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Australia armed forces called in to support COVID-19 immunization drive

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia will seek the support of the defence forces in its COVID-19 immunisation drive, authorities said on Wednesday, as it looks to ramp up a vaccination rollout programme that is running behind schedule.

FILE PHOTO: A healthcare professional administers a dose of the Pfizer coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine to Dr. Chris Quinn as high-risk workers receive the first vaccines in the state of Victoria's rollout of the program, in Melbourne, Australia, February 22, 2021. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) will provide help in rolling out vaccines to aged care residents in rural and regional areas not readily accessible by other medical providers, acting Defence Minister Marise Payne said.

ADF teams are expected to start next week and will focus on the planning, logistics and operations support.

“As we move into the next phase of the aged care vaccine rollout and continue the expansion of teams, additional nurses, pharmacists and providers are being added, with ADF vaccination teams supplementing these efforts,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a statement.

Australia began mass inoculation for its 25 million population on Feb. 22 with frontline health staff and senior citizens getting the first shots, but missed its dosage target for the first week by nearly half.

Authorities could only administer just under 34,000 doses in the first week, government data showed, as the pace of the immunisation drive slowed after two elderly people were inadvertently given four times the recommended dose.

Minister Hunt, however, said the country’s vaccination schedule was on track to finish by the end of October with more doses expected to arrive in the country without delay and local production of the vaccine to begin within weeks.

With just under 29,000 COVID-19 cases and 909 deaths, Australia largely escaped the high numbers compared with other developed countries, helped by strict lockdowns, speedy tracking systems and border closures.

Australia on Tuesday extended the closure of its international borders by three months until June 17 after authorities deemed the emergence of more virulent variants of the virus posed serious public health risks.

It has been reporting zero or low single-digit cases for the last several weeks.

Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Lincoln Feast.

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