Lieutenant General John Frewen’s interview on the Today Show on 19 July 2021

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Date published: 

19 July 2021

Audience: 

General public

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

Now to that major boost to our vaccine rollout. From today, one million Pfizer doses will be landing on our shores each week – the first load touching down overnight.

ALLISON LANGDON:      

Yeah. It was a nice sight, seeing that plane come in. Ten million jabs are now in the arms of Australians, with 13 per cent of the population fully vaccinated. Lieutenant General John Frewen heads the COVID Vaccination Taskforce and he joins us now live from Canberra. Lieutenant General, always good to talk to you. A good sight last night, yeah…

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

Yeah.

ALLISON LANGDON:      

… seeing all those doses arrive on our shores?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Yeah, fantastic. And as you’ve said, two really great milestones over the weekend. We’ve achieved 10 million doses into Australians arms, and now we’ve got this million doses a week. And we’re really looking forward to getting all that additional Pfizer vaccine and getting it distributed around the country.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

Can we drill into that a little bit, if you don’t mind. Where does it go? I mean, how do you decide where it goes? What are the prioritised areas?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Yeah. We, we allocate the vaccines on a proportional per capita basis across the states and territories. So it will be evenly distributed up and then moved right around the country, remote regional areas, into the metro areas. It’s going to wherever Australians are and wherever we need to get them vaccinated.

ALLISON LANGDON:      

So you haven’t shifted where those vaccines will go based on the current lockdowns?

JOHN FREWEN:    

No. Look, the lockdowns right now, what’s most important there is the testing, tracing, isolation – that’s the immediate sort of health requirement. But we are focussed on the most vulnerable with the vaccines. So we- you know, in Sydney for example, we’ve got roving clinics getting around, making sure the people in the aged care centres are covered. We’re encouraging people over 60 to get down as a priority and get vaccinated. You know, the health impact- immediate health impact is about those cohorts.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

Would you not be targeting, say for example, south west Sydney and trying to get vaccinations in there, given what’s happening there?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Yeah. You might have seen about a week or so ago we did prioritise- we brought forward an additional 150,000 Pfizer doses and 150,000 AstraZeneca doses for New South Wales, and the New South Wales authority’s been prioritising those down into those areas.

ALLISON LANGDON:      

So these reports just, sort of, reading this morning that you’ve got 800,000 Pfizer going to Sydney; around 100,000 to Melbourne; and, and the rest over to Perth – is that accurate?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Yeah, it is. But that’s, that’s really just about the distribution network. So that big number that’s coming into Sydney, they’ll be cleared, then they’ll be divvied up, and they’ll be moved to all the other, all the other, sort, of centres around the country.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

So we’re receiving enough doses now to have Australia free of lockdowns by November?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Well, we’re still on track to have every Australian who wants a vaccine to be able to do so by the end of the year, and we look forward to that, that time. But right now, this million doses a week, with the additional distribution centres that we’re bringing on, additional GPs, we’ll be bringing more pharmacies on now, the combination of the additional supply and the additional distribution centres I hope we’ll see a real acceleration in vaccination rates.

ALLISON LANGDON:      

So when you say a real acceleration in vaccination rates – I mean, we’re sitting at 13 per cent, it’s taken us to get to this point. The million that arrived overnight, how soon until they are all in someone’s arm?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Yeah. They’re- basically they’ll get- there’s a clearance process this week, and then that stuff will start to be distributed next week. So you’ll see a real up tick, up take from next week.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

Okay. What about kids? There’s reports that you’ll be looking to vaccinate children from 12 years of age and older. What’s- how’s that part of your program?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Yeah. Look, right now, the- Pfizer’s only licensed for over 16s. But we- we’ve got to stay focussed on the most vulnerable. So again, it’s those, it’s those cohorts – it’s peoples’ parents and peoples’ grandparents that we need to make sure we get done first. And we’ve got to keep focussed on those frontline workers – the front line health workers, aged care workers, those sorts of people really need to be the priority for now.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

Why haven’t they been vaccinated by now?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Look, there’s a whole series of reasons. Sometimes it’s- there’s personal choice. Sometimes it’s- they just haven’t had the opportunity. But right now we’re focussing on aged care workers in particular. So we’re working a number of options now where aged care workers will be getting vaccination capabilities into their work places. We’re also giving them priority around the country if they go to a GP or to some vaccination clinic, that they will get priority lane, access to Pfizer. So we’re making it as easy as we can now for aged care workers to get priority.

ALLISON LANGDON:      

Yeah. I noted last night on the news they’re talking to an aged care worker in Sydney’s south west who’s been told by the facility where she works not to turn up because it’s outside of that area. At what point will we see people who’ve been vaccinated excluded from any lockdown measures?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Yeah. Well, that’s- the Government’s got a pathway for that. So we will just keep- I’m focussed on getting people vaccinated. So, there’s some modelling being done around what sort of percentage of the population might permit some of those stages in the, in the Government’s plan. So we’ll keep getting people vaccinated and then we’ll let the decisions to be made around how freedoms will be opened up progressively.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

Lieutenant General, that’s the pitch, isn’t it? You know, if you get vaccinated, you’ll have your freedom. Someone said to me over the weekend, well, I’ve been vaccinated, when are my freedoms coming? That’s a legitimate question.

JOHN FREWEN:    

Yeah, absolutely. Now, but vaccination is- there’s a protection to the individual through vaccination and then there’s a protection to community. So, it’s really important that we get as many Australians as we can, fully vaccinated. I’m really pleased so far that Australians seem firmly committed- the vast majority of Australians seem firmly committed to getting vaccinated. But now, over these next months, as I talk about accelerating the program, we’ve got to have Australians keep turning up. So I really implore all Australians to get booked to get in for your first jab; and if you’ve had your first jab, to get that second jab done. Because it’s the fully vaccinated rates, ultimately, that will help us together to get back to those freedoms.

ALLISON LANGDON:      

And that’s interesting what you note there. So you think we have overcome quite a bit of the vaccine hesitancy, perhaps the fact that you’ve got 12 million Australians in lockdown right now has helped that?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Look, we have seen an up-tick in intent to get vaccinated in areas where there are lockdowns. Of course, we don’t ever hope for lockdown situations. But that’s the, that’s the way to manage this Delta variant at the moment, is the combination of, combination of things. There’s lockdowns; there’s testing, tracing, isolation, which are really critical in these situations. And then the vaccination program more broadly just needs to roll on so we can get the majority of Australians fully vaccinated.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

I think they want to see a goal line though, too. You know, if people have been vaccinated and they’ve done the right thing, everything that you’ve asked, they want to know okay, is it 50 per cent of the population that’s vaccinated before we don’t go- have lockdowns again if you’re in construction, if you’re a worker. I mean, these things you need a finish line on, don’t you?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Yeah, absolutely. Well there’s modelling being done now, and that will be presented to the Government for consideration in the- within the next couple of weeks, I understand. And then decisions will be made around some of those sorts of percentages, and then we’ll drive hard at achieving those.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

All right.

ALLISON LANGDON:      

All right. Got a big job on your hand. As I said, it was a nice sight, seeing all of those jabs arrive last night. Thanks for your time this morning, Lieutenant General.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

Just before we go, Lieutenant General, I will not be ever standing in your way. Just to be clear.

ALLISON LANGDON:      

Finally, he said something smart.

JOHN FREWEN:    

Encourage people to get their jabs.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

Okay. Whatever you say, sir.

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