Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture by Sean Davey
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture by Sean Davey

Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine: Who gets it first

Australians could have to wait until the end of next year to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Frontline workers could begin receiving the COVID-19 vaccine from March with hopes the entire Australian population could be vaccinated by the end of 2021.

News Corp can reveal that subject to national cabinet's approval, the first Australians to receive a COVID-19 vaccine will be 1.5 million doctors, nurses, pharmacists, pathologist, aged care workers and the elderly.

In an exclusive interview on the government's vaccine rollout plans, Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia's vaccine manufacturer CSL was likely to commence manufacturing the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine this month (November).

And he said the government will in the coming weeks finalise agreements to buy two new types of COVID-19 vaccines, including a cutting edge mRNA vaccine.

This means Australians will have access to four types of COVID-19 vaccines - the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, the University of Queensland vaccine and two more.

Mr Hunt said he had "high confidence" COVID-19 vaccinations would begin in the first quarter of next year possibly clearing the way to re-open our international borders at the end of 2021.

Health Minister Greg Hunt has high confidence a covid vaccine will be available by March. Picture: Sean Davey.
Health Minister Greg Hunt has high confidence a covid vaccine will be available by March. Picture: Sean Davey.

"The evidence on the first half of 2021 is strengthening and the evidence on first quarter of 2021 is strengthening and it's likely that new contracts would also involve first quarter delivery so you know we're thinking March may be possible," he said.

"The expectation is that everybody who sought vaccination would be vaccinated well within 2021.

"Our goal is to have the borders open, subject to vaccination and health advice, by the end of 2021."

The Pfizer BioNtech mRNA vaccine is currently leading the global vaccine race and it, along with Moderna's mRNA vaccine is likely to be one of the vaccines the government is trying to purchase for Australians.

The company refused to comment.

"Pfizer will continue to work closely with all governments to support their vaccine implementation plans. Discussions with all governments remain confidential," it said in a statement..

Conventional vaccines use a weakened form of the virus to prompt an immune response but mRNA vaccines use the virus's genetic code to make a person's own cells produce vaccine antigens and generate immunity.

This new age vaccine technology has never been used in humans before but it is a much quicker way to make a vaccine.

An expert government committee is currently setting priorities that will govern who gets a vaccine and when.

"There's no surprises either the clear advice is that the first cohort is healthcare workers and the elderly," Mr Hunt told News Corp.

This would include general practitioners, pathology workers, aged care assistants, those working with vulnerable people and pharmacists, he said.

The elderly, particularly those in aged care homes, would also be among the first to receive a vaccine because they are at greatest risk of severe illness from the virus


It's estimated these people number around 1.5 million and once they are protected the next to be vaccinated will be essential workers like transport workers, teachers and people working in food supply.

An expert government committee is currently determining which workers will be deemed "essential workers".

Mr Hunt said no decision had yet been made on when children will be vaccinated and it would depend on whether the vaccines available had been tested in children.

Vaccination will be free but not compulsory and advice was that herd immunity (when enough of the population is vaccinated to protect those who are not vaccinated from disease) will be achieved by vaccinating two thirds of the population, he said.

Mr Hunt is not overly concerned about anti-vaxxers refusing to have the COVID jab.

"Australians have been great vaccinators and whilst there is noise from the anti-vaxxers I think they're making more noise but having less impact," he said.

 

Behind the Scenes at the Royal Melbourne Hospital ICU and COVID wards. Nurses gather around a monitor discussing a patient in COVID Ward 9 East. Picture: David Caird
Behind the Scenes at the Royal Melbourne Hospital ICU and COVID wards. Nurses gather around a monitor discussing a patient in COVID Ward 9 East. Picture: David Caird

 

"The indications are already that there's very, very high public interest in being vaccinated."

It is likely two doses of the vaccine will be required 30 days apart and careful records will be kept to ensure Australians receive two doses of the same vaccine if more than one is in use, Mr Hunt said.

The government is preparing to launch a major immunisation training program for nurses to ensure there are enough workers to provide the mass vaccination program.

A robust quality control mechanism will monitor the safety of the vaccines.

Every dose of vaccine administered to an Australian will be recorded in the Australian immunisation register so the government can track each batch of vaccine and identify any problems that emerge.

People who receive the vaccine will be sent a text message two days after they are given a vaccine asking them to report any adverse events.

Experts are warning the first vaccines will be far from perfect and may simply reduce the symptoms of the virus rather than prevent it altogether and may not provide long lasting immunity.

 

Nurses at St Vincent’s Hospital’s Bondi Beach Covid testing site in Sydney, NSW. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Dylan Coker
Nurses at St Vincent’s Hospital’s Bondi Beach Covid testing site in Sydney, NSW. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Dylan Coker

 

There are more than 200 vaccines in development and more than 40 are in clinical trials.

Several key trials are this month due to report on whether they prevent people becoming infected with the virus.

The Australian Government has struck a $1.7 billion deal for to procure 30 million doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.

Nearly 4 million doses will be delivered to Australia in January and February 2021 and a further 30 million doses will be manufactured by CSL in monthly batches.

In addition the government has ordered 51 million doses of the University of Queensland's COVID-19 vaccine candidate and if it proves successful, it will be manufactured by CSL. The first doses will be available by mid-2021.

Early predictions that a vaccine may be available by the end of this year are looking wobbly after several of the vaccine clinical trials were put on hold after participants became ill.


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