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Who Gets the COVID Vaccine First? A Guide to Early Access

Who Gets the COVID Vaccine First? A Guide to Early Access
Megan Fraser Updated: 06 May 2021
We may be paid when readers visit links, purchase products or services from partners.

Many of us were glad to see the end of 2020, the year in which Covid-19 turned our lives upside down. This year we’re all hoping to regain some sense of normalcy in 2021. We have been living in isolation, and some of us have lost loved ones and incomes. The only thing that can bring some relief is the rollout of a covid vaccine. Now that it has been developed, the question remains: who will get Australia’s COVID vaccine first.

Although there is some sense of security because the vaccine is coming, there are many questions left to answer. What are the pros and cons of jumping the queue to gain access to the vaccine, and what are the implications of accessing the vaccine before the Government rollout programme? Keep reading to discover your options and learn more about funding for the vaccine and what it means for you.

Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine national rollout strategy

In early January 2021, the Australian government announced the rollout strategy for the Covid vaccine and is likely to begin by mid-to-late February
. All AU citizens who choose to be immunised will receive either the Pfizer or the AstraZeneca vaccine . Pfizer is expected to complete clinical trials and be cleared for use by the end of January.

  • Phase 1a: Quarantine and border workers, hospital workers, aged care and disability workers and residents.
  • Phase 1b: Includes elderly adults over the age of 70, younger adults with medical conditions, other health care workers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders over the age of 55, and critical and high-risk workers including police, fire emergency workers and meat processing.
  • Phase 2: Adults aged 50 – 69, aboriginal people between 18 and 54, and other critical and high-risk workers.
  • Phase 2b: Access to the vaccine will be made available to the rest of the population.
  • Phase 3: If medically recommended, access to the vaccine will be made available to individuals under 18 in the final phase.


According to the latest COVID 19 vaccine progress updates, the Pfizer vaccine has not yet been approved in Australia. Still, the country has ordered 10 million doses, as it is likely to be one of the first vaccines to be cleared by the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration). Priority groups will be receiving this vaccine.


The primary benefit of this vaccine is that it is manufactured in Australia. It was initially developed in partnership with Oxford University but has not yet been approved for use in Australia. However, the government has already ordered 53.8 million doses. According to this Covid-19 vaccine will be made available to all Australian citizens, permanent residents and most visa holders for free.

Pros and cons of early access to the Covid-19 vaccine

Cost: Will save taxpayers’ money if people can buy Covid vaccines in Australia from private manufacturers.Potential shortages: If companies set aside a portion of their supply for private sales, there may be a shortage for people who actually need it urgently.
Resources: Could save government resources if private companies administer the vaccine to a certain per cent of the population.No regulations: As new vaccines come into the market, their effectiveness in different people is unknown. Companies may focus on marketing and overlook that their vaccine is only effective in specific individuals.
Time: Herd immunity can be achieved sooner if people have the option to buy the vaccine ahead of the government’s planned rollout.Follow-up may be poorer: Since the Covid vaccine is being developed quickly, the period for pre-market testing is much shorter. This means extra care has to go into keeping track of who receives the vaccine, health problems they may experience, and effectiveness. With private sales, it will be a challenge to coordinate a standardised approach for follow-ups.
Saving more lives: If an individual does not fall into the government’s priority group, but feels their circumstances put them at high exposure, a privately bought vaccine can save their lives.Private supply may be impractical: Some vaccines require special cold chain management for storage, which is not easy for private companies.
It may not be fair: This is a global pandemic and should be dealt with as a public health crisis, giving all groups equal access. Allowing the wealthy to jump ahead defeats this.

Who’s going to pay for the vaccine?

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that 25 million people would have access to the Covid vaccine for free when it is rolled out in phases of priority. In addition to the vaccine’s cost, the government will have to pay millions for the packaged doses including needles and syringes. The ultimate cost of supplying and administering the vaccine is expected to amount to billions of dollars. Manufacturers may have the option to sell the shots privately, but the price of this will only be made public in future COVID vaccine updates.

Private health insurance for the Covid vaccine

If you’re anxious to know whether or not your private health insurance will cover the Covid vaccine, most insurance companies will most likely adopt the same approach once it is developed and rolled out. If your policy benefits include pharmaceutical prescriptions, your insurer should pay towards the cost of prescription medicines, including the COVID 19 vaccine. These must be prescribed by a licensed medical practitioner and dispensed by a doctor or licensed pharmacy that is registered with your insurance company.

Check with your health insurance what their specific requirements are, and if the vaccine meets all the criteria, you will be covered.

Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

  • What are the options of the covid vaccine available to me?

    If you are a quarantine worker, frontline health care worker, aged care or disabled worker or resident, the Pfizer vaccine will be made available to you in phase 1a. If you do not fall into any of these groups, you will receive the Astrazeneca vaccine.
  • Where can I get the Covid vaccine?

    You should be able to get the vaccine at any government clinic for free, or at a registered pharmacy for the specified price. More information on this will be available once the vaccine is officially rolled out in Australia.
  • What research has been done on the Covid vaccine?

    Useful research about how the different vaccines work, the rollout strategy and social effects of jumping the queue can be found at the University of Sydney website and
  • Can I purchase the Covid vaccine prior to rollout?

    Professor John Skerrit, the head of the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Association) has said that since we live in a free-market economy, manufacturers of the COVID vaccine will be able to sell their vaccines privately, as long as they are approved as safe. This means that those willing to pay the price will be able to purchase ahead of the government’s phased rollout. However, early access is still being debated by different public sectors, and regulations could change once the vaccine is made available in Australia.
  • Should I get the Covid vaccine right now or wait?

    Experts advise against jumping the queue, as it may interfere with limited supply needed for vulnerable candidates. If non-priority groups buy the vaccine privately, it can also interfere with the government’s coordinated efforts to monitor the vaccine’s feedback and effectiveness. Furthermore, the vaccine must be taken in two doses, and this may be difficult to control in the private sector, which can interfere with herd immunity.
  • Does everyone have to get the Covid vaccine?

    No, it will not be compulsory to take the vaccine for Covid according to latest reports. However, if you choose not to get the vaccine, it’s important to take care of yourself and do everything you can to boost your immune system so that it’s able to fight off the virus.

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