Queensland is preparing to rollout COVID-19 vaccines from as early as next month in what's been described as a logistics exercise of "World War II proportions".

The challenges of vaccinating millions of people in Queensland, Australia's most decentralised state, are expected to be huge with the widely hailed Pfizer jab's cold chain requirements unlikely to be suitable for those living in remote regions.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young told The Courier-Mail "significant" planning had been underway with the Commonwealth since late last year for the COVID immunisation campaign.

"Rarely has anything been so important," Dr Young said.

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Australian Medical Association Queensland president Dr Chris Perry. Picture: Attila Csaszar.
Australian Medical Association Queensland president Dr Chris Perry. Picture: Attila Csaszar.

Australian Medical Association Queensland president Chris Perry said the COVID vaccination program was "the biggest and most complex public health initiative we've ever undertaken in the history of our state".

"The tyranny of distance will be keenly felt as vaccines are transported … to key locations and accessed by more than five million Queenslanders from the tip of the state in Thursday Island, to Camooweal in the west and Goondiwindi in the south," Dr Perry said.

"We're fortunate that we have time to get the co-ordination right as we continue to respond, manage and treat COVID in Queensland."

The vaccination rollout is seen as crucial for Australians to develop herd immunity against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Dr Young's predecessor as Chief Health Officer, Gerry FitzGerald, a professor in public health at QUT, said Australia's success in aggressively suppressing the virus, meant most of the population was still vulnerable to becoming infected.

"The way of getting herd immunity in this country is going to be almost exclusively through vaccination," Professor FitzGerald said.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said yesterday Queenslanders could expect to have to continue to live under COVID restrictions "until a vaccine".

Under national protocols, the first COVID-19 vaccines will be rolled out to hotel quarantine and border workers, frontline healthcare employees and aged care and disability care staff.

They're expected to receive their Pfizer shots at major public hospitals because of requirements for the vaccine to be stored at below 70 degrees Celsius - something akin to an extremely cold winter's day in Antarctica.

The Pfizer jab comes in batches of 975 vials, with each vial containing five doses - almost 5000 shots per batch.

Once they are defrosted, they must be used in five days.

Infectious disease physician and microbiologist Paul Griffin. Picture: Patrick Rocca.
Infectious disease physician and microbiologist Paul Griffin. Picture: Patrick Rocca.

Infectious disease physician and microbiologist Paul Griffin said that made the Pfizer vaccine particularly challenging for use in remote, less populated areas of the state, because of the "very high" potential for wastage.

"We want to be really careful not to waste any doses," Associate Professor Griffin said.

He described the vaccine rollout as "perhaps the most complex logistical undertaking" in medicine of all time.

"People have drawn parallels with World War II," he said.

Dr Young said the AstraZeneca vaccine, developed by Oxford University, was more likely to be distributed "widely throughout the community" in Queensland.

It can be stored in normal refrigerated conditions, meaning it can be kept in general practitioners' surgeries.

Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young. Picture: Attila Csaszar.
Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young. Picture: Attila Csaszar.

Prof Griffin said trial results released to date showed the AstraZeneca vaccine to be "70 per cent effective overall" for preventing symptoms of COVID-19 after two shots, while the Pfizer jab protected 95 per cent of people.

But Prof Griffin said both vaccines were highly effective in preventing severe disease and death.

"Provided it's got sufficient safety data, which the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines do, I would take the first one I'm offered," he said.

Australia's medicines regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, is yet to approve either vaccine, but that's expected to be "imminent".

"I think it's all about having enough data to be completely confident," Prof Griffin said.

"The TGA are an excellent regulator who are clearly doing their due diligence. I think we can be completely confident once a vaccine is approved, then it's the right thing to do to go and get it.

"They haven't rushed this process, despite approvals in other countries. They're making sure they've got sufficient data."

Originally published as REVEALED: Qld's COVID vaccine rollout plan



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