Big banks, large mining companies and other private businesses will be asked to vaccinate their staff later in the year as the new COVID-19 vaccine taskforce commander works to speed up the rollout.
The Commonwealth will also start providing more detailed data on vaccination numbers this week as Lieutenant-General John Frewen reshapes the beleaguered national rollout strategy.
“It’s not about ripping it apart and rebuilding it, it’s about optimising it to make it go faster,” the Lieutenant-General told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Five months into the national vaccination program more than 7.5 million doses have been administered across the country, and about 1.47 million people are now fully vaccinated. But Australia lags behind other developed countries in vaccination rates and state leaders say supplies are too low to meet demand.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the country remained watchful as the epidemic continued to spread, with 25 cases confirmed across four jurisdictions.
“We are obviously on high alert,” he said.
Millions of Australians are now in lockdown as the list of states and territories with strict stay-home restrictions grew to four.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced a snap three-day lockdown on Tuesday morning for parts of the state after Queensland recorded two new cases. The Northern Territory’s lockdown has also been extended until Friday after two new cases took the gold mine cluster to seven.
West Australian Premier Mark McGowan announced a four-day lockdown late on Monday evening with three cases of the Delta variant detected in Perth since Sunday, while NSW recorded 19 new cases as lockdown continues.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said Delta outbreaks could not be managed without significant restrictions.
“Locking some people out is better than locking everyone down – we need a national approach to how we manage this new threat until we achieve proper vaccine coverage,” he said.
Lieutenant-General Frewen was brought in three weeks ago by the Prime Minister to oversee the vaccine rollout. He’s started working with states and territories on a concrete immunisation plan for the rest of the year now they know how many vaccines to expect over the rest of the year.
So far state hospital hubs, Commonwealth-run respiratory clinics and GPs are administering vaccines but the Lieutenant-General said the private sector will also be brought on board.
“I know across business, there are sectors who would be keen to do that themselves; they’re currently not empowered to do that,” he said.
“The mining sector, banks … lots of them are saying, ‘let us get on with it and we’ll get out of the way of the public health system’.”
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Tuesday said the state government was also exploring the possibility of large businesses providing vaccines for workers on site.
“What we do know is if all the doses we’ve been promised are going to arrive we need more points of access for our citizens to make sure people get those jabs in arms,” said Ms Berejiklian.
“That’s why it’s important to have all GPs we can online … and to look at other opportunities, whether it’s our pharmacy network and also potentially corporates and large businesses that may be able to do vaccines onsite. I’ve made these points very clearly in national cabinet behind closed doors.”
Business Council of Australia chief executive officer Jennifer Westacott said major businesses already vaccinate staff for influenza, and they were in a good position to vaccinate their staff against the coronavirus.
“There’s a lot of preparatory work that can be done now so that when we have the vaccine we can go really hard,” she said.
Lieutenant-General Frewen said his team was also looking at how the private sector can help shape incentives around immunisation.
“I think we potentially need to go there,” he said.
“My job is now to get the vaccination done, and I’m intent on doing it as fast as we can and in convincing as many Australians as possible to get it done.”