Vulnerable teens added to Phase 1b, 'warm' vaccine developed

Thursday, 05 August, 2021

Vulnerable teens added to Phase 1b, 'warm' vaccine developed

From Monday, 9 August, Australians aged between 12 and 15 years old who have specific medical conditions, identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander or live in a remote community will be able to receive a Pfizer–BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. This means that around 220,000 Australian teens will become eligible to receive the vaccine.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) last month announced its provisional approval of the use of the Pfizer vaccine in individuals 12 years and older, down from the previous age limit of 16 years or older. At the time, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) said it would provide expert advice on which groups of adolescents should be prioritised for the rollout of the vaccine. The Group has now recommended the vaccine’s use in children at a higher risk of severe illness if they contract COVID-19.

Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt said the Australian Government expects further recommendations regarding the use the Pfizer vaccine for the remainder of children aged 12 to 15 in the coming months. In the meantime, he encourages all parents who have children with medical conditions, or who are immuno-compromised, to bring them forward for vaccination from 9 August. Children in remote Indigenous communities will be able to receive the vaccine prior to 9 August in areas where in-reach vaccination is occurring this week.

Meanwhile, CSIRO researchers are helping to evaluate heat-tolerant COVID-19 vaccine formulations — designed for remote or resource-limited locations with extremely hot climates, including regional communities in Australia’s outback — against all current SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern. The results of their study have been published in the journal ACS Infectious Diseases.

Developed by the Indian Institute of Science and biotech start-up Mynvax, the vaccine formulations were found to trigger a strong immune response in mice, protect hamsters from the virus, and remain stable at 37°C up to a month and at 100°C for up to 90 minutes. This is unlike most vaccines that require refrigeration to remain effective — like Oxford–AstraZeneca, which must be kept between 2 and 8°C, and Pfizer–BioNTech, which requires specialised cold storage at -70°C.

CSIRO scientists at the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness in Geelong contributed to the study by assessing vaccinated mice sera (blood samples) for efficacy against key coronavirus variants, including the Delta variant currently spreading globally and in Sydney. Dr S.S. Vasan, CSIRO’s COVID-19 project leader and study co-author, said the Mynvax-vaccinated mice sera show a strong response to all variants of the live virus.

“Our data shows that all formulations of Mynvax tested result in antibodies capable of consistent and effective neutralisation of the Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern,” Dr Vasan said.

CSIRO’s evaluation of the different Mynvax formulations will support selection of the most suitable candidate for planned human clinical trials in India later this year.

Image credit: © Ben-Ari

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