How is the COVID-19 vaccination program being rolled out?
The program is scheduled to commence later this month and will be rolled out in progressive phases (1a, 1b, 2a, 2b, 3) with the Pfizer vaccine.
The Federal Government asked our state to nominate sites for ‘vaccination hubs’ for the first phase of the roll-out. These hubs will be focused on Pfizer vaccine delivery to high-priority groups (e.g. quarantine workers and aged care) and are not open to members of the general public.
To ensure broad vaccination across the general population (likely to be the Astra Zeneca vaccine), the Australian Government is engaging with GPs, Primary Health Networks, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations and pharmacists to deliver COVID-19 vaccinations in later phases of the program.
When will vaccinations for COVID-19 begin?
Following its approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration on 25 January 2021, the Federal Government advised the Pfizer vaccine is expected to be available in Australia from late February 2021.
The Australian Government is responsible for securing and distributing COVID-19 vaccines. NSW Health is working closely with Australian Government agencies to implement a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccination program in NSW.
The vaccine roll-out will be led by the Australian Government, with the State being engaged in some elements. Phase 1a will commence with the Australian Government rolling out vaccines in aged care facilities through contracted providers and NSW Health will commence vaccinating high-priority groups. These groups have been identified by the Commonwealth and include quarantine and border workers, and frontline healthcare workers at particular risk of exposure to COVID-19.
What role will the ‘vaccination hubs’ play in the roll-out?
The vaccination hubs in NSW are being set up to provide the COVID-19 vaccine to the high priority groups in Phase 1a, including the healthcare workers and quarantine facility workers who are most at risk of being exposed to someone with the disease. Vaccine supply from the Federal Government will determine how rapidly the roll-out can occur.
The first three hubs will be located at Royal Prince Alfred, Westmead and Liverpool hospitals, with more hubs expected to follow. Sites chosen for hubs will have the necessary storage, vaccine handling and administration capacity. The hub at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital is located in close proximity to quarantine facilities and oversees the Special Health Accommodation, which cares for people with COVID-19 and other close contacts.
The hubs will not be open to members of the public during Phase 1a.
Why are the hubs not being set up to vaccinate everyone?
The Federal Government advises the supplies of the vaccine are likely to be very limited at the start of the roll-out. In addition, the Pfizer vaccine has to be stored at extremely cold temperatures (-70C), which means that it must be carefully managed.
The Pfizer vaccine is just one of the COVID-19 vaccines that have been developed. Other vaccines that are easier to store and handle are expected to become available in Australia at a later date. It is expected that one of these other vaccines will be made available to the general public through usual vaccination providers such as general practitioners and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations.
Which groups will be next in line after the first phase?
After Phase 1a of the roll-out, the Australian Government has identified the following groups as the focus of the next phase (Phase 1b): adults aged 80 and over; adults aged 70-79; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 55 and over; adults 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.
If vaccine supply rapidly increases, it is expected that many people in these groups will be offered a COVID-19 vaccine through their usual vaccination provider, including GP practices, GP respiratory clinics and Aboriginal health services.
When will members of the public be able to get vaccinated?
Some members of the public may be eligible earlier than others because they fall into one of the higher-risk categories. Information will be made available as soon as possible about the further phases of the vaccine roll-out and locations to access the vaccine. This will depend on the approval and availability of vaccines, including a vaccine that is more suited to general community use.