COVID jabs ready to roll ahead of ‘all hands on deck’ rollout effort

The pharmaceutical companies developing Australia’s coronavirus vaccines say doses are ready to ship as attention shifts to meeting the logistical challenges of delivering them across the country.

Doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are expected to land on Australian shores next month, two weeks after the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) registers the product. A Pfizer spokeswoman told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age these would be delivered according to government instructions once the approval was given.

“During the initial pandemic stage, our contracts are with the government, and we will provide doses according to the government’s preferred channel and designated locations,” she said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison discusses the rollout of a coronavirus vaccine in Australia.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison discusses the rollout of a coronavirus vaccine in Australia. Credit:Nine News

Meanwhile, 3.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be imported from Europe and the company expects to deliver those doses by the end of next month, pending approvals. The AstraZeneca product, made in partnership with Oxford University, is also being produced under licence in Australia by CSL.


Once delivered, the government will be relying on a range of logistics operators and state government cooperation to distribute vaccines. An initial 30 to 50 “cold chain” hubs will be established, with sites decided with the states and territories, to store the Pfizer product, which needs to be kept at -70 degrees.

Epidemiologists have previously warned that while Australia is well prepared for the rollout, citizens need to be prepared for challenges in vaccine distribution due to the unique scale of the task.

Social scientist and senior lecturer in public health and community medicine at UNSW, Dr Holly Seale, warned the government faced a big challenge in ensuring the priority groups set to be vaccinated first were all identified and encouraged to come forward for their jabs.

“We know that it’s not always easy to identify somebody based on a particular characteristics,” she said.

“Trying to capture data is going to take a lot of effort.”

The federal government, which confirmed on Wednesday that it would be starting vaccinations for priority groups from mid-February, has selected DHL Supply Chain and Linfox as logistics partners for transport of the vaccine. The companies will be responsible for “track and report the temperature of the vaccine at all times”, according to the health minister.

The rollout will start with Pfizer’s vaccine, followed by the AstraZeneca product.

“Linfox’s cold chain network includes temperature-controlled distribution centres and cross-dock facilities across Australia, and a world-class fleet with industry-leading safety and temperature-controlled features including temperature tracking and the highest security standards,” Linfox executive chair Peter Fox said in a statement last month.

A nurse holds a phial of vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine - one of two products being rolled out in Australia.
A nurse holds a phial of vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine – one of two products being rolled out in Australia.Credit:AP

Meanwhile, digital services provider Accenture has been commissioned to design the software to track vaccine doses across the supply chain.

A Qantas spokesman said the national carrier has done some work to ensure its domestic freighters are equipped to transport vaccines at -70 if they are called upon to transport doses across the country, however the airline will not be involved in importing the first vaccine doses.

While the vaccination rollout will initially be undertaken by hospitals and some GP clinics, a health department spokesman said the government was preparing a wide-ranging workforce to deliver the jabs, including pharmacists who are set to get involved later this year.

Pharmacists have long pushed for involvement in the rollout. Victorian branch president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia Anthony Tassone said that pharmacists were well-versed in cold chain logistics and any concerns about required storage temperatures for vaccines “not insurmountable” for local pharmacists.

“With such a significant task ahead of us to immunise as many Australians who want to receive the vaccine in 2021 – we literally need all immuniser ‘hands on deck’ to get the job done,” he said.

With Patrick Hatch

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