Sydney, 7 January 2021 (dpa/MIA) — Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday said the country’s coronavirus vaccine roll-out should begin in “mid to late February” for high priority groups.
The premier said that the February start date was conditional on a number of factors including approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and the delivery of the vaccine from suppliers.
He said that the TGA was expected to approve the vaccine developed by US pharma giant Pfizer by the end of January. The jabs should then become available for “high priority groups” a couple of weeks later.
The approval process for the vaccine developed jointly by AstraZeneca and Oxford University is expected to be completed in February.
“It is moving considerably faster than normal vaccination approval processes … but without skipping a step, without cutting a corner,” the prime minister told reporters in Canberra in a televised address.
Morrison said the vaccine will be rolled out in five phases, starting with the inoculation of quarantine and border workers, front line health officials and people in aged or disability care, as well as individuals working in care.
“[The] first two phases will provide the most necessary ring of containment and protection for the Australian population,” Morrison said, adding that the government’s target was to start by vaccinating about 80,000 people a week and reach some 4 million people by the end of March.
Australia, a nation of around 25 million people, has recorded around 28,500 coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic – a significantly lower per capita rate than most developed countries. The national death toll currently stands at 909.
After the coronavirus all but disappeared from Australia for about seven weeks, an outbreak in north Sydney before Christmas brought back restrictions in New South Wales and travel bans.
The state, which has recorded no local transmissions for two consecutive days, is currently treating 114 Covid-19 cases, none of whom are in intensive care units. Overall since January 2020 NSW has recorded 4,795 cases and 56 deaths.
Australia has taken a strict lockdown approach, alongside a system of rigorous testing and tracing to contain the virus.