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Professor John Shine slams AstraZeneca vaccine myths


One of Australia’s top scientists has hit back after “significant misunderstandings” about the effectiveness of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine.

Professor John Shine is urging people to be aware of misinformation on social media and instead listen to advice from health departments, chief medical officers and scientists.

His message comes after experts, who spoke out about concerns the AstraZeneca vaccine would not achieve herd immunity, were hauled before a government education session following fears their comments were harming public confidence.

The Australian Academy of Science president said it was crucial the distinction be made between the vaccine’s effectiveness at protecting from severe disease and its effectiveness at stopping transmission.

“Vaccinated individuals will be protected from the worst of COVID-19 but will not be protected from becoming infected,” Professor Shine said.

“None of the vaccines that have been approved for use have demonstrated that they can stop transmission.”

RELATED: Aussies urged to watch out for COVID-19 misinformation

RELATED: Virus plea: ‘Listen to the experts’

Some infectious diseases experts joined calls to halt the vaccine rollout because they claimed that unlike the Pfizer vaccine, the AstraZeneca jab – which will be given to the majority of Australians – would not make most of the population immune to the infectious disease.

But Professor Shine said the primary goal of Australia’s vaccination strategy, which was supported by the academy, was to reduce the number of people getting very sick or dying.

He said both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines were equally effective at that, adding that Australia would benefit from growing data on vaccine doses and effectiveness as they are rolled out in countries with the greatest need.

“Australians should get vaccinated,” Professor Shine said.

“(They) can be confident that vaccines approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration will be safe and effective.

“It will allow us to avoid a major wave of illness like that currently being experienced in the northern hemisphere.”

The federal government is now expected to include information about herd immunity in its public information campaign.

It is unclear if herd immunity will be achieved by any of the coronavirus vaccines because it is not known how long immunity from the jab will last.

The TGA is expected to approve the Pfizer vaccine by the end of January, with a rollout pencilled in for mid to late February for five million Australians in priority groups.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to have completed the approval process in February and will then be rolled out to other Australians.



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Chief medical officer Paul Kelly responds to AstraZeneca vaccine concerns


Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly has defended the decision to roll out the AstraZeneca vaccine in the wake of concerns about its effectiveness.

Infectious diseases experts have joined medics in calling for authorities to halt the rollout in favour of coronavirus vaccines with higher efficacy rates to ensure herd immunity.

This follows results from several trials that showed that the Oxford University-AstraZeneca jab had an efficacy rate of between 62-90 per cent depending on the doses.

Professor Kelly said AstraZeneca vaccine was well above the World Health Organisation’s 50 per cent efficacy threshold.

“All of the three vaccines that have so far published their data in peer-viewed journals – AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna – show a very significant effect against severe illness,” he said on Wednesday.

“They’re all good at protecting against severe illness and death. That’s why I say that lives will be saved by the AstraZeneca vaccine, I have no doubt about it.”

RELATED Virus plea: ‘Listen to the experts’

He conceded he was troubled by what he called “selective” reporting over AstraZeneca’s efficacy, warning it could undermine confidence in the jab.

“Confidence is absolutely the most important thing, and that’s what worries me about the coverage we had today in relation to the AstraZeneca vaccine,” he said.

“People will be nervous, of course. We need to give more information and we’re doing that. So I am worried about the selective use of the data that we have.”

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is expected to approve the Pfizer vaccine by the end of January, with a rollout pencilled for mid to late February for five million Australians in priority groups.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to have completed the approval process in February.

Professor Kelly said the jab would prevent death and severe illness 100 per cent of the time, like the Pfizer vaccine.

He said both vaccines would only be rolled out if they had the full tick for safety, efficacy and production quality.

“The EU has also pre-purchased 400 million doses of AstraZeneca, the US has pre-purchased 300 million doses of AstraZeneca, and the UK 100 million doses of AstraZeneca. So we‘re not an outlier there,” he said.

The UK has already begun immunising people with the jab under emergency approvals.

