The rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine is set to begin by 8 March after the first 300,000 doses landed in Sydney on Sunday.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, announced the arrival in a statement on Sunday, saying it was “the next step as we ramp up the vaccine rollout”.
It comes as the New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, on Sunday called for the federal government to keep states better informed of their vaccine rollout plans.
The AstraZeneca vaccine, which has already been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, is the second Covid-19 vaccine to arrive in Australia after Pfizer’s jab began arriving earlier in February.
Australia expects to receive some 1.2m doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from its production centres in Europe before its Australian partner company CSL begins producing 50m doses of the vaccine domestically from late March.
The first doses of the new vaccine will be held in a storage facility in western Sydney before undergoing batch testing by the TGA. On Sunday health minister Greg Hunt said temperature checking on the vaccines was under way but that his “preliminary advice” was the correct temperatures to store the vaccine had “been maintained throughout the course of the flight”.
Hunt also said he expected about 50,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to be sent to the states over the next few days.
“It’s another important milestone,” he said. “In one shipment we have more than doubled the total amount of vaccines that have arrived in Australia.”
The AstraZeneca doses will undergo batch testing by the TGA before distribution is set to begin by 8 March. In a statement Morrison said the arrival meant “we will now be able to scale up the vaccination rollout to our priority groups, including our most vulnerable Australians and to our frontline border and health workers”.
“Australia is in a unique position because importantly this vaccine gives us the ability to manufacture onshore. Every Australian who wishes to be vaccinated will be able to receive a vaccine this year,” Morrison said.
Phase 1a of the nationwide vaccination program began last week, with healthcare and border workers the first to be jabbed. But the NSW premier told reporters state leaders are still unsure of how and when the general population will get access to a vaccine.
“I’ve made no secret of the fact ... that we would appreciate as much information in a timely way, but we also appreciate that’s not always possible,” Berejiklian said on Sunday.
“Our NSW health officials were able to turn around the Pfizer vaccine supply we’ve got very quickly – within days – because we’ve been planning for it.”
Berejiklian said the states were concerned about the information they were receiving about the timing of supply.
“I’m not going to hide the fact that our information is key for the states to be able to do our work as best we can,” she said. “The more notice we have the better.”
Her comments come as NSW notched up the 42nd day without a single case of the coronavirus transmitted locally. There were no new locally acquired virus cases reported across Australia on Sunday.
The chief medical officer Paul Kelly put in place a hotspot definition for the Auckland region, which will be reviewed every 72 hours.
The rest of New Zealand can continue to fly to Australia without the need for a 14-day quarantine.
Meanwhile, Australia’s federal government is rolling out a second $31m public information campaign on the Covid-19 vaccination program from Sunday.
The government’s initial advertising campaign launched in January focused on informing the Australian community about the TGA’s world-leading independent approval process.
“The advertising is important, so people understand how the vaccination program is operating, how they can find out when it will be their turn and answer any questions they have about the vaccines,” Hunt said.
He said a myth-busting unit had also been quietly set up within the department of home affairs in cooperation with the health department to stamp out information that is “plainly ridiculous”, like 5G theories.
“We don’t want to give too much air to some of the silliest ideas but we do want to provide public reassurance to combat in the marketplace on those ideas which would in any way falsely have some impact on public confidence,” Hunt said.
With Australian Associated Press