SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was injected on Sunday with the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine jointly developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech, as the nation started its inoculation program a day ahead of schedule.
Up to 4 million Australians are expected to receive a COVID-19 vaccine voluntarily by March, with Morrison and Paul Kelly, the country’s chief medical officer, among a small group of Australians receiving the first inoculations.
“We’re here making some very important points,” Morrison said moments before cameras captured the first person being injected at a medical centre in Sydney. “That it is safe, that it’s important, and we need to start with those who are most vulnerable and on the frontline.”
Doses of the Pfizer inoculations, which need to be kept at temperatures well below freezing, were still being distributed to 16 vaccine hubs around Australia in preparation for the broader rollout of the vaccines on Monday.
A small number of older Australians at the Castle Hill Medical Centre in the western part of Sydney, aged-care staff, and frontline nurses and workers were among the group injected on Sunday, officials said.
The country is enjoying a second day without a single new COVID-19 transmission in the community, officials said. The vast majority of its population will be injected with the AstraZeneca vaccine by the end of October.
On Saturday, thousands of people attended anti-vaccine rallies in major Australian cities to protest what they incorrectly believed to be mandatory vaccinations.
Australia has reported just under 29,000 COVID-19 cases and 909 deaths since March 2020. The country has ranked among the top 10 in a COVID-19 performance index.