Major hospitals across Australia are gearing up to deliver the first doses of coronavirus vaccine, which are expected to arrive in the country within weeks.

It’s an exciting time for health workers who have spent the past year either treating coronavirus patients or preparing for a potential influx of cases.

On Wednesday, Victoria became the latest state to reveal the location of its vaccination hubs — nine major hospitals in metro and regional areas.

It’s a major logistical exercise that’s being led by the Federal Government with the aim of delivering 25 million jabs by October.

Here’s what we know about how it’s going to work.

First, to Victoria

Vaccinating the entire country’s population is a daunting task made even more difficult by the conditions needed to ship and store the first vaccine likely to be rolled out.

That’s the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which needs to be kept at -70 degrees Celsius.

So far, it’s the only vaccine to have received approval for use in Australia, though the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is still evaluating other options, including the University of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

In Victoria, staff at Monash Health have been preparing for the arrival of the Pfizer vaccine since before Christmas.

“Monash has two empty freezers ready to go. And we have enough in those two freezers to stock about 180,000 doses of vaccine, so there’s ample storage capacity to start storing vaccines for our hub,” said Rhonda Stuart, Monash Health’s Medical Director for Infection Prevention.

Some of the first doses will go to Monash Health’s 20,000 staff members, starting with around 5,000 who work directly with COVID patients and have a higher chance of catching the virus, Ms Stuart said.

It’ll take about six weeks to vaccinate all Monash Health staff members, Ms Stuart said, as each person needs a dose on day one, and another on day 21.

Then, as more doses arrive, they’ll work to deliver doses to other health services in the hub, as well as private hospitals.

But all that depends on the arrival of the vaccines in Australia.

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A vaccine storage unit

When will the vaccinations start?

Authorities still don’t know. Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said on Wednesday that states and territories hadn’t been given specific dates for the rollout.

The Federal Government hopes the first doses will arrive in late February, but supply issues could push the national rollout into March.

Both Pfizer and AstraZeneca are based in Europe, and last month the European Union imposed new restrictions that could delay their export.

Australia plans to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine in Victoria, but production won’t be up and running for several weeks.

Where are the vaccination hubs?

Victoria, NSW and Queensland have named the locations of their first vaccination hubs. They’re mainly in large hospitals, due to the cold storage requirements of the Pfizer vaccine.


Western Health, Austin Health, Monash Health, Barwon Health, Goulburn Valley Health, Latrobe Health, Bendigo Health, Ballarat Health and Albury-Wodonga Health.

New South Wales

The Royal Prince Alfred, Westmead and Liverpool hospitals, then Hornsby, St George, Nepean, Newcastle, Wollongong, Coffs Harbour, Dubbo and Wagga Wagga hospitals.


Cairns, Townsville, the Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast and two in Brisbane.

What challenges does the Pfizer vaccine present?

The need to keep the vaccine in very cold conditions has huge implications for how it’s delivered.

For example, the doses need to be kept in freezers, like the ones sitting empty at Monash Health.

Or they can be distributed in thermal “shipper bags”, which contain 4,875 doses and keep them cold until they’re used.

“You have to be really well prepared, like a war. It’s going to require people who receive the shipper box not to waste one single vial of this precious stuff,” said epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws.

Once the shipper bag is opened, all doses need to be used within 30 days. Dry ice needs to be added every five days, and the bag can only be opened for 60 seconds at a time, she said.

“It’s important to have well-trained staff because we’re going to be using multidose vials,” Professor McLaws said.

“Multidose vials have to be only handled by well-trained staff who understand how to deliver a vaccine to multiple people safely, without any contamination. It requires top-level training.”

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has given the Pfizer vaccine the green light.(ABC News)

Who gets it first?

The five-phase rollout plan prioritizes healthcare workers and vulnerable people.

Australia has only agreed to purchase 10 million doses of the Pfizer, enough to vaccinate five million people, so they’ll go to people listed in Phase 1a. That’s quarantine and border workers, frontline healthcare workers, aged care and disability care residents and workers.

Everyone else on the list below will likely to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has yet to receive TGA approval.

  • Phase 1b: Anyone over 70 years old, other healthcare workers, younger adults with an underlying condition, high-risk workers (like emergency services personnel and meat-processing workers), and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are aged over 55.
  • Phase 2a: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are between 18-54, along with Australians over 50 years old and other critical high-risk workers
  • Phase 2b: The rest of the adult population, plus anyone from the previous phases that may have been missed
  • Phase 3: Children, but only “if recommended” given the evidence that they don’t transmit the disease like adults

Pfizer’s vaccine must be kept in fridges set at -70C or in special shipper bags.(AP: Mark Lennihan)

How will I know when it’s my turn?

That’s not clear yet. In Israel, for example, people are informed by text message when it’s their turn to receive the shot, said Professor McLaws.

They are told when and where to go, she said. In Australia, there are still no specific instructions about how people can join the queue.

“Are they going to register with their GP, are they going to register with a pharmacist or a pathology reception room?” Professor McLaws asked.

“Do they have a choice or will the choice be made for them?”

Health Minister Mr Foley said on Wednesday that Victoria’s system was a “hub and spoke” system.

“When we call these centres hubs, that’s for a very good reason. For people who are in a position to come to the centres, we’re very much encouraging that, but it will depend on the circumstances,” Mr Foley said.

“That’s why it’s important to have, as all of these nine centres are, not just important healthcare and support hubs, but they are all very well linked into their wider communities, and that’s why the hub and spoke notion, where it’s appropriate, will be part of the rollout program.”