The Latest: Australia moves up vaccination start to February

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Shoppers wear masks as they walk around a shopping precinct in Sydney, Australia, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. Masks have been made mandatory in shopping centers, on public transport, in entertainment venues such as a cinema, and fines will come into effect on Monday as the state government responds to the COVID-19 outbreak on Sydney's northern beaches, which is suspected to have also caused new cases in neighboring Victoria state. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia is advancing the start of its coronavirus vaccination program to mid-February, with plans to inoculate 15% of the population by late March.

The government had argued there was no reason for an emergency rollout that cut short usual regulatory processes as has occurred in the United States and elsewhere because local transmission rates in Australia are much lower. It had planned to start vaccinating in March.

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Thursday he expects the Pfizer vaccine will be delivered two weeks after the Australian regulator approves it in late January. He said that “it is moving considerably faster than normal.”

Morrison says the goal is to give 80,000 shots a week and have 4 million of Australia’s 26 million people vaccinated by the end of March.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says the government will begin allowing more drugstores to start giving shots to speed coronavirus vaccinations. Some governors and other politicians are turning up the pressure after a slow rollout of the coronavirus vaccines. Dr. Anthony Fauci believes the U.S. could soon give 1 million vaccinations a day. The U.S. reports 29 severe allergic reactions to the vaccines.

The European Union has given approval to the Moderna vaccine. The decision gives the 27-nation bloc a second vaccine to use against the coronavirus. The U.K. says it has vaccinated 1.3 million people and plans to have almost 1,000 vaccination centers operating by the end of this week.