It’s the moment Australians have waited for since the COVID-19 pandemic changed our lives: the vaccine that holds the promise of returning to some semblance of normal.
Just a year ago, the prospect of a scientific breakthrough that could protect against the virus seemed a long way away, the hope of scientists around the world but not yet the reality.
In the surreal and tragic days that followed, more than 2.2 million lives have been lost worldwide.
Here in Australia the death toll stands at 909 lives lost, the vast majority — more than 800 — in Victoria and most of them in aged care homes ravaged by virus outbreaks.
RELATED: How the rollout will work
And while we’ve arguably avoided the worst of the ravages of the virus seen in Europe and the United States, thousands of Australians have remained stranded overseas and unable to return home.
The vaccine holds the promise of helping to end that heartbreak. But many Australians have legitimate questions about how the rollout will work.
Answering these important questions holds the key to ensuring Australians have confidence in the vaccine program.
These are the questions news.com.au has sought to answer in preparing our campaign Our Best Shot which is designed to answer all of your queries about COVID-19 vaccines.
The Prime Minister is urging citizens to get the COVID-19 vaccine as a crucial step in containing the virus and ending that heartbreak.
“We want to encourage Australians right around the country to roll up their sleeves and get a COVID-19 vaccine,’’ the Prime Minister told news.com.au.
“For 12 months we have fought COVID-19, prioritising saving lives and livelihoods, but to win the battle we need Australians to get vaccinated.
“The vaccine will be voluntary and Australians should have confidence that it is both safe and effective.
“Getting the jab will be a critical step in returning to a more normal life, however it won’t be an instant silver bullet.”
It’s true that the vaccine is not a “silver bullet”. It won’t change everything overnight. But the alternative is more of the same: lockdowns, lay offs and more border closures.
It’s not just Australia that needs to be vaccinated but the world, with the last year underlining the threat of mutant strains emerging wherever outbreaks run rampant.
So, the Morrison Government is aware it needs to walk a fine line between spruiking the benefits but not overselling the vaccine as delivering a return to normal tomorrow or even next month.
Questions remain however.
What will the new COVID-19 normal look like?
Why is it vital that as many Australians as possible are vaccinated over this year?
Are some vaccines better than others? If there are “better” ones, what are the dangers of taking a punt and waiting for one vaccine over another?
How have scientists developed a vaccine so quickly and can Australians be reassured the normal processes have been followed?
Has the Morrison Government got the vaccine strategy right?
Will the vaccine trade war erupting in Europe impact supplies of vaccines here in Australia? Do we have enough vaccines to protect the entire community?
We know the vaccine will be free, voluntary and rolled out to those most vulnerable to encountering COVID-19 at work in the first instance.
Hotel quarantine and frontline workers first, a risk underlined by the most recent infection of a security guard in Perth that has plunged WA’s capital.
There will be five phases of the program, commencing with frontline hotel quarantine and border control workers before moving through aged care workers, senior Australians and people with a disability.
But what does it mean for overseas travel and hotel quarantine? Health Minister Greg Hunt confirms the first step is getting the country vaccinated.
“We recognise that safe and effective vaccines are an important step to free movement within Australia and enable us to work towards international travel,’’ he told news.com.au.
“Achieving community protection through immunisation would improve the lives of many Australians.
“The Australian Government may consider establishing new entry requirements for incoming travellers. There has been no decision to mandate vaccination for all arriving travellers to date.”
There’s also the question of how long the vaccines will last and when you will need a booster shot.
Deputy chief medical officer Professor Michael Kidd confirms that the question of booster shots and how often you will need them is something that will be researched and finalised over the next year.
“To safely achieve herd immunity against COVID-19, a substantial proportion of the population would need to be vaccinated, lowering the overall amount of virus able to spread in the whole population,’’ he said.
“None of the major vaccines have data on long term transmission effects which is the driver of herd immunity. In that context the Government will continue to ensure that we have whole of population protection.
“We also need more information on the long term durability of the vaccines. This is an important area of research and will likely vary according to the community, the vaccine, the populations prioritised for vaccination, and other factors.”
Some of these questions we know the answer to, others will become clearer throughout the year, but news.com.au’s Our Best Shot campaign is designed to keep asking the questions you want answered on the COVID-19 vaccine and how it can change our lives for the better.