Key questions answered on Pfizer vaccine

Australia's first Pfizer coronavirus vaccine jabs are expected in late February or early March.
Australia's first Pfizer coronavirus vaccine jabs are expected in late February or early March.

WHAT HAS BEEN APPROVED?

The Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine has been approved after meeting stringent safety, efficacy and quality standards. Final-stage trials showed an efficacy rate of 95 per cent, making it one of the world's leading vaccines. It is an mRNA vaccine, meaning it uses genetic information from the virus to trigger an immune response. It has been approved for all people aged 16 and above.

WHEN WILL THE PFIZER VACCINE BE AVAILABLE?

The first jabs are expected in late February or early March with global pressure on supply chains slightly slowing down the Australian rollout. It is expected 80,000 doses a week will be administered at first before the program ramps up during the year.

WHO WILL RECEIVE IT FIRST?

Quarantine and border workers, frontline healthcare workers, aged care and disability staff and residents. The next phase will include people aged over 70, other healthcare workers and Indigenous people over 55. Also in this second bracket will be younger adults with underlying medical conditions including disability along with high-risk workers across Defence, police, fire, emergency services and meat processing.

WILL RESTRICTIONS EASE ONCE PEOPLE START BEING VACCINATED?

International travel bans, masks, social distancing and hotel quarantine for people entering Australia are all set to continue throughout the year. Scott Morrison says 2021 will require Australians to remain vigilant, warning vaccines will not be a "silver bullet" in the fight against the pandemic. How effective the vaccines are at preventing transmission will be key to easing travel restrictions and other rules.

WHAT ABOUT OTHER VACCINES AUSTRALIA HAS SECURED?

Australia has a deal for 53.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which also requires two jabs, with 3.8 million to be imported. It is expected to receive regulatory approval soon. Australian pharmaceutical giant CSL is expected to produce one million doses a week from late March on the way to 50 million doses by October. There is also a deal for 51 million doses with Novavax but the company is not expected to release stage three trial data until later in the year.

IS THE GOVERNMENT LOOKING AT OTHER OPTIONS?

The government is facing calls to pursue a deal for the Moderna vaccine, which is a similar type and efficacy to the Pfizer jab. Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy says there are ongoing discussions with all major companies but negotiations remain commercial in confidence.

WILL VACCINES STOP PEOPLE TRANSMITTING THE VIRUS?

There is not enough evidence to say. Professor Murphy says it "stands to reason" that vaccines will reduce transmission in some way, but just how effective they are remains to be seen. Importantly, trials have proven vaccines effective at reducing death and serious illness.

IS PFIZER SAFE FOR FRAIL ELDERLY PEOPLE?

Health authorities are approaching this question carefully after the deaths of 30 elderly frail people in Norway after receiving the Pfizer jab. The regulator's advice is for doctors to make a careful clinical decision with further guidance soon expected from the government's vaccination advisory group. Overall, there are no safety concerns with the vaccine.

WILL PREGNANT WOMEN RECEIVE VACCINES?

While there is no data, Prof Murphy says the probability of risk is very low. The government will receive more advice before vaccinations begin.

Australian Associated Press