Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine: Who will receive it first

Health Minister Greg Hunt has revealed a blueprint for when the COVID-19 vaccine will be rolled out in Australia, and who will be given top priority.

Australians could have to wait until the end of next year to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Frontline workers could begin receiving the COVID-19 vaccine from March with hopes the entire Australian population could be vaccinated by the end of 2021.

News Corp can reveal that subject to national cabinet’s approval, the first Australians to receive a COVID-19 vaccine will be 1.5 million doctors, nurses, pharmacists, pathologist, aged care workers and the elderly.

In an exclusive interview on the government’s vaccine rollout plans, Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia’s vaccine manufacturer CSL was likely to commence manufacturing the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine this month (November).

And he said the government will in the coming weeks finalise agreements to buy two new types of COVID-19 vaccines, including a cutting edge mRNA vaccine.

This means Australians will have access to four types of COVID-19 vaccines – the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, the University of Queensland vaccine and two more.

Mr Hunt said he had “high confidence” COVID-19 vaccinations would begin in the first quarter of next year possibly clearing the way to re-open our international borders at the end of 2021.

Health Minister Greg Hunt has high confidence a covid vaccine will be available by March. Picture: Sean Davey.
Health Minister Greg Hunt has high confidence a covid vaccine will be available by March. Picture: Sean Davey.
Health Minister Greg Hunt has high confidence a covid vaccine will be available by March.

“The evidence on the first half of 2021 is strengthening and the evidence on first quarter of 2021 is strengthening and it’s likely that new contracts would also involve first quarter delivery so you know we’re thinking March may be possible,” he said.

“The expectation is that everybody who sought vaccination would be vaccinated well within 2021.

“Our goal is to have the borders open, subject to vaccination and health advice, by the end of 2021.”

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The Pfizer BioNtech mRNA vaccine is currently leading the global vaccine race and it, along with Moderna’s mRNA vaccine is likely to be one of the vaccines the government is trying to purchase for Australians.

The company refused to comment.

“Pfizer will continue to work closely with all governments to support their vaccine implementation plans. Discussions with all governments remain confidential,” it said in a statement..

Conventional vaccines use a weakened form of the virus to prompt an immune response but mRNA vaccines use the virus’s genetic code to make a person’s own cells produce vaccine antigens and generate immunity.

This new age vaccine technology has never been used in humans before but it is a much quicker way to make a vaccine.

An expert government committee is currently setting priorities that will govern who gets a vaccine and when.

“There’s no surprises either the clear advice is that the first cohort is healthcare workers and the elderly,” Mr Hunt told News Corp.

This would include general practitioners, pathology workers, aged care assistants, those working with vulnerable people and pharmacists, he said.

The elderly, particularly those in aged care homes, would also be among the first to receive a vaccine because they are at greatest risk of severe illness from the virus.

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It’s estimated these people number around 1.5 million and once they are protected the next to be vaccinated will be essential workers like transport workers, teachers and people working in food supply.

An expert government committee is currently determining which workers will be deemed “essential workers”.

Mr Hunt said no decision had yet been made on when children will be vaccinated and it would depend on whether the vaccines available had been tested in children.

Vaccination will be free but not compulsory and advice was that herd immunity (when enough of the population is vaccinated to protect those who are not vaccinated from disease) will be achieved by vaccinating two thirds of the population, he said.

Mr Hunt is not overly concerned about anti-vaxxers refusing to have the COVID jab.

“Australians have been great vaccinators and whilst there is noise from the anti-vaxxers I think they’re making more noise but having less impact,” he said.

Behind the Scenes at the Royal Melbourne Hospital ICU and COVID wards. Nurses gather around a monitor discussing a patient in COVID Ward 9 East. Picture: David Caird
Behind the Scenes at the Royal Melbourne Hospital ICU and COVID wards. Nurses gather around a monitor discussing a patient in COVID Ward 9 East. Picture: David Caird

“The indications are already that there’s very, very high public interest in being vaccinated.”

It is likely two doses of the vaccine will be required 30 days apart and careful records will be kept to ensure Australians receive two doses of the same vaccine if more than one is in use, Mr Hunt said.

The government is preparing to launch a major immunisation training program for nurses to ensure there are enough workers to provide the mass vaccination program.

A robust quality control mechanism will monitor the safety of the vaccines.

Every dose of vaccine administered to an Australian will be recorded in the Australian immunisation register so the government can track each batch of vaccine and identify any problems that emerge.

People who receive the vaccine will be sent a text message two days after they are given a vaccine asking them to report any adverse events.

Experts are warning the first vaccines will be far from perfect and may simply reduce the symptoms of the virus rather than prevent it altogether and may not provide long lasting immunity.

Nurses at St Vincent’s Hospital’s Bondi Beach Covid testing site in Sydney, NSW. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Dylan Coker
Nurses at St Vincent’s Hospital’s Bondi Beach Covid testing site in Sydney, NSW. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Dylan Coker

There are more than 200 vaccines in development and more than 40 are in clinical trials.

