The federal task force charged with delivering the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has set an ambitious target: that every eligible and willing Australian is vaccinated by the end of 2021.
CAPTION: Coordinator General of Operation COVID Shield Lieutenant General John Frewen sits in his office at the Department of Health’s Scarborough House, Canberra. Story and photo by Sergeant Sebastian Beurich.
That’s the plan of Coordinator General of Operation COVID Shield Lieutenant General John Frewen, who was appointed to the position in June.
Lieutenant General Frewen and his team of military planners are supplementing Health Department staff with their proven understanding of large-scale logistics and contingency planning.
Appointed with three key priorities – improving optimisation and coordination of the rollout, building public confidence and ensuring a safe and efficient rollout – Lieutenant General Frewen said the team was pushing the limits of its plan to find potential points of failure.
“I’ve set the team an ambitious goal, which far exceeds the minimum. By giving them that, we’re stress-testing and validating the current model,” he said.
“In a few weeks, you’re going to start seeing ad campaigns to motivate people who are now eligible.”
Into August and September, there will be additional places to get the vaccine. By October through December, Lieutenant General Frewen said he would use every possible means of getting the bookings completed.
“We want to inspire the nation to get it done this year – get it done in 21,” Lieutenant General Frewen said.
He said the team was fully engaged with the Health Department public servants and contractors who had been “living the rollout” to ensure it was optimised and where it could be accelerated, using the military appreciation process.
Lieutenant General Frewen said military planning and understanding of large-scale logistics was essential to achieving his goal, because there was no “one-size-fits-all approach” to getting vaccines into “every corner of our vast land”.
The rollout would be underpinned by increased transparency, including supply projections, stock-holding figures and demographic statistics, which the government intends to make public soon.
Lieutenant General Frewen said it would help build confidence and enthusiasm in the vaccination program, allowing Australians to “get back on with their livelihoods” and the freedoms they enjoy.
Communicating the program to Australians, along with stakeholder engagement, was one of the responsibilities that came with Lieutenant General Frewen’s appointment by the Prime Minister.
“We’re finishing the initial stages of the information campaign, with the campaign moving into a ‘rallying and inspiring’ phase,” Lieutenant General Frewen said.
Although fronting cameras at press conferences is not Lieutenant General Frewen’s “preferred environment”, he recognised the need to be able to reach directly into people’s homes, and that the sight of a uniform may be reassuring.
He said like with Operation Sovereign Borders, which was led by now-Chief of the Defence Force General Angus Campbell, the Prime Minister recognised the “cut-through” a military operationalised model could achieve.
“I think the PM’s view is that the military approaches problems and speaks to the nation from a position of complete neutrality. We just want to get the problem fixed, no matter what it is,” Lieutenant General Frewen said.
“Being in front of a camera is an opportunity – just one that some of us are less familiar with, but I think I’m about to become very familiar with over the weeks ahead.”
Lieutenant General Frewen is also using the opportunity to increase Australia’s support to its Pacific neighbours, providing vaccines as availability permits.
He said while the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation recommended the Pfizer vaccine for those under 60, they also said AstraZeneca should be considered in high-COVID threat environments where other vaccines weren’t available.
“Many of our Pacific partners have a high-risk profile for COVID right now,” he said.
“So I want to make sure that our close and dear friends throughout the Pacific are being given every possible access to these essential vaccines as quickly as we can.”