“This group of both community members and front-line workers are the priority group because they are most at risk,” he said.
Mr Foley confirmed on Wednesday that nine COVID-19 vaccination hubs with ultra-cold freezers to store the Pfizer vaccine would be established in some of Victoria’s major hospitals.
He said the hubs, which were the responsibility of the state, would be used to store and distribute the vaccine across Victoria.
One health service would be in charge of vaccinating all ABF workers and hotel quarantine staff, Mr Foley said. Multiple health sources have told The Age this would likely be Alfred Health, which provides healthcare expertise for the state’s hotel quarantine program.
The Austin, Western and Monash health services will lead the vaccine response in Melbourne, while six centres will be set up in public regional hospitals across Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Albury-Wodonga, Sale and the Latrobe Valley.
Monash Health medical director for infection prevention Rhonda Stuart said contingency plans had been developed to stagger the vaccine roll-out for the health services’ almost 20,000 staff.
Healthcare workers in high-risk medical units would be divided into three groups, with a small number of staff from each group vaccinated per week to minimise absences.
”That way, if we do have anybody off, which may be 10 per cent of people, it will only be 10 per cent of a third of that workforce,” Professor Stuart said.
While the TGA said last week it was confident the Pfizer vaccine was safe, it estimated that more than 60 per cent of those who received it would experience fatigue, more than half would get a headache, about a third would suffer muscle pain or chills, and one in five would suffer joint pain.
Professor Stuart said if staff did experience mild side effects, it was a “good thing” and meant the vaccine was working.
“Getting a reaction or mild symptoms following a vaccine is a good thing because it means you’re mounting an immune response,” she said.
Professor Stuart estimated about 5000 of the health service’s staff, including front-line doctors and nurses, would receive the vaccine within the first six weeks of the immunisation program.
Vaccinations for medical emergency teams, which include specialised doctors and nurses called on in hospitals when a patient in ward requires urgent medical help, will also be fast-tracked.
Two ultra-low-temperature freezers have been installed at the Monash Medical Centre in Clayton with capacity to store about 180,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Vials of Pfizer must be kept at minus 70 degrees.
“We’ve been going through procedures to make sure we deliver the vaccine in the safest way possible and we’re all prepared for the rollout as soon as the vaccine hits our doors,” Professor Stuart said.
Vaccine clinics will also be run out of all Monash Health hospitals, including in Clayton, Dandenong and Berwick, as well as smaller clinics located in private hospitals scattered across the city’s south-east.
Western Health has recruited hundreds of nurses and support staff to help administer and distribute the vaccine. About a quarter of its 7500 healthcare workers will be vaccinated in first stage of the program.
Sunshine Hospital will also store thousands of vials of the Pfizer in ultra-cold freezers. Construction work is under way on the ground floor of the hospital’s multi-deck car park, which will soon be converted into a Pfizer hub.
Western Health Chief Executive Russell Harrison said an expert team had spent weeks overseeing the planning, medical guidance, safety and infrastructure of its vaccine hub.
The health service will lead vaccination of healthcare workers at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, the Royal Women’s Hospital, the Royal Children’s Hospital, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Werribee Mercy, Djerriwarrh Health Services and other private hospital providers located in the city’s west.
“We have sought out staff with the right skill-set who will undertake additional training in the administration of the different COVID vaccines provided through specific online packages developed by the Commonwealth,” Mr Harrison said.
A Pfizer hub is also being established at the Austin Hospital in the city’s north-east.
Vials of Pfizer will be thawed and refrigerated before being picked up by medical providers contracted by the federal government, and used to vaccinate disability and aged care workers and residents across the state.
The announcement came as trials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine – which will be rolled out to the general population in Australia from March – released in the UK late on Tuesday also show it is highly effective in preventing serious illness and death from the virus.
The second phase of the rollout, involving the AstraZeneca vaccine, aims to inoculate 6.1 million people, including anyone aged over 70 and younger adults with an underlying condition and other high-risk workers.
Australia has bought 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine – enough to inoculate 5 million people with two jabs – and more than 53 million doses of the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which does not require ultra-cold freezers to be stored.
Melissa Cunningham is The Age’s health reporter.