Australia’s vaccine plans have received a boost after the Prime Minister confirmed extra doses of the Pfizer jab had been secured.
Scott Morrison confirmed on Thursday the government had struck a deal for another 10 million Pfizer doses, doubling Australia’s order for a jab considered the world’s most effective protection from COVID-19.
“These additional vaccines have been secured consistent with our requirements under the strategy,” he told reporters in Canberra.
Mr Morrison praised Greg Hunt and Health Department secretary Professor Brendan Murphy for securing the deal.
“It is the big agenda item for us because it provides the pathway to so many of the other things we wish to achieve this year,” he said.
Mr Morrison confirmed Australia was on track to begin its vaccine rollout at the end of the month.
“That puts us in a very good position, particularly with our sovereign vaccine production capability,” he said.
Health Minister Greg Hunt would not be drawn on a timetable for the additional doses, but guaranteed they would arrive before the end of the year.
He said the rollout was the “next critical step” in Australia’s fight against COVID-19.
“(The deal) provides additional support over and above that which was already in place,” he said.
“As part of that vaccine strategy, we have followed the advice on purchasing from the scientific and technical advisory group.
“Today is another important step in the vaccine rollout and in building on that work that Australians have done, of keeping each other safe.”
Mr Hunt also confirmed free vaccines would be provided to all visa holders, including refugees, asylum seekers, and temporary protection visa holders.
“That’s making sure that there is the maximum possible coverage in Australia,” he said.
Professor Murphy said the additional doses would not alter Australia’s rollout strategy, but provided “additional insurance” with more than 100 million doses already expected.
“This is a position that we wouldn’t have dreamt of a year ago, six months ago. It is a very, very nice position to be in,” he said.
The development comes after Pfizer revealed in January it could produce more doses for Australia than initially expected after “ramping up” its manufacturing capability.
The Pfizer vaccine became the first to be granted approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) last month.
Another 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were set to be manufactured by CSL in Melbourne, subject to approval from the TGA.
The government has stressed the need for onshore manufacturing, after the European Union threatened to impose restrictions on vaccine exports from the bloc, including the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs.
Mr Hunt played down fears over supply-chain disruptions, saying there had been “significant improvement both with the flows of AstraZeneca and with the flows of Pfizer”.
Mr Morrison also revealed he held “a very warm and engaging” first call with new US President Joe Biden.
“We appreciated the opportunity to have that conversation in an early phase amongst the many nations that have been engaged with early on in that process,” he said.
“As he said to me again today, he sees the Australia-US relationship as providing the anchor for peace and security in our region. And that is true. We share that view.”