The news comes as a relief to the approximately 520,000 international student visa holders who have remained in Australia since the pandemic began, many of whom are excluded from accessing other government health and financial support programs.
Federal Health minister Greg Hunt said the country’s vaccination strategy aims to give as many people as possible access to the vaccine.
“We need to make sure that everybody who’s on Australian soil is safe, and everybody who’s on Australian soil has access to protection.
“That means the government will provide Covid-19 vaccinations free to all visa holders in Australia. This will include refugees, asylum seekers, temporary protection visa holders, and those on bridging visas.
“People currently residing in detention facilities will also be eligible, including those whose visas have been cancelled.”
However, those on Transit, Tourist, eVisitor and Electronic Travel Authority visas won’t be eligible for free vaccination but may be offered doses under a user-pays arrangement.
Australia has secured 150 million doses of various vaccines, with the roll out commencing in coming weeks with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, subject to final approval by the country’s Therapeutic Goods Administration.
The country also has agreements to take Oxford/AstraZeneca, Novavax, COVAX Facility vaccines subject to completion of successful clinical trials and approval by the TGA
The vaccination program has been broken down into five phases focusing on protecting the most vulnerable in the community first regardless of visa or citizenship status.
First in line are border workers, quarantine workers and those front-line healthcare workers like intensive care units and emergency department staff.
People in residential and aged care, as well as those who work there, will also be prioritised.
Initially vaccines will be administered as specialised hubs across the country with vaccination teams going out to facilities including aged care homes. As the roll out continues GP’s will be able to administer the vaccine in local practices.
Hunt said they also have a targeted campaign to ensure those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are engaged in the program.
“Uptake of the vaccine is very important. And the more Australians we have vaccinated, the better.
“In particular, we want to work with culturally and linguistically diverse communities and we will accordingly be allocating $1.3 million for additional funding to multicultural peak bodies to assist in information to culturally and linguistically diverse communities to support the vaccine rollout.”
The Department of Health’s website will feature 63 languages, advertising will be in 32 languages and a vaccine explainer in 29 languages, he added.
The vaccine will not be mandatory but those who don’t get the jab may face travel restrictions according to the country’s Covid-19 Vaccination Policy.
“While the Australian government strongly supports immunisation and will run a strong campaign to encourage vaccination, it is not mandatory and individuals may choose not to vaccinate.
“There may however, be circumstances where the Australian government and other governments may introduce border entry or re-entry requirements that are conditional on proof of vaccination.”
While the vaccination program may speed up the opening of international borders, the federal government still has not put a timeframe in place for the return of international students according to the Australia’s Covid-19 Vaccine and Treatment Strategy
“To stay COVIDSafe, some controls will still need to remain in place while vaccinations are rolled out and beyond, in consideration of vaccinations being less than 100 per-cent effective in terms of prevention and transmission.
“We look forward to welcoming international students in a COVIDSafe way when it is safe to do so. A range of factors including vaccination status will be considered for international arrivals to ensure protection of international students and the Australian community.”
It is estimated the vaccination program will be finished by mid-October.
In December, the UK confirmed its international students will have access to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.