The rollout of a coronavirus vaccine in Australia will be brought forward to next month, with the Prime Minister saying the first groups are expected to receive a jab in mid-to-late-February.
Scott Morrison said the first groups to receive the vaccine would be workers dealing with international arrivals and quarantine, frontline health workers, aged care and disability workers and those living in aged care or with a disability.
“We anticipate, optimistically, that we would hope to start the vaccination with 80,000 people a week,” he said.
But Morrison stressed it was a “target” and that the goal was to have 4 million people vaccinated by the end of March.
“This will of course remain conditional on a number of important factors, most importantly that final [Therapeutic Goods Administration] approval and the delivery of the vaccine from our suppliers,” he said.
The announcement comes a day after the government confirmed it was bringing the rollout forward by two weeks from the original planned date to mid-March.
Pfizer vaccine first to be offered
The first vaccine to be rolled out will be from Pfizer-BioNTech, which Morrison said the government hoped would be approved by the end of January.
The government has purchased 10m doses of the vaccine – enough to inoculate 5m people – which has to be imported and stored at -70 degrees Celsius.
“[For] the AstraZeneca [vaccine] we expect that process to be completed in February, but can’t give you a closer timetable at the moment than that,” he said.
Morrison said the government did not want to announce changes to the rollout unless it was confident it would then go to schedule.
“We don’t want to make promises we can’t keep,” he said.
“Our practice has been to set out cautious targets.”
Department of Health Secretary and former chief health officer Brendan Murphy said the vaccination rollout would be “ramped up” after that.
There will be five phases of priority groups that will determine the order of who is vaccinated, starting with those most vulnerable or in positions where they may be exposed to the virus.
Professor Murphy said the last group health authorities would consider vaccinating was children.