Thousands of aged-care residents across nearly 200 Australian towns and suburbs will be vaccinated against coronavirus in the first week of jabs.
The rollout will commence on Monday, after the first batch of Pfizer doses arrived in Sydney earlier this week.
About 240 nursing homes included for the initial week of vaccinations.
In addition, there will be 16 Pfizer vaccine hubs in major cities where frontline quarantine and health workers will be vaccinated as part of the initial phase.
“We believe that vaccinating the quarantine and border workers will substantially protect them from transmission, we hope, but certainly from getting symptomatic COVID,” Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy said.
Health workers will be dispatched to vaccinate all aged-care and disability residents over the next six weeks.
Professor Murphy said Australia had the advantage of having no community transmission of the virus.
“We don’t have a burning platform. It is OK to take four or five weeks to vaccinate all the aged-care residents,” he said.
The department chose the locations based on logistics, achieving a mix between the regions and cities, and infection risk.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the target was for 60,000 doses to be administered in the first week.
“Right across Australia, every state and territory, rural and regional, and urban areas will be covered,” he said.
“It has to start somewhere and it has to finish somewhere, but this is the beginning of the process.”
“We know that in Tasmania it could be in Burnie or in Somerset … all of these are on the list, amongst others.”
Mr Hunt named a sample of the residential aged-care locations which include Alice Springs, Penrith and Ballarat.
Professor Murphy said there was room to change the rollout if coronavirus affected a particular area.
“If we had an outbreak we might change the schedule, but there is no impending serious risk at the moment which is a great position to be in,” he said.
The government expects a small amount of wastage of the precious doses but has not yet determined a figure.
The Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures, will be defrosted before being couriered to aged-care facilities and reconstituted on site.
In the capital city hubs, it will be defrosted on the day of administration.
The AstraZeneca vaccine, which the majority of the population will receive, is due to be ready for use in early March as the rollout ramps up.
Professor Murphy said immunising Australians safely was a huge and complex task.
“This is a really, really exciting time, but we are about to start the single-biggest, and most complex, vaccination task in the history of this nation,” he said.
“There are so many players involved and there’s so much planning.”
Professor Murphy paid tribute to those involved in the rollout, noting they had been asked to “do so much, so quickly”.
All vaccinations will be recorded in Medicare records online and in hard copy.