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Australia says COVID-19 vaccinations likely to begin in February

Morrison said Australia's pharmaceutical regulator is expected to approve the use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine by the end of January, with the first doses issued within weeks.

January 07, 2021 / 09:21 AM IST

Australia is on course to begin administering the first COVID-19 vaccines in February, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday, as the country moves to accelerate its inoculation programme as two states try to contain outbreaks.

Morrison said Australia's pharmaceutical regulator is expected to approve the use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine by the end of January, with the first doses issued within weeks.

"We are now in a position where believe we will be able to commence vaccinations in mid-to-late February," Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

Australia earlier this week said it expected to begin COVID-19 vaccinations in March.

Australia has reported a total of just over 28,500 COVID-19 cases and 909 deaths since the pandemic began, with border closures and speedy tracking systems helping keep numbers relatively low. (Graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/34pvUyi)

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Authorities are trying to contain new virus clusters in its largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne.

The most populous state New South Wales, the epicentre of the country's latest outbreak, on Thursday said it recorded zero local COVID-19 infections in the past 24 hours.

Australia has ordered 10 million doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine. It has also struck a deal with AstraZeneca PLC that sees the vaccine produced locally.

Morrison said regulatory approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine is expected in February.

Once both are approved, Morrison said Australia aims to vaccinate 80,000 people each week. This would then be expanded in the following four to six weeks, and by the end of March 4 million people could be vaccinated.

The acceleration in the COVID-19 vaccination programme comes amid heightened concern about the spread of the virus globally.

Australia's national cabinet will meet a month earlier than scheduled on Friday, Morrison said, as authorities seek to stop the spread of a more contagious variant of COVID-19 that emerged in Britain. A handful of international arrivals in Australia have tested positive to the UK-strain.

The cabinet meeting will consider a proposals to strengthen travel rules for its citizens and residents returning from overseas, Morrison wrote in a Facebook post late Wednesday.

Australian media reported the government has plans to introduce mandatory COVID-19 testing for all international travelers before they board their flights to the country.

Since March, the country has shut its borders to all non-citizens and permanent residents.
Reuters
first published: Jan 7, 2021 09:10 am

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