Australia OKs Pfizer vaccine, to begin in February

SYDNEY (AP) — Australia’s medical regulator approved use of its first coronavirus vaccine, paving the way for inoculations to begin next month.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration yesterday gave provisional approval for people aged 16 and over to use the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. Residents and workers at aged-care facilities, frontline healthcare workers and quarantine workers are among the groups being prioritised for the first doses.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed the development. He said Australia was among the first countries to complete a comprehensive process to formally approve a vaccine rather than just grant an emergency approval.

Australia has an agreement for 10 million doses of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine and an option to buy more if supplies allow.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said yesterday the country overall secured 140 million vaccines, one of the highest dosing rates per head of population in the world.

An electronic screen reading “COVID Alert” near the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia. PHOTO: XINHUA

The biggest of the pre-orders, conditional on regulatory approval, is 53.8 million doses of the vaccine made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, 50 million of which would be made in Australia in a partnership with Melbourne-based biopharmaceutical company CSL.

Australia is aiming to complete inoculations by October. The nation of 26 million people reported fewer than 30,000 virus cases and a little over 900 deaths.

Meanwhile, South Korea reported another new 437 infections of the coronavirus as officials raised alarm over an outbreak at a missionary training school. Some 130 students and teachers were found infected so far at the academy in the central city of Daejeon.

South Korean Prime Minster Chung Sye-kyun during a virus meeting called for health officials to deal swiftly with the outbreak at the Daejeon school and prevent transmissions from spreading further.

South Korea throughout the pandemic has repeatedly seen huge infection clusters emerge from religious groups, including over 5,000 infections tied to a secretive church that drove a major outbreak in the southeastern region in spring last year.

“We cannot let that situation repeat,” Chung said. The numbers released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency yesterday brought the national caseload to 75,521, including 11 deaths.