Millions of doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be shipped to GPs, rural doctors and pharmacists from October in a bid to ramp up Australia’s lagging rollout.
But experts say it’s not enough to bring our rollout up to speed.
It comes as Novavax Inc reported promising late-stage data from a US clinical trial showing its vaccine was more than 90 per cent effective against COVID-19, including a host of dangerous variants.
The company said it remained on track to produce 100 million doses a month by the end of the third quarter of 2021, and 150 million doses a month in the fourth quarter of the year.
Australia has secured 51 million Novavax doses.
If all goes to plan, and the vaccine is deemed safe and effective by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, then it will be enough to cover our whole population.
“The TGA is currently assessing preliminary data for the Novavax (NVX-CoV2373) COVID-19,” a Health Department spokesperson said in a statement to The New Daily.
“The TGA has no further information at this time on expected timeframes for the provision of the complete data package although manufacturing and quality information is now expected to be submitted to the TGA in September.”
Moderna joins Novavax in rollout boost
- More than 4400 general practices will be able to administer the Pfizer vaccine
- Another 850 rural and regional clinics will be able to offer Moderna
- 1000 pharmacies will deliver Moderna injections
- Doctors will be paid to make home visits to vaccinate the elderly who cannot visit clinics to get immunised, and to ensure people moving into aged-care facilities get their shots.
When asked about the changes on Tuesday morning, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said “we’re in a strong situation”.
“We’re covered for 2021, for 2022, if necessary,” he told 2GB Breakfast.
“When you think of our program, we have the AstraZeneca and Pfizer as the backbone this year, which will be supported by Moderna.
“Novavax is there both as a backup for this year, but also as a potential booster for next year.”
It’s an improvement
“It’s certainly a big step in the right direction,” said Paul Griffin, associate professor of medicine at the University of Queensland.
He said it was wise to involve more GP clinics in cities and regional areas, as well as pharmacies in Australia’s vaccine distribution efforts.
A major bonus, he said, was the late-stage data from Novavax showing its vaccine was more than 90 per cent effective against COVID-19.
Associate Professor Griffin said Novavax was notably different from mRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna, or viral vector vaccines like AstraZeneca, because it was “simple, traditional” and easy to store.
“Novavax is a protein-based vaccine,” he said.
“It doesn’t require extreme cold chain storage (like mRNA vaccines), and there are no significant adverse events associated with that vaccine. And it appears highly effective.”
Will the changes bring us up to speed?
It’s too early to say.
So far, more than five million people have now had at least one dose of a vaccine, including 61 per cent of Australians aged over 70.
The budget has assumed “a population-wide vaccination program is likely to be in place by the end of 2021″.
But at our current pace of roughly 697,000 doses a week, it’s going to take us until late May 2022 before we can expect to reach the 40 million doses needed to fully vaccinate Australia’s adult population.
And that’s not good enough, according to infectious disease expert Bill Bowtell AO, adjunct professor at the University of NSW.
“Let’s accept in good faith that these deliveries will be made this time,” Mr Bowtell told TND.
“The question is, if you only go through the pharmacies and the GPs, does that really give the capacity at whatever level to vaccinate everybody by say, the end of the year?”
So far, only 2.6 per cent of Australians are fully vaccinated, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Mr Bowtell, an architect of Australia’s response to the HIV AIDS crisis, has been an advocate for keeping Australia COVID-free through mass vaccination, water-tight quarantine facilities and stringent contact tracing.
He said it was “good more vaccine is coming”, but stressed “we are still somewhere about 80th in the world, with 97 per cent of Australians today not fully vaccinated”.
“A strategy without a target is not a strategy,” he said, pointing to the Morrison government’s revised – and later abandoned – timelines for the rollout.
“We need to see a committed target and our distribution methods being promoted.”