Winter COVID boosters expanded, Burnet and Moderna partner on novel mRNA vaccines

Wednesday, 25 May, 2022

Winter COVID boosters expanded, Burnet and Moderna partner on novel mRNA vaccines

The Australian Government has accepted advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) to expand the COVID-19 booster program to further at-risk population groups from 30 May 2022, including people aged 16 to 64 who have a medical condition that increases their risk of severe COVID-19 illness and people with disability with significant or complex health needs.

ATAGI recommended the change to ensure those who are at greater risk of developing severe disease receive the best possible protection. Healthy people aged 16 to 64 who do not have a risk factor for severe disease and who have received three doses of COVID-19 vaccine are not recommended to receive a winter booster dose at this time; this includes healthcare workers and pregnant women who do not have other risk factors.

The advice builds on the previous ATAGI recommendation for an additional winter booster dose (fourth dose) for most people in high-risk groups. The recommendation for a fourth dose now extends to people with the following:

  • Immunocompromising conditions
  • Cancers
  • Specific chronic inflammatory conditions
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Severe chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic neurological disease
  • Diabetes requiring medication
  • Chronic cardiac disease
  • People with disability with significant or complex health needs or multiple comorbidities which increase risk of poor outcomes from COVID-19
  • Severe obesity
  • Severe underweight.

People who are eligible for the winter dose, but have had a recent infection of COVID-19, should delay their winter booster until three months after their infection. Influenza vaccinations can be given at the same time as COVID-19 vaccines and should not be delayed if someone is up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines.

The news comes as Melbourne’s Burnet Institute announces its partnership with mRNA vaccine manufacturer Moderna, through the latter’s cutting-edge mRNA Access program, to develop novel mRNA vaccines for a range of emerging and neglected infectious diseases aimed at improving the health of communities globally.

Under the new partnership agreement, Moderna will provide expertise in designing mRNA vaccines for Burnet’s validated novel candidates in malaria, SARS-CoV-2 and hepatitis C. The partnership will also expand Moderna’s links into Melbourne’s biomedical community, having recently announced it would establish an mRNA therapeutics manufacturing facility in Victoria.

Burnet’s Vaccine Initiative (BVI) represents a portfolio of carefully selected, evidence-based and rationally engineered antigens that have been designed to generate broad immunity known to be protective in humans. The BVI research team will provide vaccine antigens to be modified and optimised by Moderna and returned to the Institute as mRNA candidates ready to test in preclinical models. Should the results prove promising, Moderna will consider extending the partnership to help progress these candidates through clinical trials.

Professor Brendan Crabb, Director and CEO of the Burnet Institute, said the partnership with Moderna’s mRNA Access program is a potential game changer for communities needing vaccines to prevent the devastating impact of infectious diseases.

“When the world looked to science to address the pandemic threat of COVID-19, the success of mRNA and other COVID-19 vaccine platforms undoubtedly saved tens of millions of lives,” he said. “We are excited that the mRNA technology may also help solve the quest to find game-changing, high-efficacy malaria and hepatitis C vaccines, as well as improving our understanding of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“Developing vaccines traditionally has taken a decade or more, but we now know that needn’t be the case. Through this partnership, and drawing on Moderna’s expertise in mRNA vaccine development, we will be able to accelerate that development pathway.”

Image credit: © Race

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