First vaccinations expected in early March

Paul Osborne
(Australian Associated Press)

 

Australia will be among the first countries to conditionally approve the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19, following a decision to bring forward the rollout to early March.

The Morrison government had previously set a target date of late March for the first vaccinations but has now received fresh advice early March is achievable.

“As data and regulatory guidance have been provided we have progressively been able to bring forward our provisional rollout from mid-year to the second quarter to late March and now early March,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Wednesday.

He said comparable countries with strong records on dealing with the virus – such as New Zealand, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan – were all on similar time frames for the rollout.

Setting October as a target for broad community vaccination, Mr Hunt said the first round would include frontline workers such as those involved in hotel quarantine and border control, as well as health workers and aged care residents.

“It’s a very common-sense approach – you simply follow the vulnerability and the risk of either transmission or the consequence of infection,” he said.

Pfizer is working with the Therapeutic Goods Administration, providing data for safety and efficacy as part of the approval process.

It is one of four vaccines the Australian government has purchased for a total projected supply of 134.8 million units.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said he was glad the government was shifting its position on the vaccine timetable.

“They said that was impossible a couple of days ago – so this shows once again a government that follows, doesn’t lead,” he told reporters in Sydney.

“The fact is that once the TGA approves the vaccine, it should be available and should be rolled out.”

The UK has been inoculating people with the Pfizer vaccine on an emergency basis for the past four weeks and on Monday became the first country in the world to start deploying the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which is also subject to an order from Australia.

The Pfizer vaccine is harder to manage than the AstraZeneca jab because it must be stored and transported at minus 70 degrees Celsius, while the latter can be kept in a refrigerator.

Agreements are also in place with the COVAX and Novavax vaccine programs.

Victoria is embarking on a “needle in the haystack” search for the source of a mystery coronavirus case who attended the Boxing Day sales and day two of the MCG Test.

The COVID-positive man in his 30s is understood not to have been infectious during his visits to the Chadstone Shopping Centre on December 26 and the MCG on December 27 for the Australia-India Boxing Day Test.

NSW has recorded four new locally acquired coronavirus cases.

One, a man in his 30s from western Sydney, is still under investigation and has no direct links to the Berala cluster which now totals 16.

With Qantas opening international flight bookings for mid-year, Mr Hunt he could not give specific time frames on travel restrictions being lifted.

Queensland’s first quarantine-free flight from Auckland is set to touch down in Brisbane on Thursday.

Passengers on the Air New Zealand flight will need to complete a declaration form stating they have been in NZ for the preceding 14 days.

Overseas, the head of the World Health Organisation is disappointed Chinese officials haven’t finalised permissions for the arrival of a team of experts into China to examine origins of COVID-19.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said members of the international scientific team had begun departing from their home countries as part of an arrangement between the WHO and the Chinese government.

Mr Albanese said it was “unacceptable” the investigation could not begin.

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