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COVID-19 vaccine rollout: what we know so far

The rollout of the much-anticipated and discussed COVID-19 vaccine has begun in Australia. Read on to learn more about what it means for seniors.

Readers of Active Retirees – most of whom are, by definition, in the high-risk 55+ and higher-risk 70+ age group – may have a particular interest in the schedule of the vaccine rollout.

The vaccination will be given to Australians aged 16 and over in at least four (maybe five) phases by the end of October – about eight months in total.

All residents of aged care facilities will be able to receive the vaccination in the first phase, otherwise known as Phase 1a, which began earlier this week.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 55 and over who are not in aged care facilities, and all other Australians aged 70 and over who are not in aged care facilities, will be able to receive the vaccination in the second phase, otherwise known as Phase 2a.

Federal Health Department Secretary, Dr Brendan Murphy, has described the rollout as “the most complex logistical exercise that perhaps we’ve done in public health in this country.”

Below are more specific answers to some of the most commonly asked questions.

When did the rollout begin?

After the initial February 15 date was pushed back due to international delays with the Pfizer vaccine, the rollout officially began on Monday, February 22.

Who will receive the first vaccinations?

The first group, otherwise known as Phase 1a, are those at the highest risk of contracting COVID-19, or of becoming very sick if they do so. This group, estimated at around 678,000 Australians, includes:

  • Quarantine and border workers
  • Frontline healthcare workers
  • Staff and residents at aged care and disability facilities

Who will receive the second vaccinations?

The second group is known as Phase 1b. This group, estimated at around 6.1 million Australians, includes:

  • All other (ie. non-frontline) healthcare workers
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged over 55 who are not in aged care
  • All other Australians aged over 70 who are not in aged care
  • Younger people with an underlying medical condition, including those with a disability
  • Critical and high-risk workers including defence, police, fire, emergency services and meat processing workers

Who will receive the remaining vaccinations?

The rest of Australia will receive the vaccinations in Phase 2a and 2b.

Phase 2a includes adults aged 60-69 years and 50-59 years; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 18-54; and other critical and high-risk workers.

Phase 2b includes the remainder of the adult population, along with any other unvaccinated Australians from previous phases.

Furthermore, if the Therapeutic Goods Administration approves a vaccine for use in children, then Phase 3 will see children under 16 vaccinated.

Which vaccines will be used?

Australia’s rollout plans involve two vaccines: the Pfizer vaccine and the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The Pfizer vaccine works by giving the body the material that encodes the protein of the virus, rather than the protein itself. Basically, it shows the body what the virus looks like without infecting it, allowing the body to develop its immune response. Importantly, the Pfizer vaccine must be stored in –70°C temperatures.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is a “non-replicating viral vector vaccine”. Essentially, scientists have taken a virus that tends to give chimpanzees a cold but is harmless to humans. They have then genetically engineered the virus to look like the virus that causes COVID-19, triggering an immune response in the body. Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, the AstraZeneca vaccine needs to be stored at 2 to 8 degrees (similar to most vaccines).

The first groups – Phases 1a and 1b – will receive the Pfizer vaccine. It comes in two doses, to be given 21 days apart.

The second groups – Phases 2a and 2b – will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Where can I get vaccinated?

Because the Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at –70°C, most of the vaccines for groups 1a and 1b will be administered at hospital hubs with ultra-cold freezers. The full list of hubs is not yet available, but several major metropolitan and regional hospitals are involved.

Aged care residents, however, will be vaccinated at their facilities.

Australians who receive the AstraZeneca vaccine will be able to have the vaccine administered at their local GP or pharmacy.

Is the vaccine mandatory of voluntary?

The vaccine is voluntary. According to the Department of Health website, “Australians have a great record in being immunised. The COVID-19 vaccine will be voluntary, universal and free. If a safe and effective vaccine becomes available for COVID-19, the Government aims to have as many Australians as possible choose to be vaccinated for COVID-19.”

For further information and official announcements, visit the Australian Department of Health COVID-19 Vaccine website.