The first doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine have touched down in Australia as preparations continue for the first stage of the national rollout, Health Minister Greg Hunt says.
People will begin receiving the vaccine from Monday, February 22, with more than 142,000 doses arriving in Sydney from Europe just after midday on Monday.
“They will now be subject to security, quality assurance, in particular to ensure that temperature maintenance has been preserved throughout the course of the flight, to ensure the integrity of the doses, and to ensure there has been no damage,” Mr Hunt said.
The vaccine has to be kept between -60 and -90 degrees.
The Government is releasing 80,000 doses of the vaccine next week, with 50,000 going to states and territories to vaccinate frontline quarantine and health workers, and 30,000 to aged care and disability care residents and workers.
Last week Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced an extra 10 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had been secured, bringing the total to 20 million.
It is enough to vaccinate 10 million people, with two doses needed about a fortnight apart.
Mr Hunt said the Government expected 60,000 doses would be given out by the end of the month, meaning the rollout was “slightly ahead of schedule”.
“We have to allow for the time taken for [the vaccine] to be administered, for any issues that occur along the way,” he said.
“We have to be realistic, at some point there will be a vial which is dropped.
“There will be other elements that will occur, we want to put all of this into perspective that the normal course of human activity will occur during the course of the vaccine rollout.”
There were concerns about whether Australia would receive its order after the European Union introduced new rules on exports of COVID-19 vaccines produced within the bloc, including Pfizer.
But last week the Ambassador to the EU assured Australians the doses would be allowed to leave Europe.
The Health Minister described the states and territories as “magnificently prepared” to receive the vaccine.
Rolling out the Pfizer vaccine across the country has been described as the largest logistical challenge since World War II.
Doubling of doses by early March
Mr Hunt said if the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine was approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), it would mean vaccine production and roll out could ramp up substantially.
“That will see 1 million doses a week, commencing in late March, made available,” he said.
“That should see 2 million doses arrive before the end of March.”
He said the exact timeframe for the first doses of this vaccine, which is still being considered by the TGA, was still uncertain.
He said the best advice he could give was that the schedule remained “on track”.
The Government has purchased just under 54 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the majority of which will be produced onshore in Melbourne by medical giant CSL.