/ 16 February 2021

The vaccine eagle has landed

Australia’s first doses of the COVID vaccine touched down in Sydney yesterday – and the nation’s vaccination program will kick off on Monday following security and quality checks. There are 142,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the first shipment from Europe. The states and territories will receive 50,000 doses to give to frontline quarantine and health workers next week, and another 30,000 are earmarked for aged care and disability care residents and workers. Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said he expects 60,000 people to have their first jab of the 2-shot regime within a fortnight. The precious cargo requires cold storage of -60C to -80C, which is why experts have described the logistical challenge as the biggest the nation’s faced since WWII.

Sure, but it’s worth reflecting on its significance. Remember, this time a year ago a pandemic still hadn’t been declared. In Australia, we’d recorded a total of 15 cases of this new thing called coronavirus. We were still a couple of weeks away from emergency health orders and closing borders. Life might not be the same, but the speed at which vaccines have been developed – usually taking 5-10 years – is remarkable. The Pfizer vaccine is also one of the first to use mRNA technology – a medical advance in itself. The AstraZeneca vaccine, a more traditional medication not requiring cold storage, is expected to receive approval from our regulator this week.

The Holiday Inn cluster is at 17 cases – another woman tested positive after attending a family function on Saturday, 6 February with an infected hotel quarantine worker. She may have been infectious when she worked in the psychiatric units of 2 Melbourne hospitals, which are now in lockdown. Those contacts and the people who attended the function in Coburg in Melbourne’s north are the focus of officials’ concerns. That led Premier Daniel Andrews to say it’s too early to make a call about relaxing the statewide 5-day lockdown that’s due to be lifted at the end of tomorrow. Discussion on the safety of hotel quarantine programs is ongoing with The Australian this morning reporting (paywall) that billionaires/airport owners Lindsay Fox and John Wagner have put proposals for remote quarantine camps to government.

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