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Thousands vaccinated on first day of national rollout as feds eye quarantine capacity

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Australia’s top nurse is putting the Northern Territory’s Howard Springs quarantine facility’s capacity under the microscope, as the nation’s coronavirus vaccine rollout gets underway.

Freshly vaccinated chief nursing officer Alison McMillan is travelling to the Top End to see whether more people can quarantine at the hub.

“She is looking at the maximum safe capacity for expansion of Howard Springs,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said in Canberra on Monday.

The former mining camp can house 850 people a fortnight for mandatory quarantine, with the NT government hoping that can be doubled.

Concerns about capital city hotels has prompted another rethink of quarantine accommodation for international arrivals, with Victorian authorities looking at building a facility outside of Melbourne.

The federal and Queensland governments are also looking at the potential for a purpose-built quarantine facility in Toowoomba.

Australia’s largest-ever vaccine rollout has begun after Prime Minister Scott Morrison led a small group of people to get the nation’s first COVID-19 jabs.

The vaccines are free and voluntary.

But health experts are urging all Australians to get the coronavirus vaccine once they are able.

Health and border control workers, and aged care residents and their carers have started getting the Pfizer vaccine at hubs across the country.

Australia’s deputy chief medical officer Michael Kidd concedes about 20 per cent of the community are hesitant about getting a vaccination.

He has sought to assure Australians the medical regulator has undertaken rigorous testing to ensure the jabs are safe and efficient.

“Please, when it comes to be your turn, please line up along with the rest of us and get your vaccine,” Dr Kidd said.

Dr Kidd said the vaccines were effective at preventing serious cases of COVID-19 but further insights would be known in coming months.

“We don’t know if people can still become infected and be at risk of asymptomatic transmission to other people, and we don’t yet know how long the immunity conferred by the vaccine will last.”

While vaccinations are not compulsory for aged care workers, the nation’s top medical panel are still considering the issue.

Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said any changes would be based on advice from medical experts, but he expected most workers in the sector to get the jab.

“That’s the indications that we’re seeing so far, not just in aged care but I think there is a great anticipation in the community,” he told Sky News.

Aged care resident Jane Malysiak, 85, who survived World War II in Poland as a child before migrating to Australia, was first in line for the Pfizer vaccination.

Mr Hunt and Health Department boss Brendan Murphy will get the alternative AstraZeneca jab when it becomes available, which is expected to be next month.

Both varieties require two separate doses – Pfizer 21 days apart and AstraZeneca 12 weeks apart.

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