with New Wales very specifically in this regard is, food distribution hubs were seen as critical to keeping those communities able to, you know, be well provided for. We've worked with New South Wales. We have agreed that we, the federal authorities will lead on doing the food distribution hubs and that the state will lead on doing the supermarket workers. So we have already done in reach into hubs where we have done food bank and we've started to do Coles and Woollies and others and with been working through that through the next week or two.

QUESTION: What numbers can you tell us?

JOHN FREWEN: I haven't got the specific numbers at the moment but we've had hundreds of workers vaccinated in the first few days of the program.

QUESTION: Overseas they've done 24-hour vaccination blitzes in the UK, for example. If that a consideration once supply is here? This is around the clock, marathon effort, get everyone to get the jab.

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah, well we'll have to see where we're at later in the year. I mean again we're moving very large numbers through at the moment. You know, 230,000 doses yesterday, 1.2 million doses across seven days. These are very solid numbers but we're working with New South Wales and we will seek to get any additional vaccines that we can into New South Wales. I will have to go to the phone just briefly, guys. Madura, are you there?

QUESTION: I am. In terms of the vaccine rollout in Greater Brisbane, I understand 224 extra pharmacies in the area will be coming online in the coming days, to administer the AZ jab, but that those doses may not arrive until next week. Could you confirm that there is the ability to ship jabs up here sooner, and is that separate to the 150,000 jabs that have been offered to Queensland?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah absolutely- yeah, so the supplies we have of AstraZeneca at the moment are not constrained, so we can provide as much AstraZeneca as people request right now. In relation to the pharmacies, the normal ordering process for bringing on a pharmacy is about two - three weeks, but we have made available the urgent orders that's been available to GPs available pharmacies now, and we will get AstraZeneca to any pharmacy that needs it within usually 24-48 hours. And Jade?

QUESTION: Thank you. Do you expect that you will have enough vaccine supply this year to vaccinate [Audio skip] kids if health experts give them the green light, or will it just be those aged 12 and above through school programs?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah. Well, at the moment, pending the medical advice, we're focusing on the 12-15 -year-olds, and we're developing plans again in consultation with the states and territories to look at a school-based vaccination program at some stage this year, but it will really depend on the- when the medical advice is finalised on that. But I'm confident again that we will have adequate supplies for at least first dose for every person in Australia who needs it.

QUESTION: Lieutenant-General, the SA4 data that you released yesterday showed overwhelmingly that in most regional, remote parts of Australia, vaccination rate is about half that of the leading areas in cities. Is that because there is an extreme amount hesitancy in the bush, or do you need to do a lot more there to get those logistics sorted so that people in places like far west New South Wales or northern Queensland are getting the same access to the vaccine?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah, absolutely. And the SA4 data is now a really good tool for all of us to start closely monitoring how progress is going. I think it's very important we get as consistent possible vaccination across the country concurrently, so we will now, as others will be scrutinising that sort of data really closely and then working to make sure that we can provide additional assistance to those areas that need to be brought on.

QUESTION: How set in stone is this plan? Obviously things can change and we can get more or we can get less vaccine, so how changeable is this at the moment?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah. So, the way this campaign plan is designed is it will be responsive to shifts in strategy. So, you've heard yesterday as a result of Doherty, we have moved nationally from going just for the most vulnerable to going after the most vulnerable and highest transmissibility groups. This plan adapts to that perfectly. This plan sits over numerous potential hot spot outbreaks. When we war-gamed the plan initially with the states and territories, we looked at major distributions to supply, major setbacks to public confidence, major- even, say, ATAGI shifts in guidance around vaccine. So, this plan is inherently flexible. It just sets the framework, and it lays out how we see the roadmap going. But of course, we will continually adjust to circumstances.

QUESTION: General, you got dragged into bear pit of Parliament yesterday, with suggestions by the prime minister that Albanese hadn't taken up the opportunity to have a meeting with you. How concerned are you about your role becoming politicised in that way? And particularly given you say in the plan that this needs to stay very positive and you want to ensure that the vaccine rollout is seen positively by people. Are you concerned about your role being politicized?

JOHN FREWEN: Look, I serve the government of the day, as I have almost four decades now. Yesterday I was due to have a meeting with Mr Albanese, I understand the busy schedules of parliamentarians, I am scheduled to meet with Mr Albanese on Thursday now, and I look forward to the opportunity.

QUESTION: Pointy question on the Horizons versus the document last night. In the Horizons, you forecast zero AstraZeneca needed from October, last night's document includes quite large quantities of AstraZeneca going forward at the end of the year. Are you now saying AstraZeneca is a major part of the rollout towards the end of the year, that Horizons are now out-dated?

JOHN FREWEN: No, I've explained before. The Horizons document assumes that most people who have had AstraZeneca will have had their second doses by then, but we will have AstraZeneca available, AstraZeneca is available not only to this plan but also to our support out in the Pacific as well. And you know now we've moved more than 1.2 million doses out into the Pacific for our friends and partners where the need is urgent at the moment, and that is being not only really well received but is having a dramatic effect on the ground as well.

QUESTION: We've seen, tragically, in New South Wales today, a young man in his 20s die at home from COVID, who had no underlying health conditions, wasn't vaccinated. Cases like that- I know you've been asked already about flipping the rollout to let younger people have access. Does that- if there are more deaths in that space, would you be expecting to be more proactive about offering AstraZeneca as it's available to young people?

JOHN FREWEN: Well, AstraZeneca is available now to people under informed consent over the ages of 18.

QUESTION: But it's not very proactive, though. People having to go to their GP and go out of their way to seek it out, they're often getting turned back by some GPs. Is there a point at which you start to be much more proactive about offering it to younger people?

JOHN FREWEN: Well, we've been- there's been an active advertising campaign in Sydney around AstraZeneca alone, both to not only reassure the public that it is very safe, very effective but that they can access it through multiple pathways now. The pharmacies are now on board; we're seeing the pharmacists coming into action very quickly, and getting AstraZeneca out there. The guidance to GPs has been reinforced that this vaccine does need to be provided to those people under informed consent, and we're following up on cases where that is not the case. But again I encourage every Australian to make an informed choice now about whether they want to get vaccinated with what's available right now or whether they wish to wait.

QUESTION: And if they wait, General, when will they get Pfizer, under-40s?

JOHN FREWEN: Under-40s? Well the plan foreshadows, as I've said earlier, that the 30-39s we think will open up either towards the end of this month or early next month for mRNA. Again, we are constantly working with the drug companies and looking for opportunities to bring forward additional mRNA vaccines, and as soon as we get those mRNA vaccines, we will make decisions to open up as quickly as we can.

QUESTION: Is there a bring forward of mRNA vaccines? I think we were meant to get about a million doses a week at this stage?

JOHN FREWEN: Yeah, well, we're now enjoying that bring forward that was talked about, that we got from late September into July and August, and that's why we're now seeing the 1 million, the 1.2 million coming forward, but at the moment we're still working on seeking whatever other bring forwards that we can.

QUESTION: Are you speaking to other countries about that?

JOHN FREWEN: We are- through DFAT is engaging with other countries, we're engaging with the pharmaceutical companies, yeah. Thank you very much.


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