Several key trials are this month due to report on whether they prevent people becoming infected with the virus.

The Australian Government has struck a $1.7 billion deal for to procure 30 million doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.

Nearly 4 million doses will be delivered to Australia in January and February 2021 and a further 30 million doses will be manufactured by CSL in monthly batches.

In addition the government has ordered 51 million doses of the University of Queensland’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate and if it proves successful, it will be manufactured by CSL. The first doses will be available by mid-2021.

Early predictions that a vaccine may be available by the end of this year are looking wobbly after several of the vaccine clinical trials were put on hold after participants became ill.

FULL LIST OF COVID-19 VACCINES AND TRIALS

There are around 200 Covid vaccines under development and 49 are in clinical trials

*US the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine is the leading western product. The companies plan to apply to the US Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA) in mid-November to get approval for their vaccine to be used for emergency purposes. The clinical trial results are slower than hoped and there hasn’t yet been enough Covid infections among the trial participants to tell whether the people who received the vaccine were infected at a lower rate than people who got a dummy injection.

*US MODERNA More than 26,000 volunteers have received the second of the company’s two-dose Covid-19 vaccine. The company has said it will analyse clinical trial results this month (November) after there are 53 cases of Covid-19 in trial participants. It has taken $1.1 billion in deposits for orders of its vaccine.

*UK The Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine had been leading the global race and mid-year the team forecast it would supply 2 billion doses by September but the large scale trial of its effectiveness was recently put on hold after two people developed an illness, testing has now resumed. Recent testing has shown the vaccine produces antibodies in the elderly as well s younger people. In January next year vaccinated volunteers will be deliberately exposed to Covid to speed up testing that determines if the vaccine works to prevent infection with the virus that causes Covid. Australia’s vaccine manufacturer CSL will begin making doses of this vaccine in November and if trial results show it works Australians will get it from March.

*CHINA CanSino Biologics vaccine is still in final phase testing. It was approved as a “specially needed drug” for soldiers in China in July. Large scale clinical trials of the vaccine began in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Russia in August.

*CHINA Sinopham’s vaccine is still in final testing but has been given to hundreds of thousands of essential workers in China and the United Arab Emirates and could be available to the wider public as early as November.The company plans to produce a billion doses a year. Hong Kong based Phoenix Television said its Chinese journalists had been given the vaccine.

*CHINA Sinovac In October, authorities in the Chinese city Jiaxing began giving the vaccine to medical workers, port inspectors and public service personnel.  More than 10,000 people in Beijing have been injected with the vaccine as well as 3,000 of the company’s employees and their families. It has a contract to supply Indonesia with at least 40 million doses by March 2021 and is planning worldwide distribution in early 2021

*US Johnson & Johnson is developing a single dose vaccine. Its trials were recently paused for two weeks after a male volunteer in his 20s reportedly suffered a stroke. The company plans to manufacture 1 billion doses next year and expects clinical trial results by the end of this year.

*AUSTRALIA- University Queensland. The Australian Government has a deal to buy 51 million doses of the vaccine which will be manufactured by CSL.  The first doses will be available by mid-2021. The vaccine uses a molecular clamp method invented by the university’s scientists and early human safety trials began in July. Experiments on hamsters showed the vaccine protected them from the coronavirus. Large scale human trials are due to begin in December.

* RUSSIA Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine was approved for use in that country even before final testing was complete and around 400 members of the public have already received it. Russian teachers who were meant to be among the first to receive it objected and wanted to wait until clinical trials were complete. Russian president Vladimir Putin later clarified the approval was a conditional on positive results from Phase 3 trials. The vaccine is currently being tested in 40,000 volunteers in Russia, Belarus, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela and India. There are agreements to supply the vaccine to countries including Brazil, Mexico and India.

*Russia has also approved a “peptide-based shot” developed by biotechnology company State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology VECTOR. Early trials of the vaccine on 100 volunteers were successful but full safety and efficacy trials are not complete.

*US Inovio. The clinical trial of this vaccine has been put on hold after the Food and Drug Administration raised questions about its method of delivery using a device, called the CELLECTRA 2000. Instead of using a needle to inject the vaccine Inovio is using a device resembling an electric toothbrush without the bristles.The device is held against the skin and it generates a localized electric field.

*FRANCE Sanofi plus GSK – Early stage human trials of the company’s protein based vaccine that uses proteins grown inside insect cells began in 400 people in September and it plans large scale trials in December. It uses the same platform the company uses to make its Flublok vaccine. The company plans to produce 1 billion doses of this vaccine in 2021. The vaccine is likely to require two doses although the company is also testing a single dose version.

The company is also developing an mRNA vaccine in partnership with Translate Bio. It has produced a strong antibody response in mice and monkeys and early stage human trials are due to begin in December.

