Australia starts roll-out of vaccine; aim is to cover 4m by March

SYDNEY • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison received his first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine yesterday, calling the start of the nation’s vaccination programme a “massive step” that will enable it to return to normal.

Up to four million Australians are expected to be inoculated by next month, with Mr Morrison among a small group of people, including older Australians, aged-care staff, and front-line nurses and workers, receiving their first round of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine yesterday.

“This is the beginning of a big game change,” Mr Morrison told reporters moments after getting injected at a medical centre in Sydney.

“Every day that goes past from here gets more normal. And that is what is exciting about today.”

Hours before Australia began inoculations with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Health Minister Greg Hunt said the government would embark on a wide-ranging communication campaign, including online, to ensure vulnerable people turned up for a shot.

But a ban on Health Department spending to advertise on Facebook would remain in place until the dispute between the Big Tech company and Australia – over a new law to make Facebook pay for news content – was resolved.

“On my watch, until this issue is resolved, there will not be Facebook advertising,” Mr Hunt told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

A broader “phase 1-A” roll-out will begin among aged-care and disability staff, and border protection and quarantine workers.

Elsewhere, in South Korea, its government will begin administering the first of 117,000 doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine on Saturday. Plans call for about 10 million high-risk people to be inoculated by July.

The first AstraZeneca vaccines are scheduled to be administered on Friday, said South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun yesterday.

Britain, meanwhile, said all adults will be offered a first shot of a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of July as the government beefs up efforts to contain the virus.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will set out the new targets today when he reveals his “road map” to easing lockdowns. It is the first time the government has given a firm target for offering all adults their initial dose, having previously said it hoped to do so by autumn.

So far, in Britain, more than 17 million people have been inoculated, around 30 per cent of the adult population, making the country a world leader in Covid-19 vaccination.

In India, the Serum Institute of India (SII) – the world’s biggest vaccine maker by volume – yesterday asked for patience from foreign governments awaiting their supply of Covid-19 shots, saying it had been directed to prioritise India’s requirements.

“I humbly request you to please be patient,” SII chief executive Adar Poonawalla said in a tweet, adding that the company “has been directed to prioritise the huge needs of India and along with that balance the needs of the rest of the world”.

“We are trying our best,” he added.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG