Adjunct Professor John Skerritt, head of the Therapeutic Goods Administration, said Pfizer had done some “really clever work” to figure out how to distribute that vaccine.
“They’re very sophisticated Eskies, which require dry ice, which can last for 14 days and be refilled twice,” he said on Wednesday.
“Without the need to connect to electricity, these Eskies, with two refills, give you a month-and-a-half of cold chain protection.”
Mr Hunt said securing the international and national cold chain distribution already was well ahead of schedule.
“We are on track to deliver vaccines to Australians commencing in March of 2021,” he said.
That distribution could cover doctors’ practices, hospitals and respiratory clinics, he said.
The TGA has given Pfizer and BioNTech and the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines provisional determination, which means they have been pre-approved on the proviso they pass the final hurdles.
“It essentially expedites the process, and brings critical medicines or vaccines to Australians at a faster rate than would otherwise be the case, but with an absolutely premium on safety,” Mr Hunt said.
Professor Skerritt said data from the trials on those vaccines was promising.
“I’m hoping that all going well, by the end of January, we’ll be in a position to give the first couple of vaccines the approval,” he said.
But Professor Skerritt said much remained unknown about these vaccines.
“We still don’t know if these vaccines are going to provide six months’, 12 months’, five years’, lifetime protection — nobody in the world knows,” he said.
“We also don’t know what populations they’re suitable for yet. That information comes through in the months and years after a vaccine is approved.”
Mr Hunt said that is one of the reasons the country will need a number of vaccines in order to protect different groups of people.
“Different vaccines will not only operate in ways that are different, they might apply to different age cohorts or differing degrees of chronic disease within the community, so it’s absolutely critical to have a variety of vaccines,” he said.
The government has secured agreements for four different vaccines, with a total of 134.8 million doses acquired, Mr Hunt said. The entire purchasing arrangement will cost the government $3.2 billion.
“We have enough for the Australian population three times over,” he said.
The two other vaccines, a protein-based one from Novavax and a University of Queensland candidate,were expected to be added to the provisional determination, Mr Hunt said.
Despite the country’s run of days without community transmission, the health minister said the pandemic will not be over until a full vaccination program has been completed.
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Rachel Clun is a federal political reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, covering health.