Aus Govt joins COVAX, funds more local COVID-19 vaccines
The Australian Government has joined the COVAX facility, enabling the purchase of COVID-19 vaccine doses as they become available.
The COVAX facility was established by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance as part of an international vaccine partnership with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the World Health Organization (WHO) and other organisations. The facility provides access to a large portfolio of COVID-19 vaccine candidates and manufacturers across the world, with the aim of ensuring that there is equitable access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines through facilitating purchases, funding access for developing countries and allowing countries to trade or donate doses.
Australia will commit an initial $123.2 million to be part of the purchasing mechanism of the facility, meaning the government can receive offers to purchase vaccines when they become available. This would open up additional supplies for Australia, enabling the government to access vaccines for up to 50% of the population under a two-dose treatment requirement.
Minister for Health Greg Hunt said participating in COVAX is an important part of Australia’s strategy to secure early access to any safe and effective vaccines, offering further options in addition to the government’s current agreements with the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca and The University of Queensland (UQ)/CSL.
“A COVID-19 vaccine is the best way to protect the Australian community,” Hunt said.
“Whoever finds a COVID-19 vaccine must share it. Australia signing up to the COVAX facility is an important part of our commitment to this principle.
“Being a part of COVAX means we’re giving Australians the best chance of accessing a safe and effective vaccine, but also our neighbours in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, and partners overseas.”
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said it is in Australia’s interest — and that of our region — to support the facility.
“Access to vaccines will play a critical role in the economic recovery of our region from this pandemic,” Payne said.
“Now more than ever, we must come together as a global community to ensure that our response leaves no-one behind.”
This is Australia’s second commitment to the COVAX facility, with $80 million donated in August to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment — a collaborative effort to provide doses to developing countries, enabling more countries to protect their most vulnerable groups.
Eighty self-financing countries, including Australia, have joined the COVAX facility and a further 92 countries are eligible to access vaccines through the Advance Market Commitment. In addition to individual country allocations, 10% of manufactured doses will be retained by the COVAX facility to address sporadic outbreaks and for humanitarian use.
The news comes just two days after the Australian Government announced it will invest almost $6 million in additional funding from the Medical Research Future Fund’s (MRFF) Coronavirus Research Response to support the research and development of three Australian COVID-19 vaccines.
The University of Melbourne will receive almost $3 million to develop two vaccine candidates. Both vaccines are targeting the tip of the spike protein, known as the receptor binding domain, but use different techniques to compare which vaccine maximises the production of neutralising antibodies. A protein vaccine introduces a protein into the body to maximise the antibody immune response to neutralise viral infectivity, while an mRNA vaccine represents a genetic sequence that supports the human body to make the protein that would then maximise the antibody response to the tip of the spike protein to neutralise viral infectivity.
The University of Sydney will meanwhile receive almost $3 million for a phase 1/1b clinical trial to test the safety and effectiveness of a novel DNA-based COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine is being developed so it can be administered using a needle-free system. The trial aims to enrol 150 healthy volunteers, with findings set to inform evaluation of the vaccine in larger Phase two and three trials.
These investments build on existing MRFF support for COVID-19 vaccines, including $5 million provided to UQ for its innovative ‘molecular clamp’ technology and $1 million to Vaxine for its COVAX-19 vaccine. Subject to further work, the resulting vaccines could eventually be deployed in Australia and around the world.
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