Most Australians are expected to get the AstraZeneca vaccine because it can be made in Melbourne, unlike the Pfizer vaccine that has to be imported from overseas due to its mRNA technology.

Infectious diseases physician Professor Peter Collignon told Sunrise that the AstraZeneca vaccine might not be as good as the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

But he said those would be in short supply because they were not readily available and had to be stored in minus temperatures.

“I would be all for rolling out this (AstraZeneca) vaccine because it is much better than anything that is going to be available for quite a while,” Professor Collignon said.

Health Minister Greg Hunt on Tuesday refuted claims the government was conceding its vaccine strategy would not provide herd immunity.

“This is what the medical expert panel of Australia, the one that has helped keep us safe, has recommended,” Mr Hunt said.

In the wake of efficacy concerns, Labor leader Anthony Albanese told 2GB that the government should have invested in six vaccine candidates instead of three.

The opposition has long called for the rollout of the vaccine to be brought forward following the approval process.

But Mr Albanese said the party had never argued that authorities should circumvent the TGA process.

“We need to listen to the experts,” he said.

“Once it (the TGA) approves it, the vaccine should be rolled out.”



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Herd immunity concern shouldn’t pause AstraZeneca COVID vaccine rollout


Medical professionals are urging the Morrison Government to pause the planned rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but other experts disagree.

Doubts are being raised about the ability of the vaccine, developed in co-operation with the University of Oxford, to control the coronavirus after Phase III clinical trial results published in The Lancet last month, showed it is only 62 per cent effective in preventing COVID-19.

The Australian and New Zealand Society for Immunology believes this may not be effective enough to generate herd immunity and it would be wise not to rely on it to control the virus in Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Based on current trial evidence, Immunology Society president Professor Stephen Turner believes the vaccine should not be widely rolled out, especially when there are other vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna that are about 95 per cent effective.

Andrew Miller, an anaesthetist and head of the Australian Medical Association in Western Australia, is also calling for the Government to pause its rollout plans because without herd immunity, there would be no guarantee there wouldn’t be rolling epidemics.

“Once you have one vaccine, you may not be able to have other ones. That’s why it’s very important to get it right the first time,” he told The Australian.

But other experts have come out in support of the vaccine despite its lower efficacy.

Infectious diseases expert Professor Peter Collignon of Australian National University told Sunrise Australians would still be better off.

RELATED: Why Australia is waiting so long for vaccine rollout

“Yes it’s not perfect, it may not be as good as the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine, but they’re going to be in short supply, not readily available,” he said.

He also pointed out that the Pfizer vaccine had to be stored in very cold temperatures of -70C and so in the field its efficacy might not be as good as the stated 90 per cent, if it was not stored properly and so not active when it was given to people.

Prof Collignon said the AstraZeneca vaccine would still save lives.

“The reality is we’ve got a vaccine that will be (available) in large numbers in Australia (and) have 70 per cent efficacy – that’s terrific news,” he said.

“Remember, wearing masks you probably have 15 or 20 per cent efficacy when there is a lot of transmission, but if you can improve that to 70 per cent by a vaccine that lasts all the time, you’re much better off.

“If this was available in the Melbourne outbreak, hundreds of lives would have been saved of people who otherwise would have died.”

Infectious diseases physician Professor Greg Dore of the Kirby Institute at the University of NSW also tweeted that a rapid vaccine rollout was needed from February, not a pause.

“Give Pfizer vaccine to frontline HQ & HCW staff & the elderly,” he said of the more effective vaccine.

“I’ll be happy to have the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, particularly if means we can get large majority done by winter.”

Australia’s chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly said the advantage of the AstraZeneca vaccine was that it would be readily available in Australia.

RELATED: Vaccine rollout will not end restrictions in Australia

“There will be plenty to vaccinate the entire population of Australia twice,” Prof Kelly told Sunrise.

Australia has secured 53.8 million doses of the vaccine, with people required to get two injections. It will be made by the Melbourne-based company CSL.

In contrast, Australia has only secured enough Pfizer vaccine for five million people.

