Australia’s first shipment of coronavirus vaccines has been formally approved and will arrive in the country within weeks.
The European Union has approved the export of vaccines to 23 countries including Australia.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was tight-lipped on Thursday about when the jabs will reach Australian shores, saying only that he would have more to say “in the not too distant future”.
However, chief medical officer Paul Kelly was more definite later in the day.
“We are definitely on track for the first vaccines in Australia of the already TGA-approved Pfizer vaccine before the end of February,” he said.
Australia was also “eagerly awaiting” the Therapeutic Goods Association’s decision on the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine, he said.
“My understanding is that they are very close to making a decision and very shortly we will be having that TGA approval, along with the usual guidance for the use of the vaccine in the Australian context,” he said.”
Mr Morrison praised the health and foreign affairs ministers for their work in navigating European export restrictions in regards to the jabs.
He said he was very aware of the “extreme pressures” on European vaccine supplies.
“Australia has done very well to maintain our supply lines here as has been confirmed by the European Union,” he said in Melbourne on Thursday.
“We are on track.”
Thursday’s formal approval came after the EU ambassador to Canberra promised export restrictions would not affect Australia’s first order of the Pfizer vaccine.
Trade Minister Dan Tehan was confident the jabs will start being administered within weeks.
“It is great news and they’ll arrive towards the end of February and we are absolutely on track to roll our vaccine program out,” he told Nine.
“I met with the European Union ambassador last week and he assured me that the vaccines would be arriving as they said they would be.
“It’s fantastic to get this extra further news that that’s the case and that the vaccine rollout will take place as scheduled.”
Australia is relying on 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which are being produced in Europe.
There were fears the order could be jeopardised after the EU placed export controls on vaccines produced in its territory, worried about its own supplies.
But ambassador Michael Pulch this week promised Europe would not delay or block the Australian order.
There is still no confirmed date for when the shipment will leave Europe or when it will arrive in Australia.