Breakthrough in Aussie vaccine rollout
Australia's vaccine rollout has edged closer after the European Commission formally approved the first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine.
The European Union (EU) ambassador to Australia confirmed this week that Canberra's order would not be impacted by the bloc's stoush with vaccine manufacturers.
That pledge was rubber-stamped on Thursday, with Australia one of 23 countries the EU has confirmed shipments to, according to Bloomberg.
Trade Minister Dan Tehan said it was "fantastic news" the EU had kept its word, with the first vaccines to arrive as early as next week.
"It's great news. They'll arrive towards the end of February, and we're absolutely on track to roll our vaccine program out," he told Today.
"I met with the European Union ambassador last week and he reassured me that the vaccines would be arriving as they said they would be.
"It's fantastic to get this extra news that's the case."
Mr Tehan confirmed the revelation means Australia's vaccine rollout would begin at the end of the month, as scheduled.
"The countdown has started. We'll be rolling the program out," he said.
"We're co-operating with the state and territory governments on the rollout, and people can be reassured that our vaccine rollout is on target."
The Pfizer vaccine was approved in late January, and Labor leader Anthony Albanese accused the government of failing to prepare a speedy rollout.
"The vaccine is being rolled out around the world, including in Panama and Oman. Australians are still waiting," he said on Thursday.
"We were told the vaccine will be rolled out in mid-February. It's now February 11. The government needs to explain why it didn't put in place the measures that Labor was calling."
The EU in late January imposed export restrictions on vaccines produced within its territory, including the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs.
The move sparked fears Australia's vaccine rollout could be delayed, with all 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine ordered by Canberra to be produced in the EU.
The stoush was prompted by AstraZeneca claiming it would only ship 40 per cent of the doses initially promised to the EU, citing production issues.
But the EU's ambassador to Canberra, Michael Pulch, this week said Australia could "rely" on the bloc, confirming its first Pfizer batch would be unaffected.
He refused to rule out future orders of the vaccine being hit by the measures, which he insisted were designed "in order not to use them".
The European Commission said it had approved all vaccine shipment requests since introducing the measures.
Over 26 million EU residents have been vaccinated since December.
But European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen conceded on Wednesday that the bloc was "not where we want to be" in its fight against COVID-19.
"We were late in granting authorisation. We were too optimistic about mass production," she said.
"And maybe we also took for granted that the doses ordered would actually arrive on time.
"We must ask ourselves why, and what lessons we can draw from it."
Originally published as Breakthrough in Aussie vaccine rollout