Prof Kelly said the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s (TGA) assessment of the AstraZeneca vaccine would be based on extra data and not just the Phase III trial results published in The Lancet.

While the AstraZeneca vaccine was shown only to have a 62 per cent efficacy rate, this did rise as high as 90 per cent in a small group of volunteers who received a half-dose for their first jab by mistake. However, this has also raised concerns about how effective the vaccine actually is.

Even if the AstraZeneca vaccine was only 62 per cent effective, Prof Kelly said this still exceeded the World Health Organisation standard of 50 per cent effectiveness.

“One thing is clear though from those interim results is that this vaccine is very effective against severe disease, just exactly the same as Pfizer and Moderna data,” he said.

However, Labor’s health spokesman Chris Bowman has criticised the Morrison Government for not signing deals for more vaccine options and also wants a faster rollout.

“The trouble with (the) call for a pause … is that there’s nothing to replace AstraZeneca in the Australian context,” Mr Bowman told ABC radio’s RN Breakfast program.

“We don’t have deals with Moderna and J&J for example. That’s why it would be better if we had more deals and we’ve been saying that for months.

“We don’t know yet whether AstraZeneca will even pass the TGA test, we hope it will, it probably will, but there’s always risk.

“That’s why the Federal Government should have been months ago spreading that risk more thinly with more deals.”



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How the vaccine roll out will affect the global economy


Television crews will jostle to get footage of the first Australians getting the needle and there will be a frenzy of debate and discussion. We’re going to hear a lot more about how social media giants like Facebook, Twitter and Google handle misinformation from anti-vaccine groups. There will also be a renewed debate about whether getting the jab should be mandatory and if we can let people travel once they have one.

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There will be disagreement and emotions will run high.

But most of all, there will finally be a sense that at some point we can get back to our lives. It will hopefully reduce outbreaks, improve the labour market and, eventually, open our borders more widely to the rest of the world.

This is exactly why getting the vaccine rolled out smoothly is going to be critical for the economy. Positive forecasts for this year are relying heavily on the vaccination to pull us through a difficult period.

$4.7 trillion and counting

The World Bank’s 2021 Global Economics Prospects report released last week expects a 4 per cent expansion in the global economy but includes the caveat that this figure relies on the vaccination getting across the line.

This won’t reverse all of the financial pain. The global economy contracted 4.3 per cent in 2020 and most countries have fared far worse than Australia. Global GDP in 2021 is likely to be 5.3 per cent below pre-pandemic forecasts, which basically means this health crisis has cost the world $4.7 trillion.

World Bank Group president David Malpass described the outlook in a statement as a “subdued recovery” still facing “formidable challenges”.

“To overcome the impacts of the pandemic and counter the investment headwind, there needs to be a major push to improve business environments, increase labour and product market flexibility, and strengthen transparency and governance,” he said. Basically, the vaccine won’t cure our economic woes on its own.

But the report still expects immunisation to be a significant factor in supporting the recovery in terms of confidence, consumption and the gradual improvement in trade.

In a positive scenario, rapidly rolling out vaccines that are highly effective could mean a “faster easing of the pandemic, triggering a sharp rise in consumer confidence and unleashing pent-up demand,” the report says.

“Industrial commodity exporters and countries with greater exposure to trade and tourism would be expected to benefit most from a faster resolution of the pandemic.” Clearly, this would benefit Australia hugely.

But in the more negative scenario outlined by the World Bank, where the vaccination deployment could be slowed by logistics and reluctance towards immunisation, there could be more outbreaks and economic growth could recover at a slow 1.6 per cent level over the year. This would be even lower, at 0.6 per cent, in advanced economies.

Don’t be misled, even with the vaccine the global economy will still be smaller than it would’ve been without the pandemic. But it’s the first of many steps towards rebuilding.

Beware the PR challenge

Getting the rollout of the vaccine correct will be the fight of our lives, in terms of both health and the economy. It is a momentous challenge for policymakers who are well aware of how critical this program will be and still have to grapple with the expectations of the public.

