Most Australians eager to travel overseas will be eligible for their free COVID-19 vaccination from the middle of the year under the government's national vaccine roll-out plan.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said today that under an accelerated timetable and pending approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by the end of January, "we are now in a position where believe we will be able to commence vaccinations of [vulnerable groups] in mid to late February."
Approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which is already being administered in the UK and will be largely manufactured in Melbourne by biotechnology company CSL in February, is expected to follow in February with availability in March.
The vaccination timetable is divided into three phases based on people's risk factors, with up to 60 million doses.
As each vaccine requires two injections – a starter and a booster, with 3-6 weeks between them – this will cover Australia's population of 25 million with capacity to spare.
Morrison said the aim would be to vaccinate 80,000 people each week to begin with, and for that to build over the next four to six weeks until four million people in the highest-risk group vaccinated by the end of March.
Speaking at the same media briefing, Federal Health Department Secretary Professor Brendan Murphy said that almost half of Australians would fall within one of the 'priority groups' slated to receive the vaccine in the first half of this year.
The vaccination timetable
Phase 1 would encompass almost 7 million Australians including quarantine and border workers, health care workers, aged care and disability care staff and residents, adults aged 70 and over, younger adults with underlying medical conditions, critical and high risk workers (such as defence, police, fire and emergency services) and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged 55 and over.
Another 6.5 million Australians fall into Phase 2a: among them are adults aged 50 years and over, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders from 18-54, and "other critical and high risk workers."
This leaves another 6.6 million Australian adults in Phase 2b, which Murphy expects to kick off mid-year, to be followed by Phase 3 for the estimated 5.7 million Australians under 16 years, if recommended.
Murphy said the majority of the population would receive their shots from special Health Department clinics and participating GP clinics and medical centres; pharmacies could also be able to administer the vaccine during the second half of the year.
No silver bullet
However, Prime Minister Morrison warned vaccination will not be a "silver bullet."
"There is a lot still to be learned about these vaccines... that’s why COVID-safe behaviours and other arrangements will still be necessary over the course of this year."
As previously reported, Qantas earlier this week began selling tickets for international flights from July 1 to Asia, the USA and London, which have largely been suspended since late March 2020.
A spokesman for Qantas told Executive Traveller this reflects its own expectations of a vaccine rollout and "that international travel will begin to restart from July 2021."
This earned a swift rebuke from Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, who said "decisions about when international travel resumes will be made by the Australian Government. "International borders will be opened when international arrivals do not pose a risk to Australians."
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