Pfizer Covid vaccine swap revises hopes for international travel

Scott Morrison is open more vaccine swap deals. Picture: Elesa Kurtz
Scott Morrison is open more vaccine swap deals. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Australia's vaccination rollout could reach critical targets for reopening several weeks faster after another swap deal was arranged to get millions of Pfizer doses to Australia earlier than the existing order with the manufacturer.

International travel could resume by mid-December, according to Qantas as it prepares for flights between Australia and New Zealand Fiji, Singapore, the US, Japan, UK and Canada.

From February next year, the airline hopes to add Hong Kong, and more destinations in Asia by April if the federal government reopens the border in accordance with the national plan.

Pfizer dose supply will almost double this month to over 10 million, a result of international swap deals including the UK trading 4 million doses nearing expiry to Australia. In return the UK gets the same number from Australia's order in December when its residents begin taking booster shots.

The swap "breaks the back" of Australia's vaccine shortage ahead of the next bulk order delivering 11 million doses in October and again in November, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

The new doses will be loaded on two Qantas flights on Saturday, one repatriating Australians and a freight flight, and distributed from Sydney next week.

The extra vaccines will be distributed to states and territories based on population to meet the additional doses required to vaccinate 12-15 year olds that are now approved to take the Pfizer vaccine.

Mr Morrison urged anyone who can take the AstraZeneca vaccine to do so - as half of all those vaccinated in Australia have done.

Australia lags behind most of the developed world in COVID-19 vaccination rates, but recent surges in states with outbreaks have lifted the rate to around 37 per cent of the population over 16.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said vaccination coverage targets of 70 and 80 per cent of the 16+ population were now within sight.

"The burden and balance of vaccination in Australia will have moved forward two months from October and November to August and September," he said.

ACT, New South Wales and Tasmania were on target to reach the 80 per cent target by the end of October. With the earlier access to increases supply, South Australia, Northern Territory and Victoria may also.

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Chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly said every time someone gets vaccinated over the next few weeks, it will increase the protection for the entire community, including those aged under 12 who cannot be vaccinated.

Premiers and chief ministers were presented with new modelling information for vaccinating the 12-15 cohort and other vulnerable groups from the Doherty Institute during a meeting of national cabinet on Friday.

Dr Nick Coatsworth accepted there was a "live debate" over whether 12- to 15-year olds should be included in the targets. But he rubbished a push for vaccination targets in the under-12 range, arguing the best way to protect a child under 12 was to have both parents vaccinated.

"I'm a parent of three under 12 and nobody likes the thought of having their children getting COVID. But we just have to accept the reality that this is an overwhelmingly mild disease in children, even with the Delta variant," he told The Canberra Times.

Delta outbreaks in Victoria and NSW have seen a higher proportion of children being hospitalised than from previous strains. But Dr Coatsworth warned that figure was inflated.

"The main reason why kids are going into hospital is because their parents are sick with COVID," he said.

"They're there because the quickest place you can look after a kid in our society is a hospital."

"It's not because of the severity of their COVID, it's because they need to be looked after while their parents recover."

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This story International travel hopes rebound with more vaccine supply first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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