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Outside of very difficult decisions about who gets the vaccine when, which is not as straightforward as it might first seem, the rollout is obviously a huge public relations challenge.

Four million people are likely to be vaccinated by the end of March. The federal government is clearly aware there are some sections of the community who are more reluctant than others to accept the jab and has started spending millions to tackle this concern. This spending will pay dividends if it puts minds at ease.

There will also need to be plenty of analysis and planning about how the vaccine will affect the nation’s ability to open up, avoid future lockdowns and how to best protect those who are unable to have the jab.

So for those who feel like they’re holding their breath, waiting to breathe a huge sigh of relief, it’s not quite over yet. But we are a step closer to a moment both history and all of us living through COVID are unlikely to forget.

Ross Gittins is on leave.

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Vaccine should stop mutant coronavirus strains spreading in Australia: Professor Alison McMillan


A coronavirus vaccine is crucial in stopping people from getting sick from new mutant coronavirus strains being detected in hotel quarantine, an expert says.

Australia’s chief nursing and midwifery officer, Professor Alison McMillan, says variants from South Africa and the UK were reported to be between 40-70 per cent more transmissible.

However, they were not infecting people with any worse causing disease.

“There is no evidence to this point in time that the vaccine will not work,” Prof McMillan said.

As the variants wreak havoc across the world, additional safeguards are being implemented in Australia to ensure that people in hotel quarantine who test positive remain in isolation for 14 days from the onset of symptoms.

The changes come as Australia recorded 12 new cases in the past 24 hours. One was a locally acquired case in NSW, and 11 were in hotel quarantine across Australia.

Prof McMillan was also asked if Victorian health officials did the right thing by allowing a passenger, who tested positive for the highly infectious UK strain of coronavirus, to leave quarantine and travel to Brisbane.

The woman arrived into Victoria on December 26 after flying in from the UK and was tested in hotel quarantine where she was found to be positive.

She was then isolated and did 10 days of quarantine before she was cleared of her symptoms and allowed to leave Victoria and return home to Queensland on January 5.

“That was the recommendations of the Communicable Disease Network Australia,” Prof McMillan said.

She encouraged Australians nationwide to wear a mask, where they can’t maintain social distancing, and continue good hand hygiene.

“There really is no harm in wearing a mask where you can’t maintain 1.5m,” Prof McMillan said.

“If you can, why not wear a mask on public transport. It is just that extra protection if you feel you need it and particularly for vulnerable groups.”

Nationwide, 41 people are in hospital with COVID-19.

However, none are in intensive care.

Prof McMillan extended her thanks to almost 76,000 Australians that got tested over the past day.

Australia has now recorded 28,582 cases since the start of the pandemic.

At least 840,000 positive cases were recorded globally in the 24 hours to Saturday.



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Novavax prepares for COVID-19 vaccine launch


The technology behind Novavax’s coronavirus vaccine is different from other products that Australia has ordered. The protein-based candidate contains one element of the virus, a version of the “spike protein” in SARS-CoV-2, and the vaccine delivers this to the body to prompt an immune response.

Unlike mRNA vaccines like Pfizer’s, which must be stored at very low temperatures, Novavax’s product is designed to be more easily stored with standard refrigeration methods.

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Novavax’s vaccine is in phase 3 testing in the US and Mexico and the company’s executive vice-president, chief commercial officer and chief business officer John Trizzino says it was preparing to deliver trial data to Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) as soon as it becomes available.

“We would expect packets of information and rolling submissions to take place in advance of that final data-set in order to accelerate that approval as quickly as possible,” he says.

The company won’t disclose the value of the Australian deal, but Trizzino says Novavax would keep dose pricing consistent across the globe. “We believe that what we do with pricing is going to be fair,” he says.

The health department says it hopes Novavax doses will “be available in Australia as early as the first half of 2021”, though there are several hurdles to jump before this happens.

