Two community cases of a contagious strain of coronavirus won’t derail plans to begin rolling out a vaccine in coming weeks, Health Minister Greg Hunt says.
The extra-virulent variant of the virus was detected last week in a Brisbane hotel quarantine worker and again on Monday in the woman’s partner.
Both have been quarantining and have, so far, not passed it on to anyone else.
But questions remain as to whether coronavirus vaccines will still be effective against the new strain.
Giving an update on the inoculation rollout strategy on Tuesday, Hunt said health authorities were taking it one day at a time.
“The best advice we have is that our vaccination program is unchanged and unaffected,” he said.
“Obviously, we’ll keep that under review but that’s a discussion which the prime minister and myself have been briefed on by both Professor Paul Kelly, the Chief Medical Officer, and Professor Brendan Murphy.
“So, at this stage, there is no sign that these strains do affect the vaccination program. In other words, our vaccinations are strong and effective.
“We’ll keep this under review. The world is learning every day but that appears to be not just the advice in Australia but the international advice.”
The major announcement made during Tuesday’s press conference revolved on who would be issuing doses of the vaccine when it was available.
Hunt said general practitioners would be able to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Those who want to provide the vaccine will begin coordinating with health authorities as soon as next week.
“We have a national vaccination network which last year saw us deliver 17 million vaccinations for flu, approximately, and that vaccination network is built around our general practices,” he said.
“When we compare the international with the Australian outcomes, we see that our doctors and our nurses have not only kept us safe, they have delivered an outcome that is, in so many ways, the envy of just about all of the rest of the world.”
General practitioners will not, however, be able to issue the Pfizer vaccine, even though it’s expected to be approved first.
That’s because the vaccine requires cold-chain storage which hospitals are best equipped to support.
The vaccine rollout strategy was most recently brought forward to commence in mid-to-late February.
It was broken down into five key phases to cover as much of the population as possible.
Phase 1a would see 678,000 people, including quarantine and border workers, frontline health workers, and aged care and disability staff and residents get the Pfizer-BioNTech jab from mid-February to the end of March.
Phase 1b is a significantly larger rollout in which 6.1 million people including anyone aged over 70, other healthcare workers, younger adults with an underlying condition and high-risk workers will get a vaccine.
It also includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are over 55.
Phase 2a covers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are between 18-54, along with Australians over 50 years old and other critical high-risk workers.
Phase 2b is the rest of the adult population, plus anyone from the previous phases that have been missed out.
Phase 3 will see children given the jab, but only “if recommended” as evidence currently shows that they don’t transmit COVID-19 like adults.
Vaccination will not be mandatory, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, but will be heavily encouraged.
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