The news that Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine has gained emergency approval in the United Kingdom and may be distributed to selected high-risk groups

Headlines also suggest people in the United States and some other European countries could start being vaccinated before the end of the year.

However, Australia is set to wait until March for priority groups to be vaccinated, according to Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt. So why do Australians have to wait three months?

Meanwhile, the TGA says it continues to assess the safety and efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine as that information is submitted, and is working with regulators around the world to discuss vaccine development.  “Our advice remains that the timeline for a decision on approval is expected by the end of January 2021, and our planning is for first vaccine delivery in March 2021.”

Why the wait?

One reason Australia might be able to afford to wait is that we are not facing the same acute public health emergency as the US, UK and some European countries.

The US is recording almost 200,000 new cases a day, and the UK more than 10,000. Here in Australia, there have only been about 28,000 people infected since March. There are currently hardly any cases of community transmission and since the end of October only one person has died.

There are many stages ahead

Regardless of the timing of regulatory approval, COVID vaccines still need to be made (and depending on the vaccine, imported), then distributed.

While all eyes are on the Pfizer vaccine at the moment, this is one of four for which the Australian government has agreements in place, should they prove safe and effective. Some of these vaccines are still in clinical trials.

Australia has also signed up for a shot at several other vaccines as part of the World Health Organization-backed COVAX agreement, should these prove safe and effective. Again, many of these are still in clinical trials.

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