Visitors to Australia may be required to show proof of Covid-19 vaccination, according to the government's new National Vaccination Policy.
The first wave of the promising Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is expected to be available by the end of this year, with up to 1.3 billion doses issued in 2021.
The Federal Government has secured 10 million doses, with Health Minister Greg Hunt earlier this week saying the program was "on track" for delivery in March 2021.
Injections will be free to all Australians and Medicare-eligible visa holders, although they won't be mandatory.
"While the Australian Government strongly supports immunisation and will run a strong campaign to encourage vaccination, it is not mandatory and individuals may choose not to vaccinate," the Australian Covid-19 Vaccination Policy states.
"There may however, be circumstances where the Australian Government and other governments may introduce border entry or re-entry requirements that are conditional on proof of vaccination."
No mandatory Covid vaccination
Prime Minister Scott Morrison stressed that mandatory Covid vaccination "is not the government's policy and has never been the government's policy,."
"Of course, we would encourage people to take up the opportunity. But they will make their own choices and we'll be seeking to provide the necessary assurances about the safety of the vaccine."
"There are no shortcuts here. There are no lower benchmarks that apply to this vaccine. It's a very important vaccine for the country and for everybody's health, but we will be applying the legal requirements that are there for people's protection."
A vaccine under development at the University of Queensland, which unlike the Pfizer/BioNTech jab would be mass-produced locally, is expected to begin phase-three clinical before the end of this year.
If successful, some 50 million doses would be freely available beginning as early as July 2021.
The government has also earmarked 30 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and 40 million doses of a Novavax treatment.
Rolling out Australia's free Covid shots
The National Vaccination Policy will also set guidelines for how vaccines will be distributed, stored and administered at sites ranging from dedicated vaccination clinics to GPs and medical centres, pharmacies and workplaces.
In the case of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which can't be manufactured in Australia due to its new approach of using 'messenger RNA' to instruct cells to build an immune response to the virus, Health Minister Hunt said a "national cold chain distribution program" had already been drawn up.
This would store and distribute the vaccine at required -70°C temperature using what's been described as "very sophisticated eskies" packed with dry ice, which offer up to six weeks of storage without being connected to power.
It's understood that the Covid-19 vaccines will typically require two jabs: a starter, followed several weeks later by a booster, and may also require an annual dose similar to a winter flu shot.
The batting order
Vaccines will first be issued to front-line healthcare and aged care workers and quarantine staff whose jobs put them at increased risk of exposure and transmission.
Next on the list will be people with a heightened risk of contracting a severe case of Covid-19 due to their age or underlying health conditions.
Injections will then roll out to what are described as "essential services workers": a group not yet fully defined but encompasses "key occupations" providing services "critical to societal functioning".
With those three bases covered, any member of the public – a group highly likely to include would-be overseas travellers – could line up for a shot.
"Our national goal is to ensure that all Australians who seek to be vaccinated are vaccinated by the end of 2021," Hunt said, adding that "we will not be out of this until we have a nation which has had a full vaccination program."
Get ready to get flying again with our round-up of Australia's best Qantas Frequent Flyer credit cards, offering generous sign-up bonuses starting at a solid 150,000 points