Thousands of frontline workers in Australia have begun receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, with politicians and health authorities describing the day as a “milestone”.

Key points:

  • More than 60,000 doses are expected to be administered by the end of the week
  • The initial rollout is of the Pfizer vaccine but most Australians will receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab
  • More than 200 million COVID-19 vaccinations have already been administered internationally

The first person to receive the Pfizer vaccine on Monday morning was Monash Health medical director for infection prevention Rhonda Stuart in Melbourne, who was jabbed just after 7:30am EDT.

Professor Stuart’s team treated the first Australian case of COVID-19 in January 2020 — a returned traveller from the Chinese city of Wuhan.

In NSW, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she expected 1,200 people to get the vaccine on Monday, about 500 of them at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPA) and the rest at Westmead and Liverpool hospitals.

The first person at RPA to get jabbed was hotel quarantine cleaner Gaya Vellangalloor Srinivasan, who was elated.

“It feels really great to be the first person,” she said.

“It’s happening, it’s really happening so I felt so excited.”

Ms Berejiklian said 35,100 people would be vaccinated in the state in the next three weeks.

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Vaccinations begin at Sydney’s royal Prince Alfred hospital

The first to get the jab in Queensland was nurse Zoe Park — she is among 180 recipients to receive the vaccine in the sunshine state on Monday alongside police Inspector Owen Hortz.

Ms Park works at Gold Coast University Hospital, where the first confirmed Queensland case of coronavirus was found in January last year.

“It’s a really exciting time for all healthcare workers and Queensland,” Ms Park said.

​”I work on the COVID-19 ward. So definitely feel safer going to work now.”

The first QLD Pfizer vaccine was given to nurse Zoe Park.

The first vaccinations in the Northern Territory are underway at the new vaccine hub at the Royal Darwin Hospital.

Health authorities are anticipating 3,000 people in the 1A priority group, which includes quarantine and frontline health workers, will receive vaccines within the next four weeks.

NT health authorities have rolled out vaccinations at Royal Darwin Hospital.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

Australia’s Acting Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd described the start of the rollout as “a milestone”.

The first frontline workers are receiving the Pfizer jab, which is manufactured in Belgium.

However, most Australians are expected to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, that will largely be produced by Melbourne-based company CSL.

This vaccine has an efficacy rate of 70 per cent, compared with Pfizer’s 95 per cent.

“What we know from the research that has been carried out is that 80 per cent of Australians are very determined to get this vaccine,” Professor Kidd said.

“They understand that vaccines save lives and how important this is to getting COVID-19 under control in Australia.”

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Frontline workers among first to receive jab in Sydney(ABC News)

In South Australia, the first to roll up their sleeves to get jabbed was Premier Steven Marshall alongside Health Minister Stephen Wade, public health officer Nicola Spurrier and SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens.

Professor Spurrier said the vaccine was the first step in being able to return to a situation “where we’re not having to be worried about the threat of the pandemic”.

“I feel very privileged to be among the first people in Australia to have this vaccine, but I can’t expect other South Australians to have the vaccine unless I’ve had it,” Professor Spurrier said.

SA Premier Steven Marshall moments after being administered the first Pfizer vaccine in the state.(ABC News: Brittany Evins)

In the ACT, 22-year-old nurse Maddy Williams was the first Canberran to receive the Pfizer jab while Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt and ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith were in the room.

Mr Hunt expects more than 60,000 doses in 240 aged care centres, and 190 towns and suburbs to have been administered by the end of the week.

COVID-19 vaccinations will be free in Australia and are administered in two doses, taken three weeks apart.

Frontline nurse Maddy Williams, 22, is the first person in the ACT to receive the Pfizer vaccine.(ABC News: Harry Frost)

Mr Hunt said he was unphased by potential discrepancies between the effectiveness of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines, pointing to a Lancet peer-reviewed study from earlier this month.

“COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca confirms 100 per cent protection against severe disease, hospitalisation and death in a primary analysis of phase three trial,” he said.

Ms Berejiklian, who will be receiving AstraZeneca, said she would be getting her jab as soon as she was eligible.

“It does mean we can think about the settings, overseas travel, easing of restrictions, these are all things we can start thinking about if our critical mass of our population takes up the vaccine,” she said.

Aged care residents and the Prime Minister were among the first group of Australians vaccinated at Sydney’s Castle Hill Medical Centre on Sunday.(ABC News: Rani Hayman)

Monday’s rollout comes after 20 people were jabbed on Sunday, included a World War II survivor and Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Mr Morrison described the beginning of Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination program as “historic” and a “game changer” with the potential to transform the country’s response to the pandemic.

The first batches of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were received by most states and territories over the weekend and have been sitting inside super-cold freezers, which keep the doses at the requisite -70 degrees Celsius.

The government has identified key priority groups and first in line to get the jab will be people at increased risk of contracting COVID-19, including border and hotel quarantine workers and frontline healthcare staff.

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First vaccination in Victoria has been administered

Epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws praised the move to prioritise hotel quarantine workers.

“It’s not the weapon that’s going to win the COVID war, like the way it was announced by the governor of New York [Andrew Cuomo],” she said.

“But the strategy to target hotel quarantine staff — where there is the greatest risk of exposure — will result in a considerable reduction of outbreaks.”

People receive the Pfizer vaccine at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Earlier in the week, Health Department boss and former chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said it was fortunate the vaccines were being rolled out while there were no community transmissions.

He said an outbreak “might change the schedule, but there is no impending serious risk” at the moment.

States set own goals, but rollout is Commonwealth led

Each state and territory have designated and will manage its own targets and priorities for the rollouts and the first batches will be delivered at one of 16 “Pfizer vaccination hubs”.

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Before a single dose has been administered in Australia, the rest of the world is racing to get shots in arms.

Concurrently, the Commonwealth will be managing dosages for aged care facilities, which have made up over 98 per cent of COVID-19 related deaths in the past year.

Each state and territory hopes to achieve the following:

  • NSW will aim to vaccinate 35,100 frontline workers within the first three weeks
  • The Victorian Government will have 12,000 doses for the first week of phase 1a and up to 59,000 doses for the first four weeks
  • Queensland had 100 doses for the Gold Coast on Monday and will aim to vaccinate 27,000 key workers in the first month
  • South Australia will aim to vaccinate 1,726 frontline workers at Adelaide Airport and the medi-hotel system this week and will have 12,000 for the next three weeks
  • In Western Australia, about 5,000 doses will be administered by mid-March with about 1,100 of those reserved for aged and disability care
  • In the ACT, about 4,000 doses have been flagged for the first week
  • The Northern Territory will have 3,000 doses, most being offered to high-risk groups in the first phase

Tasmania will begin its vaccination rollout on Tuesday and will have 2,340 doses ready for the first three weeks, which will double to 4,680 from the fourth week as phase 1b begins.

While distributions will be managed by the states, Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley noted this was ultimately “a Commonwealth-led program” and the rollout in states depends on “what we get and when”.

Professor McLaws said the end-goal of this rollout would be herd immunity — when enough of the population is vaccinated, the virus is effectively eradicated because it cannot spread.

She said it was difficult to identify the “magic number” needed to achieve herd immunity, but if three-out-of-five vaccines administered were AstraZeneca and the rest was Pfizer, then at least 75 per cent of the population needed to be jabbed.

This number may even go up to 90 per cent, depending on variant strains.