Friday has been a landmark day for Australia’s race to vaccinate against the coronavirus, with the nation ticking up several milestones at once.
The national tally of over-16s who have had their first dose reached 70.5 per cent on Friday – or 14.5 million Australians.
“That means that there are less than two million Australians to come to achieve the 80 per cent rate. We are on track to do that,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
“We obviously have to work hard over the coming weeks to encourage people to come forward. But points of presence are there, the supply is there and the opportunity is there.”
In other significant vaccine milestones on Friday, NSW reached 50 per cent of its eligible residents fully dosed and Victoria hit 70 per cent with their first shots.
“These are really important steps, always measured in terms of two things – the lives protected and the capacity for Australians to return to their normal lives,” Mr Hunt said.
More than 302,000 doses of the vaccine were distributed across the country on Thursday, the latest government data shows.
But, while the number of people protected by the vaccine continues to rise, so too do virus cases in hotspot areas, forcing some areas in NSW and Victoria back into lockdown.
In NSW, local government areas of Albury and Lismore have returned into seven-day lockdowns after new COVID-19 cases were detected.
Meanwhile, Ballarat is also in a lockdown, as an outbreak in the regional Victorian city widens.
NSW had another 1284 local cases on Friday and 12 more fatalities. Its toll from the three-month-old Delta outbreak has risen to 222.
In Victoria, there were 510 local infections and another death. Nine people have so far died in the state’s latest outbreak.
In the ACT, cases leapt back up to 30 as Chief Minister Andrew Barr sounded the alarm.
“It is too early to know if this is a one-off. But it is clear that this is not a good number,” he said.
Canberra also has high vaccination rates, with 52.3 per cent of eligible residents fully vaccinated against the virus.
Queensland also had another local COVID case on Friday. It is linked to Brisbane’s Sunnybank cluster, which emerged last week with an infected school girl.
The latest case had been in isolation while infectious. But it did spark a warning from Queensland chief health officer Jeannette Young about the Delta variant.
“Although everyone has done a brilliant job in stopping the virus spreading in Queensland, eventually it will start spreading,” she said.
“We can’t hold it back forever, so the best response to that is for as many people as possible to be vaccinated.”
Queensland, which reached 58.17 per cent of people with first doses on Friday, will hold a vaccination blitz this week.
Mr Hunt also hailed the vaccination rate among aged-care workers – who had until Friday to have at least their first dose.
“We will, as of today, have 96.9 per cent of aged-care workers who have had at least one vaccination, and those numbers are climbing every day,” he said.
“We believe, although the international figures are not readily available, that this is likely to be one of the highest rates of aged care worker vaccination in the world.”
Australia’s vaccine milestones came as the first Moderna doses were due to arrive in the country.
A shipment will arrive in Sydney on Friday night before being distributed to states and territories next week.
Moderna doses will undergo the same Therapeutic Goods Administration batch testing as all other COVID-19 vaccines on arrival.
Moderna, like Pfizer, is an mRNA vaccine meaning it uses genetic information from the virus to trigger an immune response.
It will be primarily available in pharmacies across Australia with all people aged 12 to 59 eligible for the two-dose course. It will also be administered through workplace vaccination programs.
Australia has an agreement for 25 million Moderna doses including 10 million of the current vaccine and 15 million booster shots.