Following the arrival of the first shipment of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine in Sydney, aged-care residents, nurses, doctors, disabled support residents and hotel quarantine workers have received a vaccine in Castle Hill, New South Wales (NSW), on 21 February. The initial recipients of the vaccine were joined by personnel from the Australian Defence Force and Australian Border Force, alongside Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer and the Prime Minister in getting vaccinated. This marked the official launch of the COVID-19 vaccination program, prior to the formal national rollout of the vaccine across Australia on 22 February 2021.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the vaccination program has launched Australia down the path out of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, adding that every Australian will be given the opportunity to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, free of charge. “Our first priority is to protect our most vulnerable Australians and the frontline workers who are protecting all of us, and getting vaccinated does just that,” Prime Minister Morrison said. “As we roll out the COVID-19 vaccines across the country, we will be asking as many Australians as possible to come forward to be vaccinated, to protect themselves, their families and their communities from this highly infectious disease.”
Of the 142,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, approximately 80,000 doses will be released in the first week. People living and working in aged care and disability care, and quarantine, border and frontline health workers, will receive the COVID-19 vaccine first. Aged-care resident Jane Malysiak, 84, from Marayong, NSW, was the first person in Australia to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
The Australian Government has devised a comprehensive plan to offer COVID-19 vaccine doses to all Australians by the end of October 2021. The plan began on Monday, 22 February 2021 with approximately 60,000 Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine doses administered to priority populations. Under the Australian Government’s plan, quarantine and border workers and aged-care residents are on track to be vaccinated by April 2021. The Commonwealth vaccine in-reach workforce to aged-care and disability-care residents will receive approximately 30,000 vaccines.
The Pfizer vaccine will be delivered through hospital ‘hubs’ across Australia, and in residential aged-care and disability-care facilities. It is anticipated that of these, at least 60,000 will be administered by the end of February, with others to be continually administered thereafter. “While we’re taking the time to get the rollout right,” Prime Minister Morrison said, “I am confident all Australians who wish to be vaccinated against COVID-19 will receive a vaccine this year.”
Subject to Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approval and shipping confirmation of the international AstraZeneca vaccine, it is expected that numbers will double from early March. Phase 1a remains on track for first round doses to be administered within a six-week period. Approximately 60,000 vaccines will be provided, to ensure consistent supply and sufficient stock for second doses. Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines require two separate doses for a person to be fully immunised — Pfizer/BioNTech 21 days apart and AstraZeneca 12 weeks apart.
Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt said the vaccines are being prioritised so those most at risk, and those most vulnerable, can get access first. “The Australian Government has given clear advice on the phases showing who will have access when,” Hunt said. Pending TGA approval, the government has also secured 53.8 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses and 51 million doses of the Novavax vaccine; each will be enough to vaccinate every Australian who chooses to be vaccinated in 2021.
The COVID-19 vaccine rollout will begin with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and will include the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine from March 2021. Over 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine ordered by the federal government will be manufactured in Melbourne. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be administered through hub and hospital vaccination clinics in each state and territory, and in aged-care and disability facilities across the country. The number of hospital-based vaccination clinics will increase as more doses of the approved vaccines arrive in Australia. Vaccination teams will also go into aged-care facilities to deliver the vaccines onsite.
People will initially get the AstraZeneca vaccine at GP respiratory clinics, general practices that meet specific requirements, Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Services and state-run vaccination clinics. DHL will support the distribution of the Pfizer vaccine across Australia, with a network of 200 ultra-low-temperature portable freezers. This will ensure access to the Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be stored at -70°C, for Australians across the country, including in remote and rural areas.
The Australian Government has released a simple eligibility checker that lets users answer a few questions and find out the phase in which they will be able to access vaccines. The eligibility checker together with the latest information on Australia’s whole-of-government response to COVID-19 is available at www.australia.gov.au.