One million additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine are on the way to Australia, after the Polish government answered the Morrison government’s international pleas for help and as New South Wales authorities struggle to contain the state’s Covid outbreak.
A total of 530,000 of the new doses, due to arrive in Australia late on Sunday, have been quarantined for use in NSW for 20-to-39-year-olds living in the 12 hotspot Sydney local government areas.
The federal government said in a statement: “This will give everyone aged 20-to-39 years in the 12 LGAs the opportunity to be vaccinated. The remaining 470,340 Pfizer doses will be distributed on a per capita basis to other states and territories.”
Last month, Polish media reported its Government Strategic Reserves Agency was looking to on-sell at least four million doses of its stock, having ordered 100m doses from Pfizer. Its media reported Australia was among those nations which had shown interest.
The announcement came as NSW recorded 415 new cases of Covid transmission in the community on its first day of full lockdown.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, did not deny he had raised the issue of a full state lockdown under the advice of commonwealth medical health officer, professor Paul Kelly, earlier in the week.
“I confirmed the decision of the NSW government to have a statewide lockdown, consistent with the advice that I had received from the chief medical officer that the government has considered and had been discussed with the NSW government,” he said.
Morrison said he was now just committed to “making it [the lockdown] work”.
While half of the eligible NSW population has now received at least a first dose of a Covid vaccine, Morrison said his attention was on the lockdown bringing down cases.
“I’ve always been very clear that that is assisted by vaccines so to suggest it is a choice between the two is not the case. Nor has the NSW premier indicated that. We know both are important. Most importantly, the lockdown has to work. It must work and is why I implore people across Sydney: stay at home.”
The NSW premier, Galdys Berejiklian, told reporters on Sunday any freedoms to come in September and October would likely be focused on people who are vaccinated.
“We are looking for what opportunities we can provide our citizens in September and October. As I’ve said, we can’t expect to live life freely before the outbreak until we at least hit 70% both doses,” she said.
“However, if we get [to that] six million target, there are opportunities for us to consider what is safe to do in September and October that we can’t do today.”
Australia struck an undisclosed deal with the Polish government to purchase additional Pfizer doses as part of an international hunt for extra vaccines to bolster Australia’s flagging mRNA supply.
The vaccines have been sent from the Pfizer plant in Belgium, where Australia’s existing supply has come from, and as is standard, will be batch tested.
A spokesperson for the Polish embassy in Canberra said the deal was a continuation of the ongoing cooperation between the two nations.
“Poland has recently offered to share vaccines mainly with low and middle-income countries, including its eastern neighbours, Balkan countries etc. The decision to also add Australia to the list was taken against the backdrop of the current outbreak of Delta variant in the country, following the talks between both countries’ officials, including the prime ministers and foreign ministers,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
Vaccine hesitancy appears to have slowed Poland’s own rollout, although nearly 50% of its eligible population has received their second dose.
The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, said he believed Victorian authorities would receive 175,000 doses from the new delivery and he did not begrudge NSW getting the lion’s share given what the state was facing.
“The fact of the matter is, the greatest need is in Sydney,” he said. “I voiced support of those who are in the greatest need getting the greatest support. Could we have a long debate about why Sydney is in the position it is in? I am not going to do that.
“I’m not going to offer up that sort of commentary. We had plenty of people giving us the benefit of their wisdom, so called, last year, and Victorians were thoroughly sick of it by the end of last year, so I’m not going to contribute to it. All I will say is they have to be given more vaccine in NSW because nothing else they are doing is working, this is where they are at now.”
The ACT chief minister, Andrew Barr, said he only found out about the extra doses moments before Morrison made the public announcement, but he expected about 14,000 doses would be sent to the territory, which was “about a week’s supply”.
Following batch testing, Barr did not expect the doses to be available until later in the week. The remaining doses will be distributed to the states according to need.
While the additional doses have been widely welcomed, confusion continues around what businesses are allowed to mandate for their own staff, with the government ruling out even the appearance of mandating vaccines, even though it has issued mandates for different sectors, including aged care.
Meanwhile, Labor has also refused to back vaccine mandates for employers, with Tony Burke saying the party would “follow the health advice”.
“We don’t want a situation where these rules are different from one workplace to the other,” he said on the ABC’s Insiders program.
“You end up with a whole lot of arguments permeating throughout the community where we want a simple message encouraging people to get vaccinated. Wherever there is a health order to that effect, [we] support it absolutely.
“These health orders may change over time as we get new variants, or as the health advice changes, but those mandating issues should only come into play when there is a health order.”