Feb. 16 (UPI) -- Australia's medical regulator on Tuesday approved use of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University as the country plans to begin inoculating its citizens against the coronavirus next week.
The Therapeutic Good Administration announced Tuesday that the two-dose vaccine regimen has been registered for use for those 18 years old and older.
"The TGA, from a regulatory perspective, has reviewed all the available evidence and determined that the AstraZeneca vaccine can be safely administered 4-12 weeks apart," the regulator said. "The TGA has rigorously evaluated all clinical trial data and information provided by AstraZeneca, and has issued provisional approval."
It is the second vaccine Australia has approved for use, after it gave the OK to the one developed by U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer and Germany biotech firm BioNTech in late January for those 16 years of age and older.
On Monday, Greg Hunt, the minister of health, said the first shipments of the Pfizer shot had arrived in the country.
During the press conference on Tuesday, Hunt said Australia's vaccine rollout is expected to begin Monday with the inoculation of staff and residents at 240 aged care facilities with the Pfizer vaccine.
"That's a very important step forward in protecting our older Australians," he said, adding the first Australians will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine in early March, if not earlier.
Australia has secured 53.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, with expectations that 3.8 million doses will arrive in the country early this year and the remaining 50 million will be produced at Australian facilities.
The country is expecting to receive 10 million Pfizer doses early this year with the option to purchase more if supply is available.
It also has deals with Novavax for at least 51 million doses if that vaccine receives regulatory approval and with the World Health Organization's COVAX Facility for an additional 25 million doses.
The Australian government said it has invested more than $2.56 billion through these four agreements.
"Our vaccination program is on track," Morrison said. "Our vaccination program has the backing of Australia's best medical experts and that means that we can proceed along the path that we have set out."
Health authorities on Tuesday confirmed five cases of the virus -- two local transmissions and three imported -- within the past 24 hours for a total caseload of 28,905, including 909 deaths.
On Monday, the World Health Organization announced emergency use status for the AstraZeneca vaccine.