Australia became one of the first countries in the world to complete a comprehensive process to approve the rollout of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine after AstraZeneca announced a delay in its initial global supply.
The inoculation drive is expected to start in late February with a target of 80,000 doses per week initially, health minister Greg Hunt told reporters.
The vaccine has been approved for people aged 16 years and above and would be given in two doses to each recipient.
The country approved Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine after AstraZeneca suggested to the Australian government that it is experiencing a significant “supply shock”.
The British-Swedish pharma firm AstraZeneca announced on Friday that it would reduce the deliveries of its vaccine to the European bloc by 60 per cent in the first quarter due to problems in production.
Therefore, Australia would not have as much of the “AstraZeneca international in March as they had previously promised,” said Mr Hunt.
Pfizer had said it anticipated continuous supply of vaccine but would provide global production guidance "in mid-February for March and beyond on a weekly basis," according to Mr Hunt.
Australia is yet to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine, but it has signed contracts with the company for its procurement. It now expects to distribute the locally-manufactured shot in March, earlier than planned.
Prime minister Scott Morrison asked that people maintain public health and hygiene measures as the vaccine is no “silver bullet”.
"You don't start what you can't finish, and finishing the job involves two doses," said Mr Morrison, adding a digital system would ensure people get two doses each.
“It doesn’t mean that the masks disappear, if that is what the public health arrangements are in a particular state or territory, or the quarantine arrangements for returning into Australia will end. It will start at small-scale, it will build up and it will happen over a period of time over the course of this year. Of itself, it is not a silver bullet, because there are still limitations to what these vaccines can do.”
Australia is aiming to have 4 million vaccine doses by April.
The health minister said the country did not have new cases of community transmission in the past seven days and no patients of coronavirus in intensive care units. The country has a total of 28,766 coronavirus cases with 909 deaths and only 122 active cases, according to official data.