Australians may have to prove they’ve had a COVID jab to travel overseas or access public services, with the federal government rolling out plans for digital and physical ‘vaccination certificates’.
With focus now turning to vaccine rollout, with the first jabs projected to be given within weeks, governments are looking toward the second half of 2021 for the easing of some crucial virus rules, if all goes to plan.
The federal government currently expects to have all Australians who want a vaccine to be able to get one by the end of October, and a crucial component of relaxing major COVID rules will be how people prove they’ve been vaccinated.
On Sunday, government services minister Stuart Robert announced plans for ‘vaccination certificates’ to be available through the MyGov website and Medicare phone app.
Hardcopy proof of a COVID vaccination on paper will be available through Services Australia.
“You can go right now to your Medicare app, to myGov, and access your vaccination certificate right now,” Mr Robert said.
“We will continue to build that certificate out over the coming weeks to make it more easily accessible, but the capability is live now. We are ready now for the vaccine rollout.”
Vaccinations will be tracked through the current Australian Immunisation Register, which was strengthened last week when the government made it mandatory for health professionals to report all jabs to the framework. Previously, reporting was voluntary.
The idea of a ‘vaccination passport’ has been touted since the early stages of the pandemic, with hopes such an innovation would allow people who have been vaccinated to access more services or be free from certain restrictions.
Mr Robert said the federal government expected proof of vaccination would be required for travel, and did not exactly rule out proof being needed to access public facilities like shops and restaurants.
“Australians need to have that record, especially, depending on state public health orders, but also when travelling and borders open up again,” he said.
“The Attorney-General is working with unions and other interested parties looking at the issue as well, so there will be greater announcements made by states and territories in due course.”
Mr Robert added the government was consulting with other nations who are building similar systems, on how those frameworks would be able to work together to aid international travel authorities.
“It’s highly likely that a vaccination certificate or quarantine will still be required for international visitors to Australia,” he said.
“Any requirement for borders to open up will require vaccination and it will require the widespread use of assured certificates.”
He also said states and territories may issue public health orders relating to vaccination certificates “as they see fit”, including on whether employees in certain workplaces may be required to prove a vaccination.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese voiced support for workers in aged care or health facilities to show proof of COVID vaccination, saying “there’s a range of jobs now for which you have to, for example, show that you have a flu vaccine.”
“That needs to be worked through,” he said on Sunday. “We need to make sure here that the Government gets it right.
“We know that they didn’t get the tracing app right. So they need to, as the rollout of the vaccine occurs, make sure that they absolutely get it right because our economy as well as our health depends on it.”
Latest vaccine rollout info
The first COVID jabs are expected to be given in late February, with those in phase 1a of the rollout – quarantine and border workers, frontline health workers, and those living or working in aged care – to get the Pfizer jab.
Some 80,000 doses are expected to arrive in Australia from Europe within weeks.
The New Daily understands the Therapeutic Goods Administration is hoping to give final approval to the AstraZeneca vaccine by mid-February, with the first doses from Europe hoped to arrive in early March.
The locally-produced AstraZeneca, which makes up the bulk of Australia’s current vaccine portfolio, is expected to be approved in early March and to begin being administered in late March.
But despite more positive news, including the securing of an extra 10 million Pfizer doses last week, Australia’s timeline to vaccinate the first four million people has slipped out again. Prime Minister Scott Morrison first said the government hoped to hit four million jabs by late March, but shortly after he said that delivery issues from Europe may see that pushed to early April.
TND understands the federal health department now projects it may be mid-April when the four million mark is passed.
However, once millions of Australians are vaccinated, federal authorities are hopeful that various public health rules could start being wound back in the second half of 2021.
Experts are hesitant to put an exact date on such a development, citing production and delivery issues of vaccines, but rules that could be changed may include the hotel quarantine framework.
Federal authorities believe that, once a significant amount of the population gets a jab, the current 14-day quarantine length could be shortened, or people may be allowed to quarantine at home instead of in state-run hotels.
With more than 2000 GPs, pharmacies and hospitals already expressing interest in giving out jabs – and more expected to join the process – the federal government believes it would be able to give one million jabs a week, or even more.
Around 560,000 vaccines would need to be administered each week, for Australia to hit 20 million vaccinations by the end of October.
Melbourne’s CSL plant will produce around one million doses of AstraZeneca each week from late March, while international doses of Pfizer and AstraZeneca will also be in the mix.
The Novavax candidate, the final piece of Australia’s vaccine puzzle, is expected to lodge its final paperwork to the TGA around April.
Health minister Greg Hunt has spoken of Novavax being a long-term option, available in the second half of 2021 – even amid uncertainty of where those doses would come from.