Meanwhile the TGA, which is working around the clock to secure the first approvals of COVID-19 vaccines, has so far only given ”provisional determinations” to Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

When asked whether it had received documentation yet from Novavax about its vaccine, a spokesperson said: “Due to the commercial-in-confidence nature of applications for registration of therapeutic goods, the TGA can neither confirm nor deny whether it has received an application for provisional determination from Novavax. If such an application is received and approved, details will be published on the TGA website”.

Griffith University virologist Dr Adam Taylor says because Novavax has only recently launched its 30,000-strong US phase 3 trial, results could be expected from the middle of this year.

Secretary of the Department of Health Professor Brendan Murphy, Health Minister Greg Hunt and Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly  during a press conference on the COVID-19 vaccine road map on Thursday.

Secretary of the Department of Health Professor Brendan Murphy, Health Minister Greg Hunt and Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly during a press conference on the COVID-19 vaccine road map on Thursday. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

According to the government’s national immunisation road map, vaccine rollout will begin with the Pfizer vaccine, followed by AstraZeneca. Dr Taylor says having additional options like Novavax coming through later this year was positive.

“It’s going to be useful to have another string to our bow in the way we manage and treat COVID-19,” he says.

“As we move into this mass vaccination process, we’re going to need a number of candidates to rely on.”

Valued at $US8 ($A10.3) billion, Novavax is a minnow compared to the likes of Pfizer and AstraZeneca. However, US stock analysts have been considering how far the company can go from here.

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J.P. Morgan biotechnology analyst Eric Joseph believes Novavax’s vaccine design puts it in a unique position.

“We continue to view NVX-CoV2373 [the vaccine] as well-differentiated in the overall COVID-19 vaccine space, both clinically and logistically, and believe current levels under-reflect its long-term commercial potential.”

It’s a welcome assessment for a company that almost went belly up in 2019, facing the prospect of being delisted from the stock exchange because its share price had been trading below the $US1 mark for too long.

Then COVID-19 hit and amid the chaos of the global pandemic Novavax had better news to share with investors. In March 2020, it announced a late-stage trial for a new kind of flu vaccine had been successful, paving the way for approval.

Its research team was also working on its COVID-19 vaccine, and by July 2020 Novavax had announced it had $US1.6 billion from the US government’s vaccine project Operation Warp Speed to develop the project.

Investors started to take notice. Over the past 12 months, Novavax shares are up 2894 per cent to $US128.18, making it one of the biggest beneficiaries of the vaccine “sugar rush” which has propelled global markets.

Trizzino calls the company’s path to this moment a “fascinating story”, arguing that the company’s previous failures prepared it well for the unpredictability of COVID-19 and the development of a vaccine.

“We know that we learned a tremendous amount from our failures and we weathered the storm with our RSV vaccine,” he says. In 2016, the failure of a late-stage trial for a vaccine for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) sent the Novavax’s share price plummeting 84 per cent to $US1.29.

“But I believe that made us very well prepared for what we encountered in the beginning of 2020,” he says.

Trizzino added “biotech is not for the faint of heart” but that Novavax has shown persistence pays off.

“You pursue your goals, you don’t let your setbacks cause you to stop believing. Where we are with COVID is a perfect example of that.”

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Vaccine rollout won’t open international travel by July, experts say


“It still means you can pick up the infection overseas – maybe even some mutant strain – come back into the country and spread it everywhere,” Professor MacIntyre said.

“While you yourself are not going to end up in hospital you can set off a massive outbreak.”

Studies have shown that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have efficacy rates of 94 per cent. However the AstraZeneca vaccine, of which Australia has secured enough for 26 million vaccinations and will be the second rolled out locally in March, is only 62 per cent effective at preventing asymptomatic infection.

Qantas this week reopened bookings on most of its international network from July 1 including to the pandemic ravaged United Kingdom and United States, despite there being no change to the government ban on Australians leaving the country.

The airline said its decision was based on the projected deployment of vaccines abroad and their planned rollout in Australia by the start of March. However, health experts believe herd immunity will be needed before any major resumption of commercial passenger travel given questions around how effective the vaccines are in stopping the spread of the virus, rather than just lessening its symptoms.

