The emergency approval of a COVID-19 vaccine in the United Kingdom won't rush Australia's medicines regulator into a similar move, but Health Minister Greg Hunt says authorities are ahead of schedule when it comes to local testing.
Three vaccines, two of which the Australian government has signed supply deals for, have been given "provisional designation" by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, with more information needed from the companies before the process can move forward.
"We are at the mercy of the companies," Adjunct Professor John Skerritt, who leads the administration, said on Thursday.
Workers at the regulator have been told not to plan holidays and if a company was to provide their full submission in the next week, approval could be granted by late January.
Pressure has mounted on the Australian government after the United Kingdom granted emergency approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is set to start rollout of the vaccine there within weeks.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the approval process for three vaccines was in the "advanced" stage, but the developments in the UK wouldn't alter Australia's timetable, which still assumes early vaccines would be available in January, with wider rollout starting in March.
Both Mr Hunt and Prime Minister Scott Morrison emphasised that safety of the potential vaccines was the Australian government's top priority, and each country would deal with their processes individually.
Professor Skerritt said there would be "parallel teams of doctors, scientists, toxicologists, engineers, facility inspectors, pharmaceutical industry experts, looking at the data which runs into the tens of thousands of pages if you were to print it out" over December and January.
"There is no regulatory process or law in Australia for an emergency use authorisations similar to the UK or the US, as the Prime Minister has indicated, Australia's situation, thanks to the efforts of everyday Australians and governments, is very different from the UK," he said.
Even without the emergency approval processes that exist elsewhere, the Australian regulator has already changed processes to expedite the approval process for COVID-19 vaccines, accepting early documentation and data from major pharmaceutical companies before final trials are completed.
Asked whether the UK's rush to vaccinate people would serve as a large scale trial, Professor Skerritt rejected the use of the term "guinea pigs".
"I would not want to use the word 'guinea pigs' with the UK, we all have friends, family and relatives in the UK, and we are deeply concerned about the situation there."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had confidence in the Therapeutic Goods Administration and a balance must be struck in moving quickly but also ensuring safety of a vaccine.
"It would be an error for there to be an analysis that because something is being done in one country at a particular way, it should be done in another country," he said.
"In the UK they are dealing with their set of circumstances according to their rules, and their laws, which are different to ours. Here, I have confidence in the very fine public servants that we have, to be able to make these assessments."
In the United Kingdom, older people and health workers will be the first to be vaccinated, with the rollout moving to steadily younger people as it goes on. Mr Hunt said Australia was likely to follow a similar timetable.
Mr Morrison and Mr Hunt were asked where politicians would fall in the priority list, with the Health Minister raising the prospect that some politicians may be vaccinated as a demonstration of its reliability.
"I would be very happy to take any vaccine the medical regulators deem safe for Australia," he said.
"None of us want to be jumping the queue but nor do we want to show any lack of confidence."
The Pfizer-BioNTech approved by the UK is one of four coronavirus vaccines the federal government has deals for.
The treatment is known as a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine, which uses only the virus' genetic code and not weakened forms of the virus as conventional vaccines do.