A spokesman for Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the roll-out of all vaccines remained contingent on regulatory approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and supply dates.
“No date has been set for a national rollout,” the spokesman said. “This will depend on the approvals process and the subsequent confirmation of shipping dates, with final confirmation from the Commonwealth once these items have been determined.
I would urge people to appreciate that the mammoth effort that’s been made right around the world to not only develop these vaccines.
SA Health Minister Stephen Wade
“States are preparing for all possible contingencies in conjunction with the Commonwealth.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week said the first vaccines would be administered between mid and late February.
A DHHS spokesperson said the state was working towards a 15 February launch date.
“The Department is working closely with the Commonwealth and health partners to ensure Victoria is able to roll-out the Pfizer vaccine anytime from 15 February,” the spokesperson said.
The NSW Government confirmed it was on the same provisional timeline as Victoria.
“NSW Health has been advised by the Commonwealth Government that the COVID vaccination program may commence by 15 February,” a spokesperson said. “NSW Health is prepared to commence the program as soon as COVID vaccine is received.”
South Australian Health Minister Stephen Wade said his state would begin its vaccination program with the German manufactured BioNTech/Pfizer product, telling ABC Radio that the government had set an “aspirational” target of inoculating 95 percent of the population by the end of the year.
Mr Wade said it would be a “tragedy” if people refused to get the jab.
“We know there is some hesitancy about a new vaccine but I would urge people to appreciate that the mammoth effort that’s been made right around the world to not only develop these vaccines but make sure they’re safe,” he said.
Australia has negotiated a supply of enough Pfizer vaccine for five million people and enough of the locally manufactured AstraZeneca for the entire population.
Clinical testing suggests the Pfizer vaccine stops transmission of the virus in 95 per cent of people. The AstraZeneca vaccine prevents transmission in 62 per cent of cases but is highly effective in preventing serious illness and death from the virus.
Victoria’s roll-out plans will be a test for the state’s regional and suburban Local Public Health Networks created after Victoria’s under-resourced and centralised approach to public health was exposed by the second wave epidemic.
The western, northern and south-eastern suburban public health units, each responsible for more than 1.5 million people, became operational only at the start of the year.
Sources familiar with the state’s vaccination strategy said planning was underway to establish Pfizer vaccination hubs in major hospitals, with staffing one of many logistical issues.
Australian Medical Association Victorian president Julian Rait said about 500 people would be required to conduct the first phase of vaccinations and these staff would need to be vaccinated first.
“They will be drawn from nursing staff with appropriate credentials and I also expect some hospital doctors and GPs,” Associate Professor Rait said.
The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at minus 70 degrees. The Federal Government’s national vaccine roll-out strategy suggests Victoria will have six initial vaccine hubs with access to super-cold storage, with locations to be confirmed following advice from the states and territories.
The phase one roll-out will also involve outrage teams taking the Pfizer vaccine into aged care centres so residents can be inoculated.
Additional reporting Mary Ward
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Chip Le Grand is The Age’s chief reporter. He writes about crime, sport and national affairs, with a particular focus on Melbourne.
Aisha Dow reports on health for The Age and is a former city reporter.