The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, has received the Pfizer vaccine, as he joined a small first group to be vaccinated against Covid-19 on Sunday – a step the government says is intended to build public confidence in the safety of the vaccines.
Morrison – the 12th and final member of the group to receive the vaccine at a televised event in Sydney – described it as a “curtain raiser” for the formal start of the vaccine rollout on Monday.
He said the initial jabs were designed to show “that it’s safe, that it’s important, and we need to start with those who are most vulnerable and on the front line”.
Jane Malysiak, 85, became the first person in Australia to receive a Covid-19 vaccine when she received the jab at 11.09am AEDT in Castle Hill in Sydney. Malysiak, born in Poland, was taken to Germany when she was three years old, and moved to Australia with her mother when aged 13.
Morrison, wearing an Australian flag mask, sat next to Malysiak as she received the jab. “Yes I’m happy to receive it,” she said. Morrison then encouraged her to do a ‘V’ for vaccine hand gesture.
Malysiak was followed by another aged resident, a disability support resident, several nurses and other frontline workers.
Prof Alison McMillan, the chief nursing and midwifery officer, and Prof Paul Kelly, the chief medical officer, were the 10th and 11th people to received the vaccine.
Then it was Morrison’s turn at 11.26am. The person administering the jab asked Morrison if he had any questions or issues and he replied: “No, I’m ready to go, just like the country.”
After receiving the jab in his left arm, Morrison did the peace sign and then a thumbs-up. “Thank you very much,” he said.
The health minister, Greg Hunt, had earlier confirmed Morrison would be receiving the jab on Sunday.
“The prime minister will be the last of that group,” Hunt told the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday. “Today is the day where the first vaccines will be administered in Australia.”
The opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, is not in the Sunday group but he is set to receive a jab later this week.
Asked about potential criticism that Morrison had jumped the queue, Hunt said there had been “a very strong focus on the need for key leaders, not the parliament, not the cabinet, not even the leadership group, but a cross-party group, to provide that confidence” in vaccines.
He said that had been an approach taken “in many places around the world”.
Hunt said Albanese and two others from the opposition had been invited to participate over “the coming days”. He said he had also invited the Greens to participate. Hunt is not part of the Sunday group but said he and the health department secretary, Prof Brendan Murphy, would get the AstraZeneca jab.
“So this is a cross-parliamentary view where parliamentarians don’t have any special status,” Hunt said.
“The research shows that people want to see that if we [politicians] believe it’s safe, then that will give them greater confidence.”
Hunt said contrary to claims Australia had been too slow to begin the vaccine rollout, “many people are worried has this been too quick and we have to show that it has been full, thorough assessment and that we believe in the safety ourselves”.
The comments come after government research released last week indicated just 64% of Australians would “definitely” get a Covid-19 vaccine while more than one quarter (27%) were unsure.
Some 9% of Australians aged over 16 said they will “definitely not” get the vaccine, according to the poll of 4,001 people commissioned by the health department.
Multiple people were arrested at a Melbourne anti-vaxxer rally on Saturday amid clashes with the police, while protesters also marched through the Sydney CBD and large groups gathered in Brisbane and Adelaide.
Victoria’s chief health officer, Brett Sutton, said “fervent anti-vaxxers” were a “small minority”.
Taking a similar line to Sutton, Hunt said there was “a small group of anti-vaxxers which might be 4-5%”.
“Whilst we reject and condemn some of the absolute myths that they perpetrate, our focus is on those people who are hesitant,” Hunt said.