Australia secures supplies of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine
The Australian Government has reached a deal that would see the University of Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine, set to be distributed by UK-based drug company AstraZeneca, made available to all Australians for free.
Dr Trevor Drew, a member of a government advisory panel on COVID-19 vaccines, explained how the Oxford vaccine works.
“Oxford University’s vaccine candidate is what’s known as a viral vector vaccine, meaning it is made from a non-replicating version of a common cold virus, an adenovirus,” he said.
“Oxford’s scientists have inserted the SARS-CoV-2 genome into a defective adenovirus, which can begin an infection in human cells but cannot replicate to develop the infection. The key coronavirus protein becomes expressed when the adenovirus starts to replicate. The immune system recognises the virus and develops immunity to the SARS CoV-2 virus.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Oxford trial is currently in phase three and that more work is needed to confirm the vaccine’s viability. Should it prove safe and effective, the deal secures early access to the vaccine for every Australian.
“If this vaccine proves successful, we will manufacture and supply vaccines straight away under our own steam and make it free for 25 million Australians,” the Prime Minister said. He also indicated his commitment ensuring early access for other countries in the Pacific “family”, as well as regional partners in Southeast Asia.
Dr Drew, who is also Director of CSIRO’s Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP), added that the centre is currently evaluating different administration methods of the vaccine to determine whether an injection or nasal spray confers better protection. More than 2000 samples are currently being analysed as part of the preclinical study, with the results to be published shortly.
“However,” the Prime Minister said, “there is no guarantee that this or any other vaccine will be successful, which is why we are continuing our discussions with many parties around the world while backing our own researchers at the same time to find a vaccine.
“We are taking advice from Australia’s best medical and scientific expertise to ensure that the government’s work to select, produce and purchase COVID-19 vaccines and treatments is based on the best available knowledge.”
The government has also released Australia’s COVID-19 Vaccine and Treatment Strategy, guided by the newly formed COVID-19 Vaccines and Treatments for Australia – Science and Industry Technical Advisory Group. The strategy sets out Australia’s approach to acquire doses of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines based on:
- Research and development
- Purchase and manufacturing
- International partnerships
- Regulation and safety Immunisation administration and monitoring
The first announcements under the strategy are the signing of a Letter of Intent with AstraZeneca to supply the Oxford vaccine candidate to Australia and a consumables contract with Becton Dickinson for the supply of vital consumables such as needles and syringes. The Letter of Intent commits to production of the vaccine in Australia, subject to safety and effectiveness. A final formal agreement will include distribution, timing and price of the vaccine.
Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews said Australia’s manufacturing capability is a huge asset in the push to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine.
“The Australian pharmaceutical industry and its ability to produce vaccines is already among the best in the world, and that puts us in a strong position to be able to roll out a COVID vaccine as quickly as possible,” Andrews said.
“Through a coordinated approach and strategic investments, we can also improve our knowledge and strengthen our manufacturing capability to respond in the future.”
Minister for Health Greg Hunt added, “Australian officials led by my department have been meeting with developers and manufacturers of a number of promising vaccine candidates, both domestic and international, over recent months.
“We are confident these actions and targeted investments will put us in the best possible position to secure early access to safe and effective vaccines for Australia.”
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