Australia’s COVID vaccine has performed “better than expected” in trials and is likely to protect against the coronavirus and its symptoms, it has been revealed.
The University of Queensland scientists also have “every confidence” millions of doses could be manufactured to protect the Australian public.
The findings were the first in the world to be presented publicly overnight Tuesday when UQ researchers addressed the International Society of Vaccines.
In a major milestone, they said the Australian vaccine, which is now in the human trial phase, with 120 recruits, and has so far been found to be safe.
The scientists revealed that earlier pre-clinical tests on hamsters that were given doses of the vaccine found it protected the animals when they were exposed to the coronavirus.
“Following a single dose, we see a really good level of protection against virus in the lung,” Associate Professor Keith Chappell from the UQ School of Chemistry told the ABC.
“Around half of the animals had no virus at all detected in the lungs and the other half had reduced levels.
“We saw a marked reduction in the severity of the disease in the hamsters.”
He said protection after a single dose was “better than we expected” and two doses would “do a great job of protecting both against virus replication and the disease”.
His colleague Trevor Munro told the ABC the double dose was in line with expectations of an effective vaccine.
“Everything we have seen so far gives us continued confidence to keep pushing,” he said.
Dr Chappell said the human trial was going well and there were “absolutely no safety concerns with all the participants dosed so far”.
The UQ team became the first project in the world to report against a COVID-19 reference standard, produced by The National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC) and recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Religious boycott could undermine vaccine
The Australian vaccine milestone comes as a diseases expert cautioned against a plan by religious leaders to boycott a promising coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University.
Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, claimed he would likely boycott the Oxford vaccine on ethical grounds after discovering the scientists were using cell lines from an electively aborted foetus.
“To use that tissue for science is reprehensible,” he told the ABC on Tuesday, adding he would probably wait for a second vaccine if the first was from Oxford.
His views are shared by Catholic and Greek Orthodox leaders, who have written a letter to the prime minister expressing their concerns.
Friends, many of you have been writing to me with questions about a COVID-19 vaccine.This week’s announcement that a…
At least five of the potential COVID-19 vaccines being trialled on humans around the world use one of two human foetal cell lines: HEK-293, a kidney cell line widely used in research that comes from a foetus aborted in about 1972, and another cell line known as PER.C6.
Associate Professor Paul Griffin, director of infectious diseases at the University of Queensland, said he was concerned the position held by these religious leaders could threaten our ability to defeat the coronavirus.
“It’s fuelling people’s concerns and potentially undermining the uptake of this vaccine,” he told The New Daily.
“And the single biggest determinant of how effective it is will be how many people receive it.”
Around the world, countries have been pinning their hopes on Oxford University’s vaccine candidate as a frontrunner in the global race to end the pandemic.
Last week, the federal government announced the signing of a letter of intent to obtain 25 million doses of the potential vaccine – if trials of the drug proved successful.
“It’s very much reflective of a greater problem – where people are choosing to get their information from and how devastating irresponsible reporting can be,” Associate Professor Griffin said.
People in positions of power, whether religious or political, need to provide the right information.
“If they’ve got concerns, they should ask appropriately qualified scientists so they can propagate the right information to the people who come to them.”
So what’s the big deal?
Without them, a whole host of life-saving vaccines and therapies – like insulin for diabetics – could not be manufactured, he said.
Common vaccines manufactured using cell lines from aborted foetuses include vaccines for chickenpox, rubella and Hepatitis A.
“For a lot of these viruses, we can’t just grow them in a laboratory without some kind of cell to support their growth,” Associate Professor Griffin said.
“It provides a useful factory for making all sorts of things in a laboratory, like vaccines or antibodies.”
A ‘cell line’ is simply a cell culture developed from a single cell that can be replicated many times over.
In most cases, the cell lines being used to manufacture vaccines today were derived from human foetuses aborted decades ago.
“Our ability to scale up manufacturing isn’t dependent on us finding more of that tissue because we can grow those cells in the laboratory,” Associate Professor Griffin said.
“We’re not out there harvesting aborted foetuses for the purpose of vaccine manufacturing.
“It’s very tightly regulated.”