Move to Pfizer for whole Indigenous communities, disability care residents in vaccine rollout

All residents of disability care homes with complex needs, regardless of age, will receive Pfizer vaccines as the nation’s rollout strategy pivots away from AstraZeneca as the main COVID-19 vaccination of choice for many Australians.

Pfizer will also be used for whole-of-community Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs, the parliamentary COVID-19 committee heard on Tuesday night.

Disability care residents will get Pfizer vaccines, a parliamentary committee has heard.Credit:Bloomberg

Federal Department of Health associate secretary Caroline Edwards said as a result of the decision, on-site vaccinations in disability care homes began on Tuesday in the Northern Territory and the ACT.

“[That] will continue to ramp up in coming weeks,” she told the committee on Tuesday evening.

Where the vaccine program was focused on Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander communities as a whole, Pfizer would now be used regardless of age, Ms Edwards said.

Communities that had received initial AstraZeneca doses, including some in the Torres Strait Islands, would get a second AstraZeneca dose, said Dr Lucas De Toca from the department’s COVID-19 Primary Care Response Team.

“The pivot is for those areas where we were planning on, in partnership with the states, a whole-of-community approach, national cabinet’s recommendation is that Pfizer is used preferentially given that it can cover the entire community,” he said.

Outside areas where a whole-of-community approach was planned, those over the age of 50 would get AstraZeneca through local Aboriginal-controlled health centres.

Thirteen pop-up clinics will also be opened across the country focused on vaccinating aged care and disability care workers. The first will be opened in Blacktown in NSW on May 3, and each of those facilities will be able to administer about 500 vaccines a week.

The Health Department was also looking at linking major disability care providers and vaccine providers to create static sites where mobile people with disabilities could travel for vaccination.

So far, 36,000 aged care workers have been vaccinated incidentally but that number does not include any staff who have received vaccines through GPs. Health Department officials could not say how many disability care staff had been vaccinated.

About 1.97 million vaccines have been administered across the country by Monday night.

Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy said that number could hit 2 million by Tuesday night.

“I’d be very surprised that we haven’t hit the 2 million, which is a very good achievement, and the program continues to progress,” Professor Murphy said.

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