This is how Australia's coronavirus vaccine rollout will work

With the start of Australia's coronavirus vaccination program now just weeks away, SBS News explains when you'll get the jab, where you'll get it and more.

How Australia's vaccines will be rolled out

Source: SBS

Now the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine  in Australia, authorities will begin vaccinating some of the country's most vulnerable populations against COVID-19 in just a few weeks' time.

But it's expected to take many more months to vaccinate enough people to achieve an effective level of protection against the virus.

Here's what you need to know about the national rollout, including where you are in the queue.


When will I get vaccinated?

Australia’s vaccination program will happen in five phases, beginning in late February. 

  • Phase 1a
The first phase of the rollout will cover Australians with the highest risk of exposure to COVID-19. 

That includes anyone dealing with Australians returning from overseas, such as quarantine and border workers, and priority frontline healthcare workers - namely, those with potential exposure to infectious patients.

The first rollout phase will also include aged and disability care staff and residents.

The government estimates about 678,000 people will fall into this category.

  • Phase 1b
Next up will be some of Australia's other most vulnerable populations and more frontline workers.

That includes people aged 70 and over, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the age of 55, and younger adults with underlying medical conditions or disabilities.

General healthcare workers will also be able to access vaccines at this point - and so will Australia's 'critical', 'high-risk' workforce, including defence personnel, police officers, firefighters, emergency service workers and meat processing workers.

The government estimates more than 6.1 million people will be eligible for vaccination during this phase.

  • Phase 2a
It could be a few months before those covered by this third phase, around 6.5 million people, can get the jab.

This stage will see adults aged 50 to 69 and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 18 to 54 get vaccinated.

Other 'critical' and 'high risk' workers will also be included in this phase, though the government hasn't yet specified which industries that will include. 

  • Phase 2b
The fourth, and largest, group in line for vaccination covers the remainder of the population aged 16 and over.

Phase 2b will also see the government try to catch up on anyone who may have missed their vaccination in an earlier priority group. 

  • Phase 3
The last group in the queue for a coronavirus vaccine in Australia is children under 16 years of age  - although they won't necessarily get the jab.

The government says it will only go ahead with inoculating those under 16 if medical advice suggests it's necessary. 

Joan Myles, 92, a resident of the Huntingdon Gardens aged care home.
Joan Myles, 92, a resident of the Huntingdon Gardens aged care home. Source: SBS

At the Huntingdon Gardens aged care home in the southern Sydney suburb of Bexley, staff and residents are excited to be among the first Australians to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Resident Joan Myles, 92, survived polio as a young adult. She told SBS News she hopes as many Australians as possible will join her in getting vaccinated.

“Having seen diphtheria and polio and all those sorts of things, I feel that people are stupid if they don't try to get protected,” she said.

“They obviously have not seen, as I have in the past, people being completely incapacitated, unable to do the things that they've been used to doing, want to do and earn a living. I've seen people die.”

Where will I be vaccinated?

This depends on when you get the vaccine.

Those who fall into the first two priority groups are set to be vaccinated at up to 50 hospitals across metropolitan and regional Australia.

People living or working in residential aged care and disability care facilities will also be able to get vaccinated on-site.

After those first two stages are completed and vaccines become available to a much broader section of society, up to another 1,000 locations will be added to the list of vaccination sites.

That will include places such as local GP clinics, respiratory clinics, community pharmacies and Aboriginal health services.

The Department of Health says GPs will be "a cornerstone" of the vaccine delivery program.

“General practices currently deliver vaccines in a variety of ways and will do so relevant to their own practices and community needs with regards to COVID-19 vaccines,” a spokesperson told SBS News.

Which vaccines will Australia use?

Australia has signed up for .

The government has secured 10 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine - all of which will be manufactured offshore. Australia will have the option to purchase additional doses later, pending availability. 

Initially, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine would arrive onshore two weeks after it was approved.

However with supply shortages around the world, Mr Morrison said on Monday arrival would now likely be closer to the end of February. 

The government also has access to 53.8 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Some 3.8 million doses will be delivered to Australia after the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approves the vaccine, and a further 50 million doses will be manufactured on home soil by CSL in monthly batches. 

Australia's third vaccine, manufactured by US-based biotechnology company Novavax, is still going through phase three clinical trials in the US and Mexico. If the trials prove successful, Australian authorities expect to have access to 51 million doses of it this year. 

Australia is also a member of the global COVAX Facility group, which grants the government access to additional successful vaccine candidates.

How many shots will I need?

All three vaccines Australia has signed on to use require two shots, delivered a specific number of weeks apart, to ensure full benefit.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Novavax vaccines require doses to be delivered three weeks apart.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine requires a four-week gap between doses - though Britain is experimenting with longer gaps in a bid to get the first dose to more people. 

In the future, we might also see a one-dose vaccine, with US pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson currently in the final stages of trials for its single-shot jab. The results are expected in just a couple of weeks.

Londoners queue up a mass vaccination centre.
Londoners queue up a mass vaccination centre. Source: Press Association / , PA Wire

Why has Australia been slower to approve vaccines?

While it was announced on Monday the TGA had approved Australia's first vaccine, the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, it came some two months after emergency approvals in the US and UK.

Professor Mike Toole from the Burnet Institute said Australia has the luxury of being incredibly thorough with its approval process thanks to its low case rate.

“Quite rightly, [the rest of the world] are rolling the vaccine out very fast. They can afford perhaps to take a few risks, but that's not the case in Australia,” he told SBS News.

“At this time in the pandemic, Australia has the advantage of having very few cases ... so we can look at the rest of the world and learn from their experiences.”

The TGA says it is “actively monitoring” the efficacy and safety of vaccines as they are rolled out in other countries first.

Additional reporting by Amelia Dunn.

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7 min read
Published 27 January 2021 at 5:40am
By Claudia Farhart
Source: SBS