Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt says the Pfizer vaccine approved in the United Kingdom for roll-out next week will be available to Australians by March.
“Frankly the work done in the UK will give Australia and the world very important data, very important lessons, both on the rollout and the efficacy of this particular vaccine but vaccines more generally and symmetrically positive development for the world,” he said.
Dr Hunt has said that he expects that process to conclude by the end of January and if the vaccine is found to be safe and effective then it will be rolled out by March.
On Thursday Dr Hunt introduced a bill making it mandatory for providers to report the details of all vaccinations, including COVID-19, and put them on a national register.
Some federal politicians could be among the first Australians to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, if it passes all regulatory checks.
The elderly and healthcare workers will be prioritised, while children will be placed further down the list.
Dr Hunt has spoken to Labor about where politicians should be placed in the queue.
He said there’s a general agreement that while MPs shouldn’t be first, they have a responsibility to demonstrate the vaccine is safe.
“None of us want to be jumping the queue but nor do we want to mean there is any lack of confidence so the honest discussion I’ve had with Chris Bowen is it may be that there are some from both sides but maybe not as a class,” he said.
Australia’s medicines regulator will wait for more data before approving a coronavirus vaccine despite the UK’s move to start delivering jabs from next week.
Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has been given a fast-tracked green light to supply its vaccine with the most vulnerable people to receive the first doses.
The Health Minister was asked about children being vaccinated.
He said the prioritisation of the vaccine, like in the UK, will be health workers and those at risk.
He said advice from an expert Australian medical panel suggests children do not need to be prioritised.
“At this stage it has been indicated that it is unlikely that children should be at the front of the process, there have not been many global tests in relation to children and safety becomes a paramount concern,” Dr Hunt said.
He confirmed uptake of the vaccine would be voluntary.
“I also thank the Opposition who have been very constructive in supporting just this morning the Australian immunisation register bill which reaffirms that vaccination in Australia is voluntary but that reporting about vaccination will be required which will give us important public health data and each individual have that data that they can access as they need in regards to their own vaccination history, which is a really important thing for families around Australia and every individual.”
Therapeutic Goods Administration head Professor John Skerritt said it was important to note Britain’s decision was an emergency authorisation rather than full approval.
“The situation is very much an emergency in the UK and I can understand totally why they are moving earlier, even with the greater uncertainty,” he said.
He said while the British would know less about potential adverse side effects, the soaring death toll meant the country was moving faster.
The Australian government is hoping for a March rollout of the first vaccine after regulatory approval is granted.
Prof Skerritt said three companies had made submissions to Australia but none had submitted final safety and effectiveness data.
“It’s a three-horse race at the moment and any one of those three companies could be the first one to get to the finishing line,” he said.
He expects approval in January and February provided all information is handed to the TGA in December.
The Pfizer-BioNTech is one of four coronavirus vaccines the federal government has deals for.
The treatment is known as a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine, which uses only the virus’ genetic code and not weakened forms of the virus as conventional vaccines do.
Prof Skerritt is confident “sophisticated eskies” will allow the Pfizer vaccine to be transported to even the most remote parts of Australia if approved.
“These don’t just keep the beer cold but they keep the vaccine down at dry ice temperature, they are able to be refilled twice,” he said.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said rolling out a vaccine by mid-2021 could deliver a $34 billion boost to Australia’s economy.
He welcomed Britain’s approval of a vaccine but says the decision will not fast-track its approval in Australia.
“Obviously, their situation is somewhat different to Australia’s. They’ve had more than a million infections, nearly 60,000 deaths,” he told the ABC.
“If the vaccine is found to be safe and effective, then it will be rolled out by March.”