Tony Blakely, an epidemiologist and public health specialist at the University of Melbourne, said Australia would not have herd immunity until October and that returning travellers would still need to go into quarantine in the meantime to prevent further outbreaks.

“There will still probably be the need for some form of quarantine well beyond by July for countries with higher infection rates,” Professor Blakely said. “Quarantine-free travel with those countries [such as the UK and US] is going to be highly unlikely to happen by July.”

The World Health Organisation has also warned that enforced quarantine is likely to remain a feature in countries like Australia and New Zealand that have largely eradicated the virus until herd immunity is achieved.

Australia currently has a “one-way bubble” open with New Zealand allowing people from New Zealand to travel here without going into quarantine, but not in the other direction.

Health minister Greg Hunt on Wednesday brought forward Australia’s vaccine rollout by two weeks to commence in March and is expected to finish in October.

Mr Hunt said it was not yet known whether the vaccines being rolled out around the world controlled transmission of COVID-19, and that is what would determine when Australia reopened its borders.

“What we’re likely to see is a progressive opening up – there won’t be just one day where all of a sudden everything’s open,” Mr Hunt said during an interview on 2GB radio.

“As we believe it’s safe that people can leave and be able to return, then we’ll open those steps progressively.”

The federal government has also warned consumers to not get their hopes up on international travel, with Deputy Prime Minister and Transport Minister Michael McCormack saying on Tuesday that there was no guarantee anyone booking a flight would be able to travel.

“Decisions about when international travel resumes will be made by the Australian government,”Mr McCormack said.

While brining forward UK and US flights from an October start, Qantas has also pushed back services to Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan which were set to resume from March to July as the prospect of COVID-safe “travel bubbles” dissipate.

A Qantas spokeswoman said the carrier had “aligned the selling of our international services to reflect our expectation that international travel will begin to restart from July 2021”.

“We continue to review and update our international schedule in response to the developing COVID-19 situation,” she said.

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Pros and cons of each vaccine Australians could get


With a growing list of countries rapdily vaccinting their populations against coronavirus, there is mounting pressure on the Australian government to follow in its footsteps.

The Federal Govenrment has contracts in place for three different coronavirus vaccines, though the approval process is expected to take considerably longer than it has in the United Kingdom and United States.

The earliest approvals from Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration are expected by the end of January 2021, with doses then likely to be rolled out around March.

Here is a look at the pros and cons of each of the vaccine candidates that could be available to Australians next year.

PFIZER/BIONTECH

The Pfizer/BioNTech is probably the vaccine most people have heard about as it is the one being used by the UK government.

The vaccine is being developed by US pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech.

This candidate is an mRNA-based vaccine which has never been approved before.

Up to now vaccines have been developed using a weak or dead version of a virus, or by using a laboratory-made protein.

RELATED: Sudden blow to COVID vaccine hopes

RELATED: Virus expert debunks biggest COVID-19 vaccination myth

But mRNA vaccines can be created entirely by scientists in a laboratory using chemicals, enzymes, bacteria or live cells.

Essentially the scientists make a synthetic version of the virus’s messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA). Once this is injected into the body, the mRNA prompts the body to make a particular protein, which is detected by the immune system and this causes the immune system to make antibodies to fight against it.

Australia has ordered 10 million doses of the vaccine which will be manufactured off shore if the candidate is approved.

Recipients will need to get two doses of the vaccine 21 days apart. Pfizer and BioNTech are reportedly charging buyers $US19.50 ($A26.30) per dose.

Pros:

• The vaccine was found to be 95 per cent effective in protecting against COVID-19 in Phase 3 clinical trials. Of the 43,000 people in the trial only eight people in the vaccine group developed coronavirus, compared to 162 into the placebo group.

• It was also found to be more than 94 per cent effective in people over the age of 65.

• There have been minimal adverse reactions, with a small amount of participants experiencing fatigue and headaches after receiving the jab.

