Australia strikes deal to ‘swap’ 4m vaccine doses with UK

Covid-19 vaccines updates

Australia has struck a deal with the UK to “swap” 4m Covid-19 vaccine doses in a bid to accelerate the country’s vaccination rollout as it battles record cases of Covid-19.

The UK will send BioNTech/Pfizer vaccines to Australia, with the first batch of 292,000 to be sent in the coming days and the rest to arrive this month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed on Friday.

Australia will return an equivalent 4m doses before the end of the year, a statement from the UK health department said.

“There are 4m reasons to be hopeful today,” said Morrison. “From Downing Street to Down Under, we are doubling down on what the Pfizer doses are here in Australia this month.”

The doses will allow the government to bring forward its prospective reopening date, Morrison added.

The deal was designed to accelerate Australia’s vaccination rollout, which has been one of the slowest in the world, while allowing the UK to bolster supplies later in the year in anticipation of a broad booster campaign and the vaccine rollout being extended to 12 to 15-year-olds.

About 37 per cent of Australian adults have received two doses of a vaccine, the country’s health department said. In the UK, 79 per cent of over-16s are fully-vaccinated, according to official figures.

Sajid Javid, the UK health secretary, said: “Our agreement with Australia will share doses at the optimum time to bolster both our countries’ vaccination programmes.”

On Wednesday, the UK took the first tentative step towards a booster campaign by greenlighting third doses for around 500,000 people with severely weakened immune systems. The NHS is planning for a booster drive encompassing all over-50s.

Pressure is also growing on the UK government’s vaccine advisory group, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, to sign off on vaccination for younger teenagers amid concerns that the school reopening will prompt a fresh wave of infections.

Meanwhile, Morrison defended Australia’s national reopening plan, which is to go ahead when the country reaches 70 and 80 per cent vaccination rates, despite pushback from state premiers who are reluctant to ease restrictions.

The country reported more than 1,600 new coronavirus infections on Friday.

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