The federal government has taken another step towards vaccinating Australians against COVID-19 with the signing of delivery contracts.
The Pfizer and AstraZenanca vaccines, due to roll out from March next year, are being produced in Australia by CSL and Novavax.
Health Minister Greg Hunt on Thursday announced distribution contracts have been signed with DHL and Linfox to truck the vials across Australia, including those living in very remote areas.
The government has also tapped Accenture to gather the data to track vaccine doses and PwC to work with the health department to help monitor the program.
Mr Hunt noted the vaccines require special handling and must be stored from between 2C and 8C to as low as -70C, which is required for the Pfizer vaccine.
Purpose-built dry ice containers will be used to move the Pfizer vaccine.
“It’s one of the largest logistical exercises in Australian history, but our team is working right through the Christmas and New Year period,” Mr Hunt told Nine’s Today show.
The government has secured more than 117 million does to cover Australia’s 26 million population. Up to two doses per person will be required.
“Our advice remains that Australia remains on track for first vaccinations in March, and completion of whole of population in 2021,” Mr Hunt said in a statement.’
Mr Hunt also stressed that Australia was ahead of schedule on its vaccine rollout.
“In the last 24 hours I have spoken with the head of Pfizer Australia, with AstraZeneca senior officials, the head of CSL globally, (and) my confidence is even greater that we’ll be able to deliver the vaccines early in 2021,” he added.
The government plans to start with vaccinating older Australians, health workers and frontline workers in hotel quarantine systems of various states.
Meanwhile, most Australians will be free to enjoy a Christmas mostly free of virus restrictions, except those in NSW where a growing cluster in the city’s northern beaches region has prompted new lockdown rules.
But Sydneysiders will be allowed to host a limited number of visitors over Christmas, after eight new locally-acquired cases were reported in the 24 hours to 8pm on Tuesday – taking the total cluster to 97 infections.
Restrictions for regional NSW will remain unchanged, while up to 10 people and unlimited children aged under 12 will be allowed to gather on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day across Greater Sydney.
Northern beaches residents north of the Narrabeen Bridge can host five people from the local area, while those in the south will be able to host 10 visitors from anywhere.
Seven of the cases reported on Wednesday were linked to the northern beaches cluster, but the eighth was a contact of an infected quarantine nurse.
NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said genomic testing has linked those cases with the cluster, but authorities are still trying to find the person who spread the virus to the pair.
She also warned that a Qantas staff member had flown into Darwin from overseas and then taken a domestic flight to Sydney while infected last Friday.
Victoria on Monday reported a 15-year-old Melbourne girl had contracted the virus in Sydney’s northern beaches hot spot before driving home with her mother.
Four other family members have tested negative to the virus and are isolating together at their home.
But with no other cases of community transmission in the rest of the country, most people are set to celebrate a relatively normal Christmas.
There are also tens of thousands of Australians who still remain stuck overseas, nine months after the pandemic began.