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Coronavirus vaccine program rolls out in Australia and New Zealand

Vaccine passports, the future of international travels?

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, scientists from around the world have collaborated, innovated, and worked together to develop vaccines. So far more than 390 million doses have been administered in 128 countries with approximately 9.5 million doses administrated daily, according to Bloomberg.

Undoubtedly, this is one of the biggest vaccination campaigns in history. To the date, there are seven different vaccines that have been approved (Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca, CanSino, Sinopharm, Sinovac, and Sinopharm-Wuhan), and more than 200 additional vaccine candidates are in development, of which more than 60 are in clinical development.

Vaccines are a critical tool in the battle against COVID-19 and for us, they provide hope for a return to unrestricted international travel, through the possibility of a ‘vaccine passport’.

Vaccine passports, also known as ‘immunity or COVID passports’, will be free mobile apps where international travellers can upload their proof of vaccination, as well as coronavirus test results and other health waivers. Governments, airline companies, and organisations, such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA), have been working on different platforms to digitize individual paper vaccination certificates into internationally recognized passes to travel, which will be verifiable, safe, and privacy-protecting.

Whether in digital or paper form, in the future, vaccine passports or proof of vaccination will be key in giving governments the confidence to re-open borders as well as making it easier to access venues domestically, such as pubs or sports stadiums.

Australia and New Zealand have indicated support for introducing a vaccine passport. The Australian airline Qantas will eventually ask its passengers to prove that they have had a vaccination to board their flights and Air New Zealand has already begun trialling a type of immunity passport.

While both countries have begun to immunise citizens and visa holders against COVID-19, travel restrictions in Australia and New Zealand remain in place and any trial of immunity passports are currently not an alternative to a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Australia vaccination program

The Australian Government currently has four separate agreements for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines and has invested more than AUD$3.3 billion in promising vaccine candidates, as well as AUD$363 million to support research and development.

So far, 86,369 vaccines have been administrated since 21 February 2021 when the program started and it’s expected that the whole population will receive the jab by the end of the year.

Who will receive a vaccine?

The COVID-19 vaccine is voluntary and everyone in Australia, including citizens, permanent residents, and visa holders, will be offered a safe and effective vaccine for free.

Even those who have already had COVID-19 can still receive the vaccine to help protect against getting the virus again or passing it onto someone else.

Although the Government initially indicated that some visa holders would need to pay for the vaccine, they have since announced that all visa holders will receive the vaccine for free, including subclass 600 (Tourist), subclass 771 (Transit), 651 (Visitor), and 601 (Electronic Travel Authority). The Government clarified that free vaccines will be offered to all people living in Australia to ensure the maximum possible coverage in the country.

When will you get a vaccine?

Australia’s COVID-19 vaccines will become available in phases and the government has created an app where you can check your eligibility and see when you can book a vaccination.

  • Phase 1a. With up to 1.4 million doses available for this stage, the first phase of the rollout will cover Australians with the highest risk of exposure to the virus:
    • Quarantine, border and front line health care workers
    • Aged care and disability care staff
    • Aged care and disability care residents
  • Phase 1b. With up to 14.8 million doses, the next phase will be for other more vulnerable people and frontline workers:
    • Elderly adults aged 80 years and over
    • Elderly adults aged 70-79 years
    • Other health care workers
    • Begin vaccinating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults
    • Adults with a specified medical condition
    • Adults with a disability who have a specified underlying medical condition
    • Critical and high-risk workers including defence, police, fire, emergency services and meat processing
  • Phase 2a. This will include up to 15.8 million doses for:
    • Adults aged 60-69 years
    • Adults aged 50-59 years
    • Continue vaccinating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults
    • Other critical and high-risk workers
  • Phase 2b. This will include up to 16 million doses for:
    • The remainder of the population aged 16 and over
    • Catch up any unvaccinated Australians from previous phases
  • Phase 3. This will include up to 16 million doses for:
    • Children under 16 years if medical advice suggests it’s necessary__

Which vaccines are available in Australia?

Currently, there are two vaccines approved for use in Australia by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA):

  • Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine
  • Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine.

The vaccine you receive may depend on:

  • When and where you will be vaccinated and
  • The clinical guidelines that determine who each vaccine is safe for

New Zealand vaccination program

New Zealand has administrated 9,441 doses since 20 February 2021 when the program started which is approximately 0.20% of the population.

The government has committed to investing NZ$27 million in COVID-19 vaccine development and to obtain safe and effective vaccines.

Who will receive a vaccine?

Everyone in New Zealand is eligible for free COVID-19 vaccination, regardless of the visa or citizenship status and any information collected will not be used for immigration purposes.

When will you get a vaccine?

The COVID-19 Immunisation Programme is expected to vaccinate as many people in New Zealand as possible during this year in the bellow order:

  • Border and managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) workers. This includes:
    • Cleaners
    • Nurses who do health checks in MIQ
    • Security staff
    • Customs and border officials
    • Airline staff
    • Hotel workers
  • People living with border and MIQ workers (household contacts)
  • Non-border frontline healthcare workers
  • Other at-risk people
  • The general public

Which vaccines are available in New Zealand?

Pfizer/BioNTech is New Zealand’s primary vaccine provider after the government has secured 10 million doses enough for 5 million people (total population) to get the two doses of the vaccine.

New Zealand still has purchase agreements in place for other types of vaccines.

While the world is optimistic about the efficacy of the vaccines to stop the spread of the virus, it’s important to remember that while the vaccine roll out is underway we will need to continue to social distance, practice good hand hygiene and use masks until everyone who can be vaccinated has been, and we can see the true results of vaccination. And although there is not a specific number of vaccinations that will allow borders to reopen, vaccines definitely provide some hope for future international travel.

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