Ambitious plan to vaccinate four million by end of March
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia's first coronavirus vaccinations could commence as soon as mid-February.
The prime minister held a press conference today to outline more details about the multiple vaccines currently under review by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
He said the government aimed to have four million Australians vaccinated by the end of March, with a target to roll out 80,000 vaccinations a week by mid- to late-February.
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The first round of vaccinations will be reserved for the country's most at-risk: hotel quarantine workers and others involved with returned travellers, healthcare workers, aged care and disability workers and their residents.
Health authorities have outlined a five-tier priority list for those to receive vaccination.
Children will be the last to receive the jab, due to being at low risk of serious disease as well as there being insufficient data on the effect of the vaccines in younger age groups.
The five priority tiers are as follows:
- Phase 1a - up to 1.4m doses: Quarantine and border workers, frontline healthcare workers, aged care and disability care staff and residents;
- Phase 1b - up to 14.8m doses: Elderly adults aged over 70, other healthcare workers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged over 55, younger adults with underlying medical conditions, including a disability, high-risk workers including police, fire, defence, emergency services and meat processing;
- Phase 2a- up to 15.8m doses: Adults aged over 50, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged over 18, other critical and high-risk workers;
- Phase 2b- up to 16m doses: Balance of adult population, catch up any unvaccinated Australians from previous phases;
- Phase 3 - up to 16m doses: Children aged under 18, if recommended.
Mr Morrison said the process for approving and delivering the multiple coronavirus vaccines had been accelerated but he could not yet provide exact dates for the rollout.
"It is moving considerably faster than normal vaccination processes would occur in Australia – but without cutting corners, ensuring that everything is ticked that needs to be ticked along the way," he said.
"We believe we will be able to commence vaccinations of high-priority workers in mid- to late-February.
However, this is still pending approval by the TGA and delivery by suppliers.
The Pfizer vaccine is expected to be the first to secure TGA approval – a process which is expected to be complete by the end of January.
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However, following approval it will still take approximately two weeks for vials of the vaccine to arrive in Australia and a further week for test batching to be completed.
"The vaccine is only released post-approval," Mr Morrison said, noting that delivery was a delicate operation for a vaccine that had to be stored below -70C.
Secretary of the federal Health Department, Professor Brendan Murphy, said 'Phase One' of the vaccination program would involve giving healthcare workers and other high-risk groups the Pfizer shots, which will be imported from overseas.
This vaccine is a two-step process, with a second jab needed some weeks after the first.
It's likely each person who receives the vaccine will be digitally registered, so authorities can remind and track those to receive the second dose.
Large-scale vaccination of the general population will then follow using the AstraZeneca vaccine, which will be produced in large quantities onshore.
This will be conducted from more than 1000 'vaccine hubs' around Australia, including specialist centres but also general practitioners and Aboriginal outreach buildings.
The vaccination update comes after it was revealed a cleaner at the Hotel Grand Chancellor in Brisbane tested positive to coronavirus.
The worker, who lives in Algester in Brisbane's south, developed symptoms and was tested on Wednesday.
Despite recent outbreaks in Victoria, NSW and Queensland, the prime minister praised Australia's handling of the pandemic.
"We have been dealing with this pandemic in a very Australian way - Australia has been making its own way through this," he said.
"It's a terrible tragedy that there are countries in the world today who are seeing daily death rates that are higher than Australia's death toll in the past year."
However, he also warned that the vaccination program did not spell the end of the virus in Australia.
"Vaccinations are not a silver bullet," Mr Morrison said.
"COVID-safe practices must continue. This will add a further, significant defence – or rather, an offence. But 2021 will still be a year of battling the virus."