Australia will begin its Covid-19 vaccine rollout on Monday 22 February after 142,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived on Monday the 15th.
“The eagle has landed,” declared the health minister, Greg Hunt, ending weeks of doubt as to whether supply delays could blow out the government’s timeline to begin vaccinations in late February.
Of the first Pfizer shipment, 62,000 doses will be set aside as second doses in case of supply interruptions.
Of the first 80,000 doses available, 30,000 will be administered by the federal government in aged care, with the remaining 50,000 to be administered by state and territory governments to hotel quarantine and other frontline workers.
The first 1.4 million vaccine recipients will be quarantine and border workers, frontline healthcare workers, aged care and disability staff and residents – who will be given either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines.
At a press conference alongside Australia’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, Hunt announced the vaccine rollout would begin with 60,000 Pfizer doses administered in the week beginning on 22 February.
States and territories had been allocated doses based on their proportion of the highest priority group, Hunt said, while recipients in aged care would be “a mix in the first week of rural and urban, every state, every territory”.
Hunt said Australia’s rollout was still on track to administer 4m doses by April.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration approval of the Astra Zeneca vaccine is expected this week, and the first doses were manufactured in Australia by CSL on Monday.
Australia would receive a delivery of 2m doses of that vaccine by the end of March and produce 1m doses a week locally by late March, Hunt said.
Before Christmas, the Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, called on the government to bring forward the vaccine rollout. In early January the government announced it was accelarating the process but then it reverted to its original timeline of late February or early March amid to global supply constraints.
Kelly has repeatedly defended the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine after reports that its efficacy can be as low as 62% to 70% in some studies.
Given its centrality to Australia’s vaccination program, Kelly has stressed it prevented hospital admissions and death, although it may not prevent every recipient contracting Covid-19.
On Monday Kelly said if it were approved he would be happy to take the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“If I was to take one or other, it would be to demonstrate my faith in both of them and they’re equal,” he told reporters in Canberra.
Hunt said the prime minister, Scott Morrison, would receive the Pfizer vaccine, while he and the health department secretary, Brendan Murphy, would receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Earlier on Monday, the shadow health minister, Mark Butler, questioned whether Australia was ready for the vaccine rollout, suggesting states hadn’t yet been told how many doses they would receive.
He also cited apparent confusion between Hunt and the New South Wales health minister, Brad Hazzard, about who is responsible for the rollout. Hunt responded on Sunday, saying it was a “partnership”.
On Monday he added that the states and territories were “magnificently” prepared and knew how many doses they would receive.
Butler said although there was “community interest in difference efficacy rate” he was happy to receive either vaccine. He questioned why Australia didn’t have supply deals for more vaccine candidates, including the Moderna version.
After the first priority group, the next group to be vaccinated will be adults aged over 70, healthcare workers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over 55, younger adults with underlying medical conditions, emergency services and meat processing workers.
The next three groups are: adults aged 50 to 69 and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 18 to 54; the rest of the adult population; and, lastly, children under 16 if appropriate.