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Vaccines for COVID-19. What are they & when will they be available.

Vaccines for COVID-19. What are they & when will they be available.

As the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine roll out begins for the elderly, aged care home residents and front line health workers in Australia, many countries around the world have already made a strong start administering vaccines. Starting with the most at risk citizens, such as a 96-year-old Belgian man, who reported feeling “30 years younger” after receiving the vaccination.

As the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine roll out begins for the elderly, aged care home residents and front line health workers in Australia, many countries around the world have already made a strong start administering vaccines. Starting with the most at risk citizens, such as a 96-year-old Belgian man, who reported feeling “30 years younger” after receiving the vaccination.

With countries facing huge threats from the coronavirus, governments and health authorities have rushed through testing, and have released vaccines before final stage and long-term test results are in. Britain and the US granted emergency approval to a Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as well as a vaccine from Moderna in the US.

This “emergency approval” means that vaccines are being rolled out before stage three trials are finished, so the most at risk groups can be inoculated.

The Australian federal government has previously stated it requires “robust scientific data and analysis”(1) before supporting a vaccine candidate. This was highlighted when the University of Queensland’s original vaccine trial was abandoned. As prime minister, Scott Morrison said at the time(2): “I think the decision we’ve made today should give Australians great assurance that we are proceeding carefully, we are moving swiftly, but not with any undue haste here.”

The Australian government’s strategy has been to secure multiple deals, which means it now has three options(3). Most likely all will require two doses for each person and will need to cover approximately 25 million people.

Pfizer/BioNTech 

Ten million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine – rated 95 per cent effective – were ordered for Australia. The technology for this vaccine, called mRNA, is relatively new and has never been used to develop a vaccine before.

There are some issues associated with storing and developing the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. It needs to be stored at around minus 70 degrees Celsius, in special containers, that hold liquid nitrogen that keeps it extremely cold. It is also unable to be produced here as it involves a new type of technology that Australia does not currently have the manufacturing capability for.

AstraZeneca

The government made the decision in December 2020 to boost its order of Oxford University's AstraZeneca vaccine from 33.8 million to 53.8 million doses. It is yet to be approved anywhere but results suggest it is up to 90 per cent effective.

The vaccine is what is called a “viral vector”. It uses a chimpanzee virus, which is harmless to humans, to infect us and then that delivers the vaccine.

Australian biotechnology company CSL has committed to making 50 million doses of this option onshore in Melbourne. It has already started the production process but must wait for AstraZeneca to gain regulatory approval before it can be deployed.

Novavax

Then there is the option for 51 million doses of the US company Novavax's vaccine, which is also still in phase three trials.

This is what is called a “protein vaccine”; a tried and tested method that is expected to be approved sometime in the early part of 2021. 

Other types of vaccines

Future vaccines could harness nanoparticles, creating a cheap, safe and effective inoculation. Biochemists at Stanford University in California have created a prototype that would not only have these qualities but it would also be stable at room temperature. They are hopeful that the vaccine could be shipped and stored as a freeze-dried powder.

The government proposes to do the initial roll out in two phases.

Phase 1a consisting of:

  • frontline at-risk health care workers
  • residential aged care and disability care staff and residents
  • quarantine and border workers.

Phase 1b will consist of:

  • adults over 70 years
  • all other health care workers
  • begin to vaccinate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • younger adults with underlying medical conditions including those with a disability
  • critical and high-risk workers including defence, police, fire, emergency services and meat processing workers.

1 health.gov.au https://www.health.gov.au/initiatives-and-programs/covid-19-vaccines/about-covid-19-vaccines

2 The Guardian Australia edition, 11 December 2020 https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/dec/11/university-of-queensland-covid-vaccine-the-governments-pulled-the-plug-so-what-happens-now

3 SBS online https://www.sbs.com.au/news/australia-s-coronavirus-vaccine-when-will-we-get-it-and-how-will-it-reach-every-community

DISCLAIMER

This wellbeing message is brought to you by the health and wellbeing team at rt health – the health fund for transport and energy people. The health information provided here is intended to be informative only and should be carefully evaluated for its source, accuracy, completeness and relevance for your purposes. It is not a replacement for professional medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional. Always obtain appropriate professional advice relevant to your particular circumstances.