Priority groups for COVID vaccine announced

AUSTRALIA’S COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been mapped following the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s approval of Pzifer-BioNTech’s vaccine.

The vaccine will be free to all Australians, and will be allocated in phases to the most vulnerable groups first, across more than 1000 vaccination sites nationwide.

Commencing in late February, up to 1.4 million doses will be administered to quarantine and border workers, frontline and healthcare workers, and staff and residents in aged care and disability care.

Phase 1b will prioritise adults aged 70 and over, Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander adults aged 55 and over, adults with underlying medical conditions and disabilities, and high risk workers including defence, police, fire, emergency services and meat processing.

Adults over 50 and other high-risk workers will follow in phase 2a, the balance of the adult population in phase 2b, and finally under 16s in phase 3.

Priority groups are identified by taking into account current public health, medical and epidemiological evidence on who would be most affected if they contracted COVID-19.

No dates nor timeline has been confirmed, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he hoped to start with 80,000 vaccines administered each week.

He also said he wanted four million Australians vaccinated by the end of March.

“It’s great news that the Pfizer vaccine is now TGA-approved but we have real concerns about the number of vaccines actually available and how the rollout will be prioritised,” Federal Member for McEwen Rob Mitchell said.

“In McEwen it is well understood that already rural and regional areas generally suffer poorer health outcomes and we don’t know how rural and regional communities will be prioritised in the rollout.”

But Federal Member for Nicholls Damian Drum said the approval was an ‘important moment’ for the region and Australia.

“The approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine comes after rigorous and independent assessment by the TGA, which shows it meets Australian standards for safety, quality and efficacy,” he said.

COVID-19 vaccines have been developed at record-breaking speed due to necessity, but underwent rigorous trials, testing on numbers of people above the minimum requirements.

Phase three of a clinical trial usually involves giving the vaccine to several thousand people, but phase three of the Pfizer/BioNTech trials tested on over 41,000 people, resulting in 95 per cent efficacy.

Minister for Health Greg Hunt said the TGA’s process was thorough and its regulators placed safety above all else.

“Australia’s high bar has been met – the vaccine has been approved as effective in stopping severe disease,” he said.

So far the government has ordered 10 million doses of Pzifer-BioNTech – enough for five million people – along with 54 million of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, 51 million of Novavax, and 25 million of COVAX, which are still pending TGA approval for use in Australia.

If secured and signed off, they would provide 140 million doses of vaccine and place Australia fourth in the world for the number of vaccines per capita.

The Prime Minister has not yet made it clear whether the vaccine will be mandatory for adults.