Pfizer for many under-50s

Close up of a young woman getting vaccinated

THE federal government’s COVID-19 vaccination program is expanding in Victoria, with a blitz planned for the coming month following delivery of more Pfizer vaccine, the opening of more open-access vaccination centres, and hundreds of thousands of Victorians under 50 now able to access the vaccine.

It comes as access to the Pfizer vaccine will be offered in Sale for the first time from next Monday, at Wellington’s first COVID-19 vaccine community clinic to open at the Gippsland Regional Sports Complex.

From Monday, Victorians aged under 50 in a number of priority groups will be able to receive the Pfizer vaccine at more vaccination centres across Victoria, including critical and high-risk workers such as emergency services workers, Australian Defence Force personnel and licenced meat and seafood processing workers; adults with specified underlying health conditions, or severe mental health conditions; disability services workers and carers of people with disabilities, both paid and unpaid; paid and unpaid carers of people who are aged over 70, or who have specified underlying medical conditions, and public-facing transport workers, including public transport, taxi and ride share drivers.

This is in addition to many more healthcare and aged care workers, hotel quarantine and border workers and others who are already eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine if they are aged under 50.

Established by the Gippsland Region Public Health Unit based at Latrobe Regional Hospital, the clinic at Gippsland Regional Sports Complex will have the capacity to vaccinate up to 400 people a day, depending on vaccine supplies.

LRH information and regional services executive director Jon Millar said the Sale clinic would gradually scale up operations when it opened next week.

“While we’ve learnt a lot from running our community clinic in Traralgon, we appreciate this is a new venue for our team so we plan to take our time in building our capacity and schedule of appointments day by day,” he said.

“Initially, the clinic will be open three days a week.”

Mr Millar said the public health unit vaccination team would have the support of Central Gippsland Health staff to run the new clinic.

“We expect up to 10 qualified staff at the GRSC each day,” he added.

The Sale facility will be one of six community clinics in Gippsland. A clinic is already operating successfully at the Traralgon Racecourse, while another in Wonthaggi will open in a fortnight.

The Traralgon clinic has administered vaccines to more than 1000 people since it opened on April 14.

Victoria is working closely with the federal government, which is leading the roll-out to provide more options for the administration of vaccines to people with disabilities.

The Commonwealth has advised it will retain responsibility for in-reach services within residential disability care homes.

People who are aged under 50 years who are eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine currently must make a booking by phoning 1800 675 398.

Open-access vaccination centres continue to offer AstraZeneca to all Victorians aged over 50, including through walk-in appointments where available.

To view the full list of specified underlying health conditions under the Commonwealth’s eligibility criteria, visit health.gov.au/initiatives-and-programs/ covid-19-vaccines/phase-1b.

More information about locations, vaccine and walk-in access is available at coronavirus.vic.gov.au/vaccine.

Bookings for the new community clinic at the Gippsland Regional Sports Complex at Cobains Rd, Sale, are now open, and can be made by phoning 1800 675 398.

The clinic will be open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays each week from May 24, from 9.30am to 3pm (subject to change).

Walk-in appointments will not be possible during the first week of operation. With the opening of the new community clinic, there are now several options for people wanting to access COVID-19 vaccinations in Wellington Shire, which include the Inglis Medical Centre respiratory clinic in Sale, along with some local GPs and pharmacies.

The latest announcements on changes to eligibility for the Pfizer vaccine come after last week’s news that COVID-19 vaccine maker Moderna has entered into a deal to supply 25 million doses to Australia, 10 million of which would be delivered this year.

Moderna’s vaccine uses the same mRNA technology as the Pfizer jab and has performed broadly similarly in drug trials to date. While not approved yet in Australia, it has generally been listed for use in adults of all ages in countries that have rolled it out.

Last week’s federal budget included an extra $1.9 billion over five years for vaccines, including millions to spur local development of mRNA vaccines similar to Moderna’s and Pfizer’s.

The Victorian government had previously announced $50 million in funding to spin up local manufacturing of the promising vaccine technology, which Melbourne lab CSL doesn’t have the capability to make.

Moderna’s statement on potential local production is a promising boost to those ambitions after BioNTech, the German company partnering with Pfizer, announced this week it would set up a new factory in Singapore.

Moderna added that it had already announced plans to open a commercial subsidy in Australia this year. About 2.8 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Australia to date, but the rollout has been plagued by delays, much of that driven by supply issues but also over concerns about extremely rare blood clots linked to the AstraZeneca jab. Those concerns resulted in health authorities in Australia recommending it only for those over 50, a similar approach to that taken across much of Europe.

Neither of the mRNA-based vaccines, developed by Moderna and Pfizer, have been similarly age-limited.

Including the Moderna announcement, Australia has agreements to buy almost 200 million vaccine doses, enough to vaccinate the population almost four times over. That includes 40 million doses from Pfizer a bit more than 50 million from AstraZeneca, 51 million from Novavax and 25 million through the global COVAX initiative.

The vast majority of the AstraZeneca and all of the Novavax jabs are to be produced onshore.

Many vaccine manufacturers are considering booster shots as an option to protect against emerging variants amid concerns some, particularly the one first detected in South Africa, may be able to evade some of the protection bestowed by vaccines.

People can check if they are currently eligible for vaccination by going to www.health.gov.au/resources/ apps-and-tools/covid-19-vaccine-eligibility-checker, where they can go on to find their local clinic options and book.

People who have concerns or questions about COVID vaccinations should speak with their GP.