Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout will begin next week after the first doses of the Pfizer jab landed in Sydney.
“The eagle has landed,” Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters in Canberra on Monday.
More than 142,000 doses are being taken to a secure location and batches will be assessed for damage and quality in the coming days.
“Today is an important day,” Hunt said. “It is the next step in a careful plan based on safety, and this is about protecting Australians.”
Hunt said 60 percent of the shipment—50,000 doses—would be given to the states to begin the process of vaccinating hotel quarantine staff, frontline health workers, and aged care workers, and residents.
Hotel quarantine workers are considered the highest priority because they pose the greatest risk of spreading the virus to the community.
The federal government will have about 30,000 doses available for aged care facilities.
The government expects about 60,000 doses to have been administered by the end of February.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will receive the Pfizer vaccine early in the rollout in a bid to boost public confidence in the jab.
Two doses of the vaccine are needed, with a 21-day gap in between.
Hunt said the first vials of locally-made doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were also being manufactured.
The vaccine is awaiting final regulatory approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
Local manufacturing of the University of Oxford-developed vaccine has been underway since late last year at biotechnology company CSL’s manufacturing facility in Victoria.
Hunt said he would receive an AstraZeneca jab once available, imploring the public to have trust in the medical regulator’s assessment that the medicine is safe and effective.
“It’s a free country and anybody can take a different view,” he said. “But that support for confidence will lead to uptake, will lead to protection and will lead to greater freedoms.”
By Rebecca Gredley