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Thursday, April 22, 2021

ACT’s first AstraZeneca vaccinations ‘a real milestone’

Doctors at Canberra Health Services were given the ACT’s first AstraZeneca vaccinations at the Garran Surge Centre this morning, a fortnight after the first Canberrans received the Pfizer vaccine.

“Starting our AstraZeneca rollout is … a real milestone as we move towards combating and continue to combat COVID-19 in our community,” said Rachel Stephen-Smith, ACT Minister for Health.

Australia received its first shipment of 300,000 doses of AstraZeneca last week; the first recipient was a South Australian doctor on Friday.

To date, 2,500 frontline health, border and hotel quarantine workers have already received the Pfizer vaccine at the Surge Centre as part of phase 1A. Meanwhile, the Commonwealth is vaccinating aged-care and disability home residents and staff.

Phase 1B, beginning this month, will vaccinate elderly people over 70; Indigenous people over 55; younger adults with underlying medical conditions or disabilities; critical / high risk workers (police, fire, defence, emergency services, meat processing); and other health care workers.

More than 4,500 general practices will vaccinate patients in phase 1B, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt announced on the weekend, beginning with 1,000 GPs on the weekend of 22 March.

Ms Stephen-Smith said the ACT Government was receiving a tray of Pfizer each week, containing enough doses for 1,000 vaccinations.

The minister expected “a rapid ramp-up” in vaccinations from late March once domestically manufactured vaccines become available. CSL in Melbourne is making 50 million doses of AstraZeneca (1 million a week).

Italy recently blocked the export of 250,000 doses of AstraZeneca to Australia, arguing the company had failed to deliver the 50 million vaccinations it had promised the EU.

Mr Hunt and Prime Minister Scott Morrison said this did not affect the pace of the roll-out; the blocked export had not been factored into the distribution to states and territories.

The Prime Minister has asked the EU to review the decision, but said he understood “the high level of anxiety” in Italy and other European countries. “They are in an unbridled crisis situation. That is not the situation in Australia.”

Italy is the most affected country in Europe: more than 100,000 people have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began, at a rate of 300 each day.

France has aligned itself with Rome, saying it may also block exports. More than 89,000 people have died from COVID-19 in France.

There are four active cases of COVID-19 in the ACT. Three members of a family and a nearby passenger returned on a repatriation flight from Singapore last week with the more contagious South African variant.

Kerryn Coleman, ACT Chief Health Officer, said all risk mitigation measures were being put in place quickly and thoroughly. She expected a close contact would also test positive; passengers would have an extended quarantine period.

According to Bernadette McDonald, Canberra Health Services CEO, the Garran Surge Centre can administer 6,000 vaccinations a week. The Centre will be split into separate sections for each vaccine – AstraZeneca and Pfizer.

The Centre (custom-designed as a COVID-19 emergency department) has closed down as a testing facility. Canberrans can be tested at EPIC, Kambah, Weston Creek, Crace, Tuggeranong, or at the Winnunga Nimmityjah Respiratory Clinic for Indigenous people.

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