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No delays to coronavirus vaccine: PM

Vulnerable Australians, healthcare and quarantine workers are expected to get access to a free coronavirus jab as early as February.Scott Morrison unveiled the new immunisation timeline on Thursday as both NSW and Victoria recorded no new locally acquired cases.The Prime Minister moved to allay concerns that Australia was being left behind countries giving emergency approval…

Vulnerable Australians, healthcare and quarantine workers are expected to get access to a free coronavirus jab as early as February.

Scott Morrison unveiled the new immunisation timeline on Thursday as both NSW and Victoria recorded no new locally acquired cases.

The Prime Minister moved to allay concerns that Australia was being left behind countries giving emergency approval to curb the rapid spread of COVID-19.

“There have been no delays in the introduction of the vaccine in Australia,” Mr Morrison said.

“After considerable effort, including with our vaccine suppliers, we are now in a position where we believe we’ll be able to commence vaccinations of high priority groups in mid to late February.”

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However, this will be subject to approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which is expected to give the Pfizer vaccine the green light at the end of January. The doses will then be imported two weeks later.

Authorities then expect the AstraZeneca vaccine approval process to be completed in February.

Aged care and disability care residents and staff, frontline health workers along with quarantine and border staff will be among those first to get the jab at 30-50 vaccine hubs that will be established at hospitals across Australia.

Mr Morrison said authorities anticipated that Australia would start the rollout with around 80,000 vaccinations a week.

“We hope to … by the end of March, I should say, to reach some four million population,” he said.

The Prime Minister and Health Minister Greg Hunt have also committed to having their jabs televised to “show public confidence”.

Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy outlined the five-step national rollout strategy where about one in four Australians will have access to the vaccine in the first phase.

After priority groups have received the jab, elderly Australians aged 70 and over, other healthcare workers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged over 55 will also be encouraged to get immunised.

Younger adults with an underlying medical condition, including those with a disability, critical and high-risk workers such as defence, emergency services and meat processing will also join the queue.

Under the second phase, adults aged between 50 and 69 will also be vaccinated as well as Indigenous people aged 18-54 and other critical and high-risk workers.

The rest of the adult population will then follow before the phase three immunisation of youths under 18 if recommended by medical experts.

On the day of the first dose patients will be; screened, given the vaccine, provided with follow up information, have their jab recorded, and then be monitored for side effects.

They will later receive a reminder about their second dose, due about a month later, where those stages will be repeated.

The majority of the population is expected to get their vaccination at a GP, Commonwealth respiratory clinic, Aboriginal controlled health care service or at special vaccination clinics established by state governments.

Pharmacies will also be considered during the second half of the year.

Professor Murphy said if the majority of vaccinations were conducted using the Pfizer vaccine – which has to be stored at minus 70C – it would be a “huge logistical challenge”.

He said the AstraZeneca vaccine would be the priority for Australians in remote and rural communities.

The AstraZeneca doses will initially be imported but later produced at CSL’s Parkville plant in Melbourne.

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly it was extraordinary that a vaccine could be introduced in the coming weeks.

“We are looking to save lives and also minimise the risk to the Australian population and others,” Professor Kelly said.

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