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General Lieutenant JJ Frewen

Workplace COVID jabs on the agenda as business is brought into vaccination effort

Major companies and business groups are being brought into the rollout effort to speed up the rate of vaccination, opening the way potentially for workplace jabs later in the year.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and the rollout’s supremo, Lieutenant General “JJ” Frewen on Wednesday will hold a virtual roundtable with business representatives to identify both the opportunities and barriers for business and industry to support and participate in the program.

Frewen, who held a “wargaming” session with the states and territories on Tuesday, said workplaces were used to vaccinating their workforce against flu and this was “another efficiency in the program potentially”.

It would take the burden off both the primary healthcare system and the state mechanisms, he told a news conference. “It’s just another way of helping accelerate the program.”

But he indicated workplace vaccinations would not be until “around September and October, when we have greater access to the vaccines”. At present Pfizer is in short supply and Moderna is not yet available, leaving only AstraZenena, which is recommended for the over 60s, not those younger.

Frewen also said Wednesday’s meeting would discuss incentives to encourage people to get vaccinated, although he thought these would be more appropriate later.

“For now there is a lot of interest from the community about getting vaccinated. I think right now the incentivisation isn’t as necessary.” He said incentives fell into two categories – policy and “handouts”.

Asked when the Pfizer vaccine would be generally available for people under 40, Frewen said this was a supply issue. If the vaccine supplies were as forecast, more choice might be available for this group from September-October.

Scott Morrison has encouraged the under 40s to talk with their doctors about taking AstraZeneca on a basis of informed consent.

At Tuesday’s meeting, smaller jurisdictions were worried about having sufficient workforces for the vaccination task when the program entered its top speed towards the end of the year. Queensland was concerned it could be hit by weather conditions at that time.

The government says the business roundtable will seek agreement to:

  • establish a framework for business to engage with the program, including partnerships to encourage workforces and communities to get vaccinated

  • produce sector-specific strategies to engage with industry, with particular focus on regional areas

  • develop “business tailored communications programs to ensure consistent messaging” and

  • agree to a “national business partnership wargaming session”, being held in the next fortnight.

Among the companies participating will be Coles, Woolworths, the major banks, Qantas and and Virgin, Telstra, Optus, Deloitte, KPMG, Ernst and Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Melbourne Airport.

The groups range from the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Hotels Association to the National Farmers’ Federation and the Minerals Council.

Frydenberg said: “Throughout the pandemic we have partnered with the business community and we are looking to do so again to roll out the vaccine in a safe and efficient manner.”

“As we move our focus from suppression to living with the virus in line with the roadmap set out by National Cabinet, our largest employers will play an important role in supporting Lieutenant General Frewen roll out the vaccine.”

The initiative with business comes as the Australian Grand Prix has been cancelled for the second year running, with the Victorian government laying blame on the slow rollout.

Victorian Sports Minister Martin Pakula said: “Until we get much higher vaccination rates we cannot return to normal settings”.

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