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First Australian vaccinations expected in early March

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Australia will be among the first countries to conditionally approve the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19, following a decision to bring forward the rollout to early March.

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The Morrison government had previously set a target date of late March for the first vaccinations but has now received fresh advice early March is achievable.

“As data and regulatory guidance have been provided we have progressively been able to bring forward our provisional rollout from mid-year to the second quarter to late March and now early March,” a spokesman for Health Minister Greg Hunt told AAP on Wednesday.

“Our number one priority is safety. Public confidence in safety reduces vaccine hesitancy.”

He said comparable countries with strong records on dealing with the virus – such as New Zealand, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan – are all on similar time frames for the rollout.

Pfizer is working with the Therapeutic Goods Administration, providing data for safety and efficacy as part of the approval process.

It is one of four vaccines the Australian government has purchased for a total projected supply of 134.8 million units.

The UK has been inoculating people with the Pfizer vaccine on an emergency basis for the past four weeks and on Monday became the first country in the world to start deploying the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which is also subject to an order from Australia.

The Pfizer vaccine is harder to manage than the AstraZeneca jab because it must be stored and transported at minus 70 degrees Celsius, while the latter can be kept in a refrigerator.

Agreements are also in place with the COVAX and Novavax vaccine programs.

-AAP

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