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UPDATE 1-Australian PM Morrison gets COVID-19 vaccine in "massive step" toward normal

Paulina Duran
·2 min read

(Recasts with Prime Minister comments)

By Paulina Duran

SYDNEY, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister ScottMorrison received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine onSunday, calling the start of the nation's vaccination programmea "massive step" that will enable it to return to normal.

Up to 4 million Australians are expected to be inoculated byMarch, with Morrison among a small group receiving the firstround of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

"This is the beginning of a big game change," Morrison toldreporters moments after getting injected at a medical centre inSydney. "Every day that goes past from here gets more normal.And that is what is exciting about today."

The intergovernmental National Cabinet is to review how itsfive-stage vaccination programme will change the way the countrymanages the risk of coronavirus transmission in the future,including at its state and international borders.

Australian states have introduced some of the strictestcommunity mobility restrictions in the world to manage thespread of the virus, including intermittent city lockdowns,curfews and border closures.

Reporting a second consecutive day with no coronavirustransmission in the community, the nation has had just under29,000 infections and 909 deaths since March, ranking among thetop 10 in a COVID-19 performance index.

Morrison said the vaccine addresses his "greatest fear" asprime minister: "serious disease and the sort of widespreadfatalities that we saw overseas."

A small number of older Australians at the Castle HillMedical Centre in western Sydney, aged-care staff, and frontlinenurses and workers were also among the first injected, officialssaid.

From Monday morning, a broader "phase 1-A" rollout is tobegin among aged-care and disability staff, and borderprotection and quarantine workers at vaccine hubs nationwide.

"Phase 1-B" vaccinations of immunocompromised people andthose over 70 years old, as well as Indigenous Australians over55 years old and emergency service workers, are to follow.

The vast majority of the population will be injected withthe AstraZeneca vaccine, which can be produced locally,by the end of October.

On Saturday, thousands of people attended anti-vaccinerallies in major Australian cities to protest what theyincorrectly believed to be mandatory vaccinations.

(Reporting by Paulina Duran; Editing by Paul Simao and WilliamMallard)