Coronavirus vaccinations have begun in NSW in what the premier says is a “game changer”, with plans for the jab to be offered to everyone in the state by the end of October.
Health workers at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred, Westmead and Liverpool hospitals were the first to receive the Pfizer vaccine on Monday, with uniformed police officers among those lining up.
More than 1200 people are due to be vaccinated across the three Sydney hospitals through the day.
The NSW government plans to vaccinate 35,000 frontline workers in the next three weeks, including those working in health and quarantine hotels, with the public then to be advised who is next in line.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the vaccinations would not be mandatory at this stage, but she encouraged everyone to get the jab.
“I don’t want to make vaccines mandatory in NSW but I do want to provide incentives. I think if people do take the vaccine they will have opportunity for greater freedom,” Ms Berejiklian told reporters.
She said the vaccine represented a new phase in fighting the pandemic, and said restrictions could ease if a critical mass of the population took up the vaccine.
“It does mean we can start thinking about overseas travel, we can start thinking about easing of restrictions,” she said.
“It definitely means there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and it definitely means I’m hoping we’ve come through the worst part of the pandemic.”
Ms Berejiklian said she hoped only a “very small percentage” of people would not want the vaccine.
“There’s always a minority who don’t like to do something … people who have got concerns,” she said.
But NSW Labor said the government needs to do more to encourage people to get vaccinated.
Labor cited a Roy Morgan survey from December that showed more than one in ten people in NSW are not willing to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
“The research shows there are still large numbers of people who are reluctant to get vaccinated. Lives and livelihoods depend on clear and consistent messaging,” NSW Labor Health spokesperson Ryan Park said.
NSW Chief Medical Officer Kerry Chant gave assurances about the vaccine’s safety.
“When it is your time, please roll up your sleeve and get vaccinated,” Dr Chant said.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said there was a “buzz and excitement” among frontline workers who had gone through “dark and worrying days” since the virus first arrived in NSW 13 months ago.
“It’s a very small and very quick jab but it’s a mighty leap for all of us back to normalcy,” Mr Hazzard said.
NSW will use the Pfizer vaccine for the next three weeks, but most people will be offered the AstraZeneca vaccine.
More than 1000 people will be vaccinated at Sydney’s RPA Hospital each day during the next three weeks, plus more at Westmead and Liverpool hospitals.
At the same time, the federal government is starting to roll out vaccinations at aged care facilities across the nation.
NSW has recorded 36 consecutive days without a local COVID-19 case, with the only case reported on Monday an overseas traveller.