EXPLAINER

COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Australia: Who gets it early and when

The government has announced Australia's getting a headstart on its COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Image: Shutterstock
The government has announced Australia's getting a headstart on its COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Image: Shutterstock

The race to vaccinate against COVID-19 is under way in Australia with the government announcing the vaccine rollout will begin from mid to late February.

It marks a little more than a year since the virus first arrived in the country, plunging the nation into a lockdown that would drastically change everyday life for the majority.

While the vaccine is set to arrive next month, who will get it and when remains a complex process.

When are Australians getting the vaccine?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Thursday a COVID-19 vaccine rollout was being brought forward to mid to late February subject to a number of hurdles.

One of those hurdles is gaining approval from the country's medicinal regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration. Once that's granted, the Pfizer-manufactured vaccine will arrive in the country two weeks later. The government's estimating this should happen in the next six weeks.

"Our officials have been moving swiftly and safely to introduce the vaccine here in Australia as soon as is safely possible," Mr Morrison said.

"It is moving considerably faster than normal vaccination approval processes would occur in Australia, but without skipping a step, without cutting a corner, ensuring that everything that needs to be ticked is ticked along the way."

But it's not the only vaccine on the way.

Australia has also secured agreements with other vaccine candidates it's placing its bets on. Plans are being made to manufacture the University of Oxford's AstraZeneca vaccine onshore once it gets its final tick of approval. It's expected this vaccine's rollout will follow shortly after the Pfizer doses arrive in Australia.

A separate Novavax vaccine is also a possibility with Health Minister Greg Hunt confirming on Thursday it would be delivered, too, if required.

But when you will get a chance at vaccination will depend on a number of factors, including whether you're a high-risk population group or critical worker.

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Where am I in the vaccine queue?

The vaccine will be rolled out in three phases, starting from February. The first phase, which has two groups, is estimated to provide 16.2 million doses covering around 8 million Australians.

The first group, covering nearly 700,000 Australians, to receive the two-dosage vaccine will be aged care and disability residents and workers, frontline healthcare workers along with border and quarantine workers.

A second group of vulnerable Australians will then receive the vaccine, which includes adults aged 70 and over, Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people aged 55 and over, younger adults with underlying health conditions as well as other healthcare workers. Critical workers, such as police, defence, fire, emergency services and meat processing workers, are also included in the first phase.

Mr Morrison said he expected 4 million Australians would have been vaccinated by the end of March.

Once high-priority population groups have had their jabs, the second phase will begin. This phase includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people between 18 and 54, adults between 50 and 69 as well as other critical and high-risk workers. It's expected more than 6.5 million Australians form these population groups.

The second part of phase two will be any remaining adults who haven't received the vaccinations.

Last in the queue are children under 18, which Health Department secretary Professor Brendan Murphy said weren't guaranteed to receive the vaccine due to a lack of research.

"We know children are at the lowest risk of getting COVID and transmitting COVID and the vaccines currently haven't been properly tested in children and that will be the last group that we'll consider," Professor Murphy said.

Where do I go to get the vaccine?

Among the announcements was new information regarding where vaccines would be distributed. Mr Morrison announced there would be 30 to 50 hospital hubs around Australia, responsible for the Pfizer vaccine and cold chain storage.

Nation-wide, more than 1000 points of distribution for the vaccine will be scattered regional and rural areas as well as urban centres.

GP respiratory clinics will also be able to deliver the vaccine along with selected general practitioners and Mr Hunt was considering plans to extend the delivery to pharmacies, too, in the second half of the year.

"The majority of the population will get their vaccines from either what we call a GP respiratory clinic, which the Commonwealth has set up or some general practices who want to participate in and can deliver the vaccine program," Professor Murphy said.

"We'll be setting up towards the middle of the year when we're broadening beyond the priority population.

"Most [of the] population will probably get it at one of those settings."

While plans are still being worked on in the ACT, it's expected the major hospitals, Calvary and Canberra, will be primary vaccine distributors.

A preliminary map of sites across the capital suggests there will be at least three GP respiratory clinics, two initial vaccine hubs for Pfizer along with a Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Services site.

State vaccination clinics and selected general practices were still being decided by local authorities.

This story Who can get the COVID-19 vaccine and when? first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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