- The Health Minister said the doses were due to arrive sometime this week
- He did not offer an exact date, saying he needed to be careful about details in a “highly competitive global world”
- The Deputy Prime Minister said rolling out the vaccine was not going to be an easy task
Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed the first batch of the Belgium-made Pfizer jab is “scheduled to land in Australia before the end of the week, if not earlier”.
However, he remained tight lipped about the exact arrival date over fears that could put the product at jeopardy.
“Because this is the most precious of cargoes, we are being cautious with our details in a highly competitive global world,” he told reporters in Canberra.
Once the vials reach Australian shores they will be examined by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
But Mr Hunt said the government remained on track to begin giving the vaccine to vulnerable and priority groups before the end of February.
“The TGA will ensure that the numbers are correct, that they in particular haven’t had any in-flight actions that damaged quality, such as a loss of temperature,” he said.
“They will look to see that all of the vials are intact and haven’t had seals broken and they will also do batch testing as part of that, some of that has been done in Europe and additional tests will be done here in Australia.
“Our number one priority is safety, safety, safety.”
Australia has an agreement with Pfizer for it to provide a total of 3 million doses over the months of April, May and June.
Mr Hunt said this week’s delivery was expected to contain 80,000 doses.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that we may be able to do better than that,” he said.
“But as it was with masks and test kits, I will not count any of these until they are literally in hand, until they have been secured and until they have been tested and they have been counted.”
Deputy PM says distribution ‘not going to go flawlessly’
While touring a DHL cold-chain logistics facility, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the nation was about to embark on “one of the largest logistic tasks Australia has ever undertaken”.
“It’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to go flawlessly,” he said.
“There will be criticism along the way, but we will do absolutely what we can to make sure it’s available as soon as possible.”
DHL is one of two companies tasked with transporting the vials to hospitals, GP clinics and pharmacies around the country.
The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at freezing cold temperatures between minus 60 and minus 80 degrees Celsius.
DHL Supply Chain CEO Saul Resnick said the company acquired new freezers, each capable of holding 140,000 doses, for the specific purpose of storing the Pfizer jab.
“We can say with great confidence that what is arriving will be stored in an absolutely controlled and maintained environment,” he said.
“The Australian public doesn’t have to fear about products sitting outside of those environments.
“As product arrives, it will then be distributed almost immediately to the points of use.
“Our responsibility is to make sure that once the vials are in our care and custody, that we look after them not only from theft and loss perspective, but breakage, compliance; all aspects to ensure that throughout the lifecycle up until Australian population gets vaccinated, the product is cared for.”