*INDIA – Zydus Cadila. Indian vaccine-maker Zydus Cadila hopes to have its vaccine ZyCov-D on the market by March 2021. Phase 2 human trials began in August trial data is likely to be available next month and Phase 3 trials are due to begin in December.It plans to make 150 million doses a year.

*JAPAN – AnGes. Japanese company AnGes began trials of its DNA-based vaccine, developed in partnership with Osaka University and Takara Bio in July. It will present initial results of the trials in November and is planning for a Phase 3 trial by the end of the year.

*GERMANY – Curevac. Curevac launched human safety trials of its mRNA vaccine in June it aims to make 100 million vaccine doses by the end of the year. In August it began a Phase 2 human trial in Peru. The company is working with Musk’s company Tesla on creating mRNA “micro-factories,” to make billions of doses of the vaccine.It plans to produce 100 million doses this year.

*SOUTH KOREA – Genexine. The South Korean company Genexine began human safety trials of its DNA-based vaccine in June.

*US – Novavax. In May Australians were injected with doses of Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine in early safety trials. The company aims to make at least 100 million doses by the end of the year and 1.5 billion next year. On August 17, they launched a Phase 2 trial in 2,900 people in South Africa to measure the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. Larger human trials involving 15,000 volunteers in the United Kingdom began in September and could potentially deliver results by the start of 2021..Under an agreement with Serum Institute of India it hopes to produce 2 billion doses a year.

*UK – Imperial College London. At the end of June, Imperial College London started human trials of its RNA vaccine. Just one litre of its synthetic material will be enough to produce two million doses. In late September Professor Robin Shattock who is leading the research said human volunteers were responding well to the vaccine and they were aiming to launch a large 20,000 person trial by the end of this year. He is hoping for approval of the vaccine by mid-2021.

*CHINA – Anhui Zhifei Longcom. In June, the company Anhui Zhifei Longcom began human trials in China for a vaccine that is a combination of viral proteins and an adjuvant that stimulates the immune system.

*AUSTRALIA – Vaxine. The Australian company Vaxine launched early human safety trials of a vaccine in July. They successfully completed Phase 1 trials in July and expect to start Phase 2 trials in September. The team was recently awarded funding of $1 million dollars from the Medical research Future Fund. Lead researcher Professor Nik Petrovsky hopes to have the vaccine ready by the end of this year.

*CANADA – Medicago. Medicago injects genes into the leaves of plants to make vaccines, causing the plant cells to create protein shells that mimic viruses. In July it announced it has begun early human safety trials of a COVID-19 vaccine.

*INDIA – Bharat Biotech. Its vaccine Covaxin uses an inactivated rabies virus engineered to carry proteins from the coronavirus. Human safety began in 300 people in September.Phase 3 trials began in October. The company said the vaccine could be ready by early 2021.

*AUSTRALIA BCG vaccine. The tuberculosis vaccine BCG is being trialled by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia to see if the vaccine partly protects against the coronavirus. Phase 3 trials are underway.

*US Merck is fusing genetic material from the virus which causes Covid-19, onto a livestock virus that can infect people but does not make them ill. It has used this method to successfully develop an Ebola vaccine. This vaccine may not have to be injected and could come in the form of a pill. An early stage human clinical trial was registered in September

A second vaccine that Merck is making uses a weakened measles virus early stage human trials began in August.

*US- Kentucky BioProcessing. This company is using tobacco leave to produce a vaccine and registered an early safety trial in humans in July.

*CHINA Academy of Military Medical Sciences, Suzhou Abogen Biosciences and Walvax Biotechnology. This company began early safety trials of its COVID-19 vaccine in humans in June.

*Clover Biopharmaceuticals Clover launched a Phase 1 trial in June. In September said it anticipated starting a Phase 2 trial by the end of 2020.

*TAIWAN. Vaccine company Medigen have registered an early human trial of a COVID-19 vaccine to begin in September. Another Taiwanese company Adimmune won approval for an early stage human trial of its vaccine in August.

*ITALY. The Italian biotechnology company ReiThera has developed a Covid-19 vaccine based on an common cold virus that infects gorillas. It launched early human trials in late July.

*SINGAPORE. US company Arcturus Therapeutics and Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore are developing an mRNA vaccine which produced a strong immune responses in animal experiments. In August human trials began in Singapore General Hospital.

*US Washington University is trialling a nasal spray Covid vaccine using an adenovirus in mice. It reportedly created a powerful ‘mucosal’ immune response that blocked the virus at the site of infection in the upper airways.

*AUSTRALIA The cancer drug BromAc has been found to dissolve the spike proteins the Covid virus uses to infect human cells .Cancer specialist Professor David Morris from St George Hospital in Sydney has repurposed it into a lower dose nasal spray to treat COVID-19. In planned human trials patients with Covid will be given the nasal spray as a treatment four times a day.The second use of the treatment will see it given to frontline health workers to prevent them catching the virus when they treat COVID-19 patients. The treatment is likely to only work in the early stages of infection. It is not expected to make a difference once COVID-19 has already spread widely through the body.

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