Australia’s rollout of the coronavirus vaccine may be delayed – but the government still expects to offer everyone the jab by October, Scott Morrison will say on Monday.
The government aims to start administering doses of the Pfizer jab – the only vaccine approved in Australia so far – by the end of February.
But the date may be set back because the vaccines are made in Belgium and the European Union on Friday tightened export controls amid a serious shortage.
It comes as Perth begins a harsh five-day lockdown after a security guard at a quarantine hotel tested positive to Covid and visited 15 locations around the city.
More than two million residents living in Perth, Peel and the South West will enter lockdown beginning 6pm on Sunday and lasting until Friday – impacting about 80 per cent of Western Australia’s population.
The employee worked two shifts at Sheraton Four Points in Perth’s CBD, and was stationed on a floor where at least one returned traveller was diagnosed with the UK strain of the disease, which is up to 80 per cent more infectious.
Victoria has banned anyone from Perth from entering the state without an exemption while Queensland will enforce a mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine for anyone visiting from the city and surrounding regions.
Australia’s rollout of the coronavirus vaccine may be delayed due to export controls in the EU. Pictured: A woman is vaccinated in north-west England
In a speech at the National Press Club in Canberra on Monday, Mr Morrison will admit the start date of Australia’s vaccination program is up in the air.
‘Our guidance is that first vaccinations remain on track to be in Australia, ready for distribution to priority groups, from late February.
‘However, the final commencement date will depend on developments overseas, which we will continue to monitor and update accordingly,’ he will say.
The government has bought 10million doses of the Pfizer jab – enough to inoculate 5million people – and wants to roll out 80,000 a week by the start of March if they arrive in time.
Mr Morrison has also ordered supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine from Europe but these have already been ‘significantly’ reduced after the company suffered production problems.
Fortunately Australia has the ability to make its own doses at the CSL factory in Melbourne and, once the jab is approved by regulators, supply is due to start in March at 1million doses a week, earlier than planned.
The prime minister will also announce an extra $1.9billion in funding for hospitals to support the vaccine rollout. Pictured: Nurses working in Sydney
Despite the uncertainty over the start date of the vaccination program, Mr Morrison will insist the nation remains on track to offer everyone the optional jab by October.
‘Initially, we will need to prioritise the most vulnerable and those likely to experience a serious disease, as well as frontline health and care workers and other essential services,’ he will say.
‘We will then extend vaccination to the balance of the population as quickly as possible, building towards protecting the entire community by the end of 2021.
‘Our aim is to offer all Australians the opportunity to be vaccinated by October 2021, commencing in just a few weeks’ time.’
The prime minister will also announce an extra $1.9billion in funding for hospitals to support the vaccine rollout, with the cash to be spent on systems, training and extra staff to administer the jabs.
‘We’ll have thousands of points of presence across Australia – Hospitals, GPs, Pharmacies, Respiratory Clinics, Aboriginal Health Services and a specialist surge workforce,’ Mr Morrison will say.
‘This will ensure we get the vaccine to all Australians, including people in rural, remote and very remote areas and others who are hard to reach.’
Also in his speech, Mr Morrison will thank Australians for staying positive throughout 2020.
‘I said we would not let this virus break our Australian spirit. It hasn’t, and it won’t,’ he will say.
‘We found the same strength, good humour, resilience and mateship that enabled past generations of Australians to rise to the challenges of their time.’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is confident that everyone will be offered the jab by October
The prime minister will note that the unemployment rate has fallen from 7.5 per cent in July last year to 6.6 per cent in December. Almost 800,000 jobs were created in the past seven months. Pictured: Graphs showing the recovery
The prime minister is set to champion the country’s record on suppressing the virus, with Australia’s death rate the third lowest among the G20 nations, after China and South Korea.
He will also promote the government’s economic support measures and declare that 90 per cent of jobs that were lost since March have come back.
However, with parts of Western Australia in lockdown after a hotel security guard tested positive on Sunday, Mr Morrison will warn that the nation is not out of the woods yet.
‘The pandemic is still raging. It is not petering out. The virus has not gone anywhere. Indeed, it is morphing into new and more virulent strains.
‘So we must remain vigilant,’ he will say.
Why might Australia’s vaccine rollout be delayed by the EU?
On Friday the European Union imposed a ‘vaccine export transparency mechanism’.
It will be used until the end of March to control vaccine shipments to non-EU countries, with any exporting company required to submit its plans to national authorities.
EU officials have insisted the measure is not an export ban and that the move is intended to ensure member nations receive doses they bought from vaccine producers.
The move could hold up Australia’s supply of the Pfizer vaccine which is made in Belgium.
So far, Australia does not have any other vaccines approved.
The EU implemented the measure after AstraZeneca said initial deliveries of its vaccine to the bloc will fall short because of a production glitch – said to be at a hub in Belgium – and it will not be able to meet its supply targets for the first three months of this year.
The British-Swedish company announced initial deliveries in the EU would total approximately 31 million doses – rather than the anticipated 80 million in the first quarter.