Australians could be receiving COVID-19 vaccines in workplaces as soon as September or October, under a dramatic expansion of the national rollout being planned with business leaders.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and rollout commander Lieutenant-General John Frewen will hold talks with corporate bosses on Wednesday, asking major employers and business groups for assistance and advice to accelerate the sluggish national effort.
The Business Council of Australia, Australian Industry Group, Qantas, Virgin, the Insurance Council and Master Builders Association are among participants, with NAB chief executive Ross McEwan and CBA boss Matt Comyn also taking part.
Lieutenant-General Frewen said the government could look to leverage experience and infrastructure used in annual corporate flu vaccinations to distribute the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.
Policy settings to support the rollout and incentives for slow movers and the vaccine hesitant could be considered for later in the year.
Any move to administer jabs in workplaces would coincide with a boost in supply of overseas-made Pfizer, expected in the late stages of 2021.
“They’re used to vaccinating their workforce, it’s another efficiency in the program, potentially,” Lieutenant-General Frewen said.
“It also takes the burden off both the primary healthcare system and some of the state mechanisms, if necessary. It’s just another way to help accelerate the program and using another workforce that’s out there, that may be training up of the workforce that currently does flu vaccinations.”
Pop-up vaccination centres
Lieutenant-General Frewen said he would release a plan for the reset rollout for consultation with the states and territories after Wednesday’s business meeting and a “war gaming” exercise held on Tuesday.
State health authorities agreed to improve reporting of the rollout progress and discussed ways to redistribute vaccine allocations in different pandemic scenarios.
Businesses will join additional planning sessions in the next fortnight. Supermarket giant Woolworths has told the Morrison government seven of its large warehouses and 35 shopping centres around the country could be used for pop-up vaccination centres.
Business Council members … help roll out the flu vaccine every year, so why not use that expertise to speed up the COVID vaccine rollout?
— Jennifer Westacott, BCA chief executive
Local supermarket carparks are not likely to have enough space, but some in regional areas could be more suitable.
Woolworths’ head of COVID-19 response, Ross Spencer, said the company wanted to play a proactive role for its staff and the wider community.
“As Australia’s largest private employer, we’ve rolled out flu vaccinations to our workforce over many years with specialist health providers,” he said.
“We’d welcome the opportunity to do the same with the COVID vaccine, particularly for our frontline teams providing an essential service to Australian communities.”
Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott said employers wanted to help the vaccination rollout and speed up the economic recovery.
“As national cabinet puts in place targets and timelines, we have to make sure we’re getting people protected quickly and that our system is ready to go into overdrive when new vaccine supply is available,” she said.
“For example, Business Council members alone employ more than a million people and help roll out the flu vaccine every year, so why not use that expertise to speed up the COVID vaccine rollout?”
Canberra Airport boss Stephen Byron has called for the ACT to be removed from remaining travel restrictions put in place by South Australia and Victoria, after the capital was linked to NSW.
There are no COVID-19 cases in the ACT, and Mr Byron said travel from Sydney had been significantly restricted since the current outbreak began.
The rollout passed 8.4 million doses on Tuesday, an increase of more than 146,700 doses in 24 hours.
More than 31 per cent of the eligible population above 16 has had at least one dose, and 9.43 per cent are fully vaccinated with two doses.
Mr Frydenberg said the government would work with business for a safe and effective rollout.
“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.”