Australia brings forward vaccine roll out

Australia has moved up its vaccine rollout by a month, with regulators ready to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by the end of January, and the Oxford University vaccine approved in February.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced his plans on Thursday, and said almost four million Australians could be vaccinated by March.

The Oxford University Astra Zeneca vaccine will be produced locally, while the country is preparing to make its first order of 10 million Pfizer vaccines in the coming weeks. 

The first Australians to get the jab will be 700,000 frontline workers across the health and border sector, care home workers and residents of care homes.

Australians over 70, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders over 55, healthcare workers, adults with underlying health conditions and emergency services workers are next in line.

Mr. Morrison said the Government expects 80,000 people per week to be vaccinated in the earliest weeks of the rollout with numbers gradually ramped up.

It is not yet announced when Samoa might expect to be included in any regional vaccine rollout plans. 

The Australian High Commission has been approached for comment.

Fears that the Pfizer vaccine would not respond to the new, more infectious strain of COVID-19 that emerged in the United Kingdom have been partly put to rest.

New researched by Pfizer, which has not yet been peer reviewed, details how 16 different mutations of the virus have been tested against the vaccine with little impact.

They used blood samples from 20 people who received the vaccine, made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, during a large trial of the shots. Antibodies from those recipients fended off the virus in lab dishes, according to the study, posted late Thursday on an online site for researchers.

Pfizer chief scientific officer Dr. Philip Dormitzer said the findings are “reassuring.”

“So we've now tested 16 different mutations, and none of them have really had any significant impact. That's the good news,” he said. 

“That doesn't mean that the 17th won't.”

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the one from Moderna Inc , which use synthetic messenger RNA technology, can be quickly tweaked to address new mutations of a virus if necessary. Scientists have suggested the changes could be made in as little as six weeks.

But the variant may pose other problems. The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reported this week that the new variants may lead to false negative results from some molecular COVID-19 tests, though the risk is low.

It has altered laboratory and healthcare staff about the possibility, with some particular test kits reported to be more or less sensitive to the new variant than others.

COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7 which emerged in the U.K., has been found to be more infectious though does not result in more severe symptoms.

The F.D.A. has said the detection patterns in tests will help with early identification of new variants in patients.

Meanwhile New Zealand, which has pledged to provide vaccines to Samoa and several other Pacific Islands, has yet to approve any of the vaccines currently on the market. 

New Zealand’s Ministry of Health has said vaccines will be distributed in the second quarter of 2021 to the first group of eligible people, which include border and managed isolation workers and the health workers, and their households.

If there is widespread community transition when it comes time to rollout vaccinations, that first group of people will instead be older people (starting with aged care residents, Maori and Pacific people, then others over 65 years), long term care facility residents, and people under 65 with underlying health conditions.

In early December, Minister Chris Hipkins said New Zealand is in a “slightly different position” to countries that gave emergency approval to some vaccines, and asked people to be patient.

Samoa’s Ministry of Health, and National Emergency Operations Centre have been approached for comment.

With Associated Press and Reuters

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