Australia is on track to begin rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine in late February, and for all Australians who wish to be vaccinated to have received their jabs by the end of October.
The assurance, by Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, came on Saturday amid a row sparked by the European Union threatening to block vaccine shipments to some countries.
The EU has introduced new export restrictions on vaccinations produced by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and AstraZeneca to a list of countries including Australia after supply shortages were reported.
A spokesperson for Minister Hunt said the Minister had, on Saturday, reconfirmed Australia’s current vaccine schedule with the country heads of Pfizer and AstraZeneca.
It is understood the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is seeking information and making strong representations on behalf of Australia to the WHO, the EU and European officials.
Acting Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd said Australia was reaching out across the world to ensure continuity in supplies.
“This is why (Health Minister Greg) Hunt is keeping in contact with the country leads of both Pfizer and AstraZeneca on a day-to-day basis to ensure that we continue to have certainty about the offshore production, but also the shipping of the doses of two vaccines to Australia,” he said on Saturday.
He confirmed onshore production of AstraZeneca would begin in March subject to approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
Up to 1.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are due in Australia from overseas in March, while 80,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be available each week from late-February.
“These projections already take into account the global supply challenges for both Pfizer and AstraZeneca, and the European regulatory proposals,” Mr Kidd said.
Veterans’ Affairs Minister Darren Chester earlier said the federal government would also be making its case to the World Health Organisation.
“Now as we understand our situation here in Australia, right now we are on track, we have brought forward the approval process, it’s been fully approved in terms of distribution of the vaccine we expect to roll out towards the end of February,” Mr Chester told ABC News on Saturday.
“These supply shocks were not unexpected given the nature of the virus,” he added.
The restrictions give EU citizens priority and commit the pharmaceutical giants to seeking approval before sending doses outside the European Union.
The move comes after AstraZeneca published its COVID-19 vaccine contract with the European Commission, signed on August 27.
“The Commission welcomes the company’s commitment towards more transparency in its participation in the rollout of the EU Vaccines Strategy,” the EU executive said in its statement.