The first 80,000 doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine will arrive in Australia before the end of this week, while the AstraZeneca version is expected to be given the tick of approval by health authorities here in the next few days.
“I can confirm that the (Pfizer) vaccine is on track to commence first jabs in late February, Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters in Canberra on Sunday.
But Mr Hunt was reluctant to give exact details of the vaccine arrival for security reasons in what he described as a “highly competitive global world”.
Even so, shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers is concerned that Australia is languishing in rolling out the program, which is creating uncertainty in communities and the economy more broadly.
He said some 90 countries have their vaccinations program under way.
“After the prime minister said we were at the front of the queue 160 million people have been vaccinated around the world, while zero Australians have been vaccinated,” Dr Chalmers told Sky News’ Sunday Agenda program.
Border workers, those in aged care and their carers will be among the first to get the vaccine.
Of the two new cases reported out of Victoria on Sunday, which is enduring the second day of a snap five-day lockdown, Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said this showed the thoroughness of the Victorian response.
“It is reassuring they have been found very quickly and they are the only two so far who have tested positive,” Prof Kelly told reporters.
11 freezers at minus 70 degrees ready to hold the Pfizer vaccine shipments when they arrive in Australia. DHL which runs this facility in Western Sydney has asked us not to disclose the exact location #auspol pic.twitter.com/ZDrxSPFvik
— Daniel Sutton (@danielsutton10) February 14, 2021
Victoria reported a third case of someone already hotel quarantine.
However, Prof Kelly said he and his colleagues are monitoring a situation in New Zealand where three members of a South Auckland family have attracted COVID-19.
“At this stage there will be no change to the green zone flights coming from New Zealand, we feel at the moment that the risk is very low.” Prof Kelly said.
Separately, Mr Hunt said it is critical that communications around the vaccine program are targeted for culturally, ethnically, and linguistically diverse communities.
“The government recognises that people from multicultural communities are a significant part of the health, aged care, child care and disability workforce and will be among the first people in Australia to receive vaccinations,” he said.
Meanwhile, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said he had asked his health experts to do a risk assessment of the “fast-moving” disease, which would form his position in a national discussion about hotel quarantine and when the vaccine is rolled out.
The Morrison government remains in continuing discussions with the Northern Territory to expand the Howard Springs quarantine facility, having already increased its capacity to 850.
Asked what number he wanted to see the facility expanded to, Mr Hunt said: “A safe number.”
Dr Chalmers said it has been obvious for sometime that an expansion of federal facilities like this was needed.
“It hasn’t come soon enough to prevent those 40,000 Australians overseas, despite the prime minister’s promise to get people home by Christmas,” he said.
NSW recorded its 28th consecutive day without a locally-acquired infection, the longest run since the pandemic began. There were no new locally-acquired cases reported out of Queensland or South Australia either.
The SA government has responded to its own cluster following a quarantine leak late last year by opening a new facility for overseas travellers and locals who test positive.
“It delivers what we believe is the best model in Australia for the management of COVID-positive people,” Health Minister Stephen Wade said.