Cons:

• It must be stored at -70C. This means that an unbroken ‘cold chain’ must be maintained from the time the vaccine comes off the production line to the time when it is administered.

• This leaves the Australian government with three options: keeping doses in ultra-low freezers where they can last up to six months, keeping doses in eskies where they can last up to 15 days or storing doses in a regular fridge where they can last up to five days.

UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD/ASTRAZENECA

This vaccine being developed by University of Oxford and pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.

It is a viral vector vaccine which means it uses a weakened version of the virus, which is incapable of causing disease itself, to deliver an antigen into the body.

If this vaccine is successful 3.8 million doses will be delivered to Australia in early 2021. 50 million doses will be manufactured in Australia between from early 2021 in monthly batches through to September 2021.

The vaccine is expected to be around $A4 a dose.

Pros:

• The vaccine was shown to be 90 per cent effective when given as a half dose followed by a full dose a month later.

• It is significantly cheaper per dose than the other candidates.

• Can be stored between 2C to 8C for at least six months, allowing for easier manufacturing, distribution and storage.

• No serious safety events relating to the vaccine were observed during Phase 3 trials, with the shot “well tolerated” across different dosing regimens.

Cons:

• When given two full doses a month a part the vaccine showed a lower efficacy rate of 62 per cent, which is significantly lower than some of the other candidates.

• It was revealed the people that received the half-dose of the vaccine were all younger than 55, which raised concerns the 90 per cent efficacy for that dosage group may be skewed.

NOVAVAX

This vaccine candidate is being created by American vaccine development company Novavax.

Like the University of Queensland/CSL candidate, this is a protein vaccine.

Australia has ordered 51 million doses to be made available in 2021 if the vaccine is approved.

The Novavax vaccine is expected to be about $US16 (A$21.60) per dose.

Pros:

• Early clinical trials have shown the vaccine is generally well tolerated and can provide strong antibody responses.

• It only needs to be stored at refrigerator temperatures.

Cons:

• Results from its late stage clinical trials aren’t expected until early 2021, meaning exact percentages of the vaccine’s effectiveness have not yet been released.

• It is expected to be a lot more expensive per dose than the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, though it will still be cheaper than the Pfizer/BioNTech candidate.

RELATED: Truth about experimental vaccines

UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND/CSL

The Australian government also had an agreement to use the vaccine being developed by the University of Queensland and biotechnology company CSL.

This agreement was ended after Phase One trials showed participants were returning false positives for HIV as a result of the vaccine.

Follow up tests confirmed there was no HIV virus present and there was no possibility of the vaccine causing the infection, the decision was made not to go forward with the trials over concerns people may decrease confidence in other vaccine candidates.

University of Queensland researchers said they were “devastated” by the outcome.

“I think there’s probably a single word that sums it up, it’s devastated,” Professor Paul Young said.

“The last 24 hours or so have been particularly difficult. The last 11 months we’ve been living and breathing this project … it’s challenging times, but that’s science.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at “no point” did the government expect all of its vaccine candidates to be successful, which is why it entered into different agreements.



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Qantas reopens international bookings on vaccine hopes


Qantas said its decision to start selling international tickets was based on its best projections of a vaccine rollout, and that customers will be refunded, rebooked or given travel credits if flights don’t go ahead.

The airline’s boss Alan Joyce last year said that a wide distribution of a vaccine would be necessary for quarantine-free travel to resume to destinations like the US and UK and would be a condition of travel, along with the possible need for a “vaccination certificate”.

The federal government has also flagged possible compulsory vaccinations for travellers in its COVID-19 vaccination policy but it has not decided on its final position.

Qantas had previously suspended bookings to London and the United States until October, but has now scheduled flights to these destinations from July, showing optimism COVID-19 vaccines will be rolled out widely enough over the next six months to restart overseas travel.

However, services to Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan that were set to resume in March have now been pushed back to July 1, as the prospect of establishing COVID-safe “travel bubbles” with those countries evaporates.

A Qantas spokeswoman said