Australia will begin inoculating people for COVID-19 next month under a fast-tracked plan aimed at vaccinating 4 million people by the end of March.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia’s medicines regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), was on track to register a COVID-19 vaccine produced by American multinational Pfizer by the end of January, subject to final data analysis.
The first doses will then be shipped Down Under over a two-week period before federal, state and territory officials begin ‘phase one’ of a five-stage rollout plan for the vaccine, which will reserve doses for frontline health workers, those staffing quarantine facilities and residents of aged care.
A handful of federal politicians, including Morrison, will receive the vaccine during phase one in an attempt to bolster public confidence.
Under the plan there will be an initial target of 80,000 vaccinations a week, building gradually to a target of 4 million Australians within the next 83 days. Last year, Health Minister Greg Hunt said the government wanted to vaccinate more than 16 million people in 2021.
The federal government has come under pressure to get moving with the vaccine amid a resurgence of coronavirus cases in NSW, Victoria and Queensland over the holiday period.
Morrison said the government’s priority was to ‘set cautious targets’, but that cabinet had been ‘working the system’ to expedite the time frame.
“There have been no delays in the introduction of the vaccine in Australia,” Morrison said.
“It is happening considerably faster [than normal] … but without skipping a step, without cutting a corner.”
Australia has not pursued so-called ’emergency vaccine arrangements’ because the local coronavirus caseload remains relatively low, Morrison said.
Morrison expects the first jabs to begin in mid-February and will discuss the creation of nationally consistent standards for administering vaccines at a forthcoming national cabinet meeting tomorrow.
Australia hopes to approve its second COVID-19 vaccine, produced by Oxford University and pharmaceutical company Astra Zeneca, during February.
At first, vaccinations will be available through 30–50 hospitals across the country, and within residential aged care and disability care facilities.
States and territories are expected to advise the federal government on the inoculation of quarantine and border workers, while — as has been previously reported — general practitioners will later be brought to assist with vaccinations for the broader population.
Each recipient will receive two doses of the vaccine, the process will begin with an initial screening phase, before a first jab and provision of follow-up information for a second round. A national data system will track the process.
Morrison also warned vaccinations would not bring an end to COVIDSafe practices.
“Vaccination is not a silver bullet,” he said.
“Once the vaccination starts, COVIDSafe practices do not end, they continue … [they] will be a 2021 lived experience.”