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Australia approves Pfizer vaccine, rollout to start in late Feb

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. — Reuters file
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. — Reuters file

Sydney - Health minister says the country would need to distribute a locally manufactured AstraZeneca vaccine earlier than planned because of international production problems.

By Agencies

Published: Mon 25 Jan 2021, 6:39 AM

Australia’s medical regulator has formally approved the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, with the first doses expected to be administered in late February, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Monday.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) granted provisional approval for the Pfizer product, making it the first Covid-19 vaccine to get the green light in Australia.

“I note this is not an emergency approval, as has been done in some other jurisdictions around the world,” Morrison told reporters.

“This is a formal approval under the ordinary processes of the TGA and we are one of the first countries... to have gone through that comprehensive and thorough process here in Australia to ensure the approval of that vaccine.”

Australia has secured 10 million doses from Pfizer — enough to vaccinate five million people — with healthcare workers and the elderly expected to receive the first jabs.

Morrison cautioned that the rollout would start with “very small beginnings” in late February, instead of the mid-February timetable his government had promised, due to production and delivery challenges globally.

He said the vaccination programme should be complete by October.

It means Australia will begin inoculating its citizens months after the US and the UK, despite Morrison’s boast earlier in the pandemic that his country would be “at the front of the queue”.

Largely virus-free Australia has fared comparatively well in its Covid-19 response, with 909 deaths from about 28,700 cases in a population of 25 million.

The country has also secured more than 50 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, with the majority set to be manufactured locally, but the TGA is yet to grant approval.

Health Minister Greg Hunt warned AstraZeneca’s international production problems mean the country would need to distribute a locally manufactured shot earlier than planned.

AstraZeneca Plc told European Union officials on Friday it would cut deliveries of its vaccine to the bloc by 60 per cent in the first quarter due to production problems.

Hunt said AstraZeneca had advised Australia the company has “had a significant supply shock and so that means we won’t have as much of that AstraZeneca international in March as they had previously promised”.

Australia will start CSL’s domestic supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine in March, earlier than planned, at 1 million doses a week, he said.

“The decision to pay a premium for an onshore, secure, sovereign vaccine manufacturing capacity via CSL, that puts Australia in a vastly more secure position than almost any other country in the world,” Hunt said.

Australia has set a target of 4 million vaccine doses by April.

“You don’t start what you can’t finish, and finishing the job involves two doses,” said Morrison, adding a digital system would ensure people get two doses each.

However, he cautioned there are limits to what a vaccine rollout would mean for the country, with current border restrictions expected to remain in place. Quarantine and border personnel, frontline health workers and aged care and disability staff and residents will be the first group to receive vaccines.

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