The first locally produced doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines will be administered in just over a fortnight.
- The first batch of doses will begin in the week starting March 22
- Local manufacturers CSL will be able to produce one million doses a week
- Around 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine bound for Australia were blocked by Italy
Speaking after a meeting of National Cabinet, Federal Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy said the CSL facility in Melbourne was on track to deliver the first batch of doses in the week starting on March 22.
“A million doses-plus a week, which gives us the capacity to really ramp up and broadly vaccinate our population as quickly as possible,” he said.
The vaccine has been approved for use in Australia, but the initial 300,000 doses were produced overseas.
The second delivery of AstraZeneca vaccines from overseas has been delayed because of export controls imposed by Italy and the European Union.
Both health authorities and the Prime Minister have said the delay will not impact the vaccine rollout in Australia.
Scott Morrison said the government “always anticipated” that a problem like this might arise.
“That’s why we’ve done a number of things, the most significant of which is to ensure that we have our own domestically produced vaccine,” he said.
“We’re one of the few countries that have done that.
CSL’s Chief Scientific Officer Andrew Nash said the company had worked “at pace” to make sure it could deliver the vaccine supply on schedule.
“The filling production line was turned on more than two weeks ago and is now running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and will do so until this campaign is finished,” he said.
Mr Morrison acknowledged that the COVID situation in Italy was vastly different to the one here, with people dying “at the rate of 300 a day”.
“So, I can certainly understand the high level of anxiety that would exist in Italy and in many countries across Europe,” he said.
Australia has secured 53.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, of which 50 million will be made locally.
“We are still working and still expect to get those other 3.8 million, and we may yet get more in coming weeks,” Professor Murphy said.
He also said members of the Australian Defence Force would play a “relatively minor role” in delivering the vaccine.
“There’s a team of about 60 ADF personnel who are clinically trained, mostly nurses and paramedic-style trained people.
“They were standing up teams anyway to vaccinate the defence forces, and what we’ve done is ask them to stand up a bit earlier to help with the aged care rollout.
“Aged care rollout has been a bit more complex than we thought and we need to supplement it.”
Flight caps remain, Howard Springs capacity doubles
The Prime Minister said the group of state and territory leaders did not decide to lift the cap on international passenger arrivals, other than the expansion of the Howard Springs quarantine facility.
Mr Morrison said he had “regularly” asked Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews when the state planned to raise the number of international arrivals.
“The Premier advised me today he hopes to soon be able to provide a response to that,” he said.
The increase is set to take effect around April or May, with the Prime Minister saying it would take time to bring on board extra workers at the facility.
“There’s also wet season issues as well,” he said.