Australia is expected to start the COVID-19 vaccination program next month, which will be made available for free to Australian citizens, permanent residents, and most visa-holders. However, there are nearly 65,000 visa holders who may have to pay to get jabbed.
Alessandra was living in Jakarta with her husband Chris – an Australia citizen - when the coronavirus pandemic hit Indonesia.
“After living in Asia for many years, we had been planning to move to Australia for a while; COVID-19 sped things up," she says.
- COVID-19 vaccines will be made available for free to Australian citizens, permanent residents, and most visa-holders.
- Those on visitor visas, electronic travel authority, eVisitor and Transit visas are currently excluded.
- The Department of Health did not comment on the cost the excluded visa holders will incur on COVID-19 vaccine.
The couple managed to enter Australia in April 2020, after the international border closure. The haste of return meant that Alessandra - an Italian national - could not wait for her partner visa and she had to get a visitor visa.
“Thanks to the fact that my husband is Australian, I was granted a visitor Visa 600 for three months. In July, I applied again, and since I had passed the health checks, I was granted it for another six months, which is going to expire in February."
Last month, she applied for another visa extension to stay in the country until December 2021 and is currently waiting for approval.
She is hoping that when Australia rolls out COVID-19 vaccination, she, like her husband and other Australians, will get a jab.
Under Australia's COVID-19 vaccination policy, the vaccine will be free for all Australian citizens, permanent residents and most visa holders.
Those on subclass 600 (Tourist) visa, subclass 771 (Transit), 651 (eVisitor) and 601 (Electronic Travel Authority) are currently excluded from the free vaccination plan, and they may have to pay to get jabbed.
According to the Department of Home Affairs statistics, approximately 69,000 people are currently on these visas in Australia, including Alessandra.
“As an Australian citizen's partner, I believe I should have the vaccination for free as there's reciprocal health agreement between Australian and Italy,” she told SBS Italian.
Being an Italian national, she was covered by Medicare for the first six months of her stay under reciprocal health arrangements that Australia has with 11 other countries. She is hoping that her Medicare cover will be extended when she get a visa extension.
However, there are over 65,000 visitor visa holders from countries that are not covered by this agreement.
Rajesh Kumar, an Indian national who is also on a visitor visa, says he is ready to pay for a vaccine if he has to.
"It's good that we are currently here in Australia given the situation in India where it may take some years to vaccinate the entire population. I'd, of course, like to be covered in the immunisation program like other visa holders, but I will pay to get inoculated if I have to," he says.
"I hope it's priced reasonably."
How much would it cost to get a COVID-19 vaccine?
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation has identified priority groups for vaccination. These include health and aged care workers, disability support workers and quarantine workers, groups with increased risk of developing severe disease, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, older people and people with certain medical conditions.
The Department of Health did not comment on the priority accorded to visitor visa holders and the cost they will incur on COVID-19 vaccination.
According to Forbes, Pfizer-BioNTech has set the initial price of a dose at US$19.5 in the US, with each vaccine requiring two doses it costs US$39. A dose of AstraZeneca vaccine reportedly costs US$3 to US$4.
The Australian Government has purchased 10 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is expected to be approved by the TGA this month. Those in the priority groups will be inoculated with it.
The government has also secured 54 million doses of Astra Zeneca vaccine with 3.8 million doses to be delivered early this year and 50 million to be manufactured onshore.