The ACT is on track to be the first Australian jurisdiction to have its population fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, but high levels of coverage will not prevent restrictions while other parts of Australia lag behind.
The ACT led the nation with 5.6 per cent of its population aged above 16 fully innoculated with two COVID-19 vaccine doses, data from the federal Health Department this week showed.
The Northern Territory was second, with 5.5 per cent, while Tasmania had 4.7 per cent. Victoria is at the bottom with only 1.9 per cent full vaccination.
ACT chief health officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said full vaccination was an important protection for individuals, but ACT Health considered a range of factors when applying community and travel restrictions.
"Other important considerations in keeping the community safe from COVID-19 include the vaccination coverage of the local population they are visiting, the epidemiological situation in the area being visited and where the person is travelling from, COVID-19 restrictions in place in that jurisdiction, and the number of people following check in protocols to support contact tracing," Dr Coleman said.
The ACT government again introduced restrictions on people returning from Melbourne, where a fresh COVID-19 outbreak has prompted Victoria's fourth lockdown.
Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith has also hinted the ACT will expand its vaccine rollout to people aged between 40 and 49, with a further announcement expected within days.
The shift would add about 60,000 people eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, on top of the 130,000 people currently eligible for vaccines in the ACT.
The ACT, along with Tasmania and the Northern Territory, has the potential to be among the first states and territories to fully vaccinate its population, a health expert says.
The head of the department of global health at the Australian National University, Professor Darren Gray, said that while the ACT's population size was a key factor in having the highest percentage so far, geography also played a role.
"We also need to consider rural and remote areas," he said.
"If you look and at the NT with a smaller population, there are a lot of remote communities that are going to be hard to reach. That's not a major factor here in the ACT."
Prof Gray said the nation could do better to improve its vaccination rate.
"That all depends on supply and addressing hesitancy," he said.
"An issue we have at the moment is that we have heaps of AstraZeneca doses for over-50s, but it's the Pfizer vaccine that we need for the under-50s. That's going to be a stumbling block."
In April, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the purchase of another 20 million doses of Pfizer vaccines, manufactured offshore, bringing the total to 40 million.
However, those additional doses will not be available until September.
In the ACT, Pfizer vaccinations are administered at the Garran clinic and AstraZeneca doses are at Calvary Public Hospital.
Participating GPs and the Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services also administer doses.
ACT Health said the Calvary clinic was operating at just over 200 appointments per day and the clinic was booked until July 6.
Ms Stephen-Smith has urged Canberrans to contact their GPs to secure an appointment, moving to reassure people there were vaccine appointments available.
Prof Gray said the vaccination phases may need "to be revisited", saying South Australia's rolling out of doses to those aged 16 and older in regional areas should also be considered for other parts of the country.
"We should start thinking about our phases and whether or not they're actually fit for purpose," he said.
"We should revisit that plan and think about our supply of Pfizer and how we can start rolling that out at the same time as rolling out AstraZeneca."
Prof Gray said more targeted public health campaigns, rather than broad approaches, were needed to address "underlying issues" of populations hesitant in being vaccinated..
"We need to come up with evidence-based strategies to alleviate people's hesitancy," he said.
Prof Gray said it was difficult to predict when and how much of the population being vaccinated would lead to herd immunity.
"At the current rate we're vaccinating the country, it's looking like 2022 when we'll get full vaccination so we really need to step that up," he said.
"Herd immunity is a tricky one for Covid because it all depends on how well these vaccines prevent transmission."
Ms Stephen-Smith said the ACT would not follow South Australia's extension of vaccinations for regional areas.
She said each jurisdiction's circumstances - including population, workforce and geographical spread - needed to be considered when working with the federal government in the vaccination rollout.
"The ACT is unique as we have no regional areas and a smaller population size," Ms Stephen-Smith said.
"This means we do not face some of the same logistical challenges as other states and territories, including how to safely manage vaccine delivery across large geographical areas or ensuring enough staffing for regional vaccine clinics."
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