Australians will receive a COVID-19 vaccine two weeks earlier than thought after the Health Minister revealed the government’s rollout schedule.
Greg Hunt has confirmed to NCA NewsWire that a coronavirus vaccine would be administered in early March, having previously aimed to begin the rollout at the end of that month.
Mr Hunt said Australians would first receive the Pfizer vaccine, already administered in Europe and the US.
Australia will receive up to 80,000 doses every week from later this month once the vaccine has been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
Approval is expected later this month, with the AstraZeneca vaccine also likely to be given the green light in late March.
Mr Hunt said the government would continue to be guided by medical advice.
“As data and regulatory guidance have been provided, we have progressively been able to bring forward our provisional rollout from mid-year to the second quarter to late March and now early March,” he said.
“Our number one priority is safety. Public confidence in safety reduces vaccine hesitancy.
“We will continue to follow the safety and medical advice and will update our plans where new evidence or advice is available.”
The elderly and aged care workers, along with hotel quarantine and border workers, will be prioritised in the first phase of the rollout.
The rollout is expected to be completed by the end of October.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese has accused the government of dragging its feet on the vaccine, criticising the lag between its approval and rollout.
He said pressure from the Labor Party had forced the government to change its course.
“They said (it) wasn’t possible a couple of days ago. This shows once again a government that follows (but) doesn’t lead,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
“Once the TGA approves a vaccine, it should be available and should be rolled out. It’s a very simple principle that Labor has put forward … if you have confidence in those processes, then once it’s approved it should be rolled out.
“Scott Morrison said we’re at the head of the queue. We’re way behind the rest of the world when it comes to rolling out a vaccine.”
Mr Hunt tweeted in September a vaccine would be “available progressively throughout 2021 in Australia commencing in January, if promising trials prove successful”.
Labor frontbencher Ed Husic said the tweet undermined Mr Hunt’s claim the vaccine was ahead of schedule.
“The government is very good at the spin in suggesting that it’ll be two weeks earlier,” he told Sky News.
“The government has consistently made announcement and failed to deliver, and they really cannot, on something as sensitive and important, be seen to be misleading the public.
“That’s what I’m genuinely concerned about: that they’ve made claims that we get access to these vaccines sooner.”
No nation has given a COVID-19 vaccine full approval, but emergency approval has been granted by various countries. The World Health Organisation has also listed the Pfizer vaccine for emergency approval.
More than 1.3 million Britons have received either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca jab, including nearly a quarter of the country’s population over 80.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he hoped to have all Britons deemed a priority inoculated by February 15, weeks before any vaccine is administered in Australia.
But Scott Morrison stressed the situation in Australia is not dire enough to warrant taking a shortcut on safety.
He claimed Mr Albanese had turned down a briefing on vaccines in December.
“We just don’t tick it off and then take a wild guess at what we then put in people’s arms,” the Prime Minister told 2GB Radio on Tuesday.
“We’ve got to get it safe and we’ve got to get it right. We’re not in a situation like the UK, they had 58,000 cases yesterday.
“They’re in a position where they have to do emergency vaccine vaccinations in those places. In Australia that’s not our situation, so we can’t cut corners on the vaccine.”
But Mr Albanese accused the government of deliberately misrepresenting Labor’s position for political purposes.
“They should be listening to what we’re saying rather than playing the usual game, that Scott Morrison is the expert at, of verballing the opposition and then opposing things that no one is advocating,” he said.
“No one is advocating short-circuiting the TGA processes. What we’re saying is that once approval is given, the rollout should happen.”