First COVID-19 vaccines arrive in Australia

The PM says plans are on track for the country’s most vulnerable to start receiving the vaccine from next Monday

More than 142,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine have arrived at Sydney airport, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt announced in a joint release on Monday.

The vaccine was provisionally approved for use in Australia by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in January. This is the first shipment of 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine the Federal Government has secured as part of Australia’s COVID-19 Vaccine and Treatment Strategy.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the country is on track for the first and most vulnerable Australians to start receiving the vaccine from next Monday 22 February.

“The vaccine has landed and we’re stepping up our fight against the pandemic,” said Mr Morrison.

“Once the final safety checks are completed, we can start rolling out the vaccine to our most vulnerable Australians and to our frontline border and health workers.

“While we’re taking the time to get the rollout right, I am confident all Australians who wish to be vaccinated against COVID-19 will receive a vaccine this year,” he said.

Minister Hunt explained the TGA will now be working to ensure that the numbers of vaccines are correct and that there have not been any inflight actions that damage quality, such as a loss of temperature.

“They’ll look to see that all of the vials are intact and haven’t had seals broken. And they will also do batch testing as part of that. Some of that has been done in Europe; additional tests will be done here in Australia,” he said.

Our number one priority is safety, safety, safety.—Health Minister Greg Hunt

The Government’s priority is safety, said Minister Hunt.

“And the reason why is firstly, to protect Australians, but secondly, very, very importantly, we know from all of the research that what Australians want to know is that safety has been prioritised above all else.

“If confidence increases there’s an increase in uptake. And if there’s an increase in uptake, that helps with coverage and, ultimately, that’s what best protects individuals Australians, but all Australians collectively.”

In the first week, approximately 80,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine are expected to be released. This includes 50,000 vaccines across states and territories for hotel quarantine and border workers and frontline healthcare workers, and 30,000 to aged care and disability care residents and workers.

Of these, it is expected that the majority will be administered by the end of February with others to be continually administered thereafter.

Meanwhile approximately 60,000 vaccines will be provisioned to ensure sufficient stock for second doses, which will be administered at 21 days after the first dose.

Pending TGA approval, the Government has also secured 53.8 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses and 51 million doses of the Novavax vaccine.

Subject to approval and shipping confirmation of the AstraZeneca vaccine, it is expected the numbers of available COVID-19 vaccines for Australians will double from early March.

Phase 1a remains on track for first-round doses to be delivered within a six-week period. The Pfizer vaccine will be delivered through hospital ‘hubs’ across Australia, and in residential aged care and disability care facilities.

A limited number of pharmacists are expected to be utilised during Phase 1a and 1b to administer the COVID-19 vaccine in some state and territory vaccination clinics, in aged care, and potentially within GP-led clinics, PSA national president Chris Freeman recently suggested.

Community pharmacies have already been invited to submit an expression of interest to participate in the delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine to priority populations from Phase 2a onwards of the national rollout strategy, planned to commence from May 2021.

Logistics company DHL has been engaged to distribute of the Pfizer vaccine across Australia.

DHL will use a network of 200 ultra-low temperature portable freezers to transport the Pfizer vaccine – which needs to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celcius – across the country, including to Australians living in rural and remote areas.

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