SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s pharmaceutical regulator said on Thursday it is on course to review Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine by January 2021, with the country sticking to a March timetable to start vaccinations.
Britain on Wednesday approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine, jumping ahead of the rest of the world in the race to begin the most crucial mass inoculation programme in history.
But John Skerritt, the head of Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) said it would likely complete its review by “late January” and has told staff not to plan a holiday to get the work done.
“My staff have been told to put away their swimsuits and towels and to work as quickly as we can but also in significant depth,” Skerritt told reporters in Canberra.
Pfizer’s is one of the four COVID-19 vaccines Australia has agreed to buy, including from Novavax, AstraZeneca and CSL Ltd should trials prove successful.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the January timetable does not accelerate plans to begin vaccinations.
“We are on track for first vaccinations beginning with our health workers and our aged care residents subject to approvals in March,” Hunt told reporters in Canberra.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said getting a vaccine out by then would boost the country’s economy by A$34 billion ($25 billion) compared with earlier assumptions of 2022.
Australia is in the fortunate position of being able to allow regulators time to complete checks without the pressure of mounting cases of COVID-19.
Its tally of more than 27,800 infections is far fewer than many other developed countries, and until Wednesday gone nearly three weeks without any local transmission of COVID-19.
The streak was broken when Australia’s most populous state said a worker at a hotel, where overseas travellers are quarantined for two weeks, tested positive for COVID-19.
(Additional reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Sam Holmes and Lincoln Feast.)