The Prime Minister is considering whether Indigenous Australians should be given priority for potential COVID-19 vaccinations due to higher risks of health complications, but stresses the ‘safety’ of the vaccine is paramount.
Scott Morrison said on Thursday that vaccination priorities for more vulnerable Australians are high on the agenda.
“Indigenous Australians have always been a clearly defined vulnerable community like those with disabilities, like older Australians, and our plans and policies have reflected that. This is a key issue to be addressed in the strategy and in the roll out plans,” he said.
The government has signed up to four coronavirus trials in a bid to secure a safe vaccine ready to be rolled out to Australians once it gains approval from regulator Therapeutic Goods Administration.
The PM said the government was assessing who it would prioritise - and said vulnerable groups such as those with disabilities, the elderly and health workers would get top priority.
He said there are ongoing discussions between states and territories - particularly in Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland - where more Indigenous people live in remote communities.
“Indigenous Australians were one of our greatest concerns at the start of the pandemic, not just by my government but by the states and territories as well,” Mr Morrison told NITV News.
He said the country’s vast area posed unique challenges that the government would need to take into consideration once vaccines are approved.
“There are distribution challenges with remote communities, and being able to use the networks of health professionals and how that can be best leveraged to guarantee the safe distribution of the vaccine," he said.
The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, said medical experts are advising the government on who should get the vaccine first.
“The medical expert panel is expressly considering the appropriate place for Indigenous Australians in the rollout,” Mr Hunt said.
Mr Hunt said the government would follow expert recommendations.
“They have total freedom to recommend, and whatever their recommendations are in relation to the priority - then we’ll be adopting those.
The PM said safety was a top priority and that widespread roll out would be dependent on Australian conditions.
“Our first priority is [for]it be safe," he said.
"It must be safe for Australians, and that's what they expect of us."
The United Kingdom announced it would begin administering vaccinations to more vulnerable people - such as the elderly, those with health conditions and health workers- as early as next week.
The Pfizer vaccine was granted emergency approval by the UK government but is yet to be approved by regulators in the United States or Europe.