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New Zealand and Australia have officially begun their respective COVID-19 vaccine rollouts. 

The Oceania neighbours commenced vaccination of their populations within days of each other, with New Zealand offering the first jabs to a small group of medical professionals Friday morning and Australia issuing the vaccine to several aged care residents and politicians Sunday. 

New Zealand Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the rollout of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine would realistically take a full year.

"Today, we kick off the largest immunisation program in our history, by vaccinating the first of our border workforce, a critical step in protecting everyone in Aotearoa,” she told reporters in Auckland. “[These] vaccinations reinforce the value of what we’ve all been doing for the past 12 months to keep COVID-19 at bay.” 

Australia hopes to vaccinate its population of 25 million by October, with 600,000 doses expected to be distributed by the end of the week. By mid-March, 35,000 frontline health workers should have received the jab in New South Wales alone.

Almost 1.5 million doses have been allocated for the nation’s 1A phase, which will see frontline health workers, aged care and disability staff and residents and quarantine and border workers vaccinated. Phase 1B will push 14.8 million vaccines to those aged over 70, other health workers, Indigenous Australians aged over 55, those with medical conditions and high-risk workers like police. 

On Monday, Victoria became Australia’s first state to officially begin the vaccine rollout — a day after Prime Minister Scott Morrison was vaccinated in Sydney as part of a surprise, unofficial kick-off. Morrison, who was vaccinated in an effort to boost public support, said the day was “historic” for Australia.

"I have, by my own example today, joined by the Chief Nurse of Midwifery and the Chief Medical Officer of our country, together with those Australians who are in the top priority of this vaccination program, to say to you, Australians, it's safe, it's important," Morrison said in a media release.

Both nations have been internationally commended for their approach to the pandemic over the past 12 months.

The Lowy Institute’s COVID Performance Index ranked New Zealand first in a list of close to 100 nations with the most effective COVID-19 responses, evaluating the government’s handling of the pandemic across six measures, including the number of cases, deaths and tests per thousand people. 

Australia came in at eighth place.

New Zealand has recorded one new community case, while Australia reported no new locally acquired cases on Feb. 22. 


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