Prime Minister Scott Morrison has ruled out an early start to COVID jabs in Australia, despite the worrying outbreak that has plunged millions of Victorians back into a tough lockdown.
In Melbourne on Friday, on a visit to the laboratories of biotech company CSL, Mr Morrison said Australia’s program was on track to begin in late February.
“My message today is very simple – our vaccination program is on track, it is safe, it is being produced by Australians to keep Australian safe,” he said.
CSL will produce more than a million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine each week. Bottling of it is planned to start on Monday.
Mr Morrison said the federal government had received no advice that it needed to move to early authorisation of COVID jabs.
“There is no advice to us that that would even be necessary,” he said.
“We haven’t gone through emergency procedures here in Australia because we’ve been able to prevent emergencies here in Australia.”
He denied that starting a vaccine rollout earlier – with high-risk front-line workers such as those in hotel quarantine – might have avoided the Holiday Inn outbreak that sent Victoria into a snap five-day lockdown on Friday.
“I think it is unrealistic to think that any quarantine program, wherever it is run, has some sort of 100 per cent fail-safe,” he said ahead of the announcement of the statewide lockdown.
“We have had breaches before and we’ve got on top of them quickly. That is my belief in what will happen here in Victoria.”
COVID vaccinations will begin in Australia with the Pfizer jabs in late February. So far, it is the only vaccine approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
They will be followed by AstraZeneca vaccines from late March, if it is approved by the TGA – a decision on that is expected within weeks.
Across the Tasman, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Friday that New Zealand would start vaccinating its five million people from next week.
Kiwi frontline border workers will start receiving jabs of the Pfizer vaccine from next Saturday (February 20) – a decision made possible after supplies of Pfizer arrived in New Zealand ahead of schedule.
Ms Ardern made the announcement on Friday morning, saying it would take up to three weeks for all 12,000 frontline workers to receive the vaccine. After that, their family members will be next in line.
“Healthcare and essential workers and those most at risk from COVID-19 will follow in quarter two, before vaccination of the wider population in the second half of the year,” Ms Ardern said.
She said it would take all of 2021 for the full vaccination program to be completed.
“This will be New Zealand’s largest-ever vaccination campaign,” she said.
Pressure has mounted on Ms Ardern in recent weeks to start the rollout so that the five million New Zealanders can take advantage of the country’s rare position of having virtually eliminated the virus.
“Last year we indicated the vaccine would arrive in quarter two, and earlier this year we updated that to quarter one,” she said.
“It’s pleasing to be receiving doses this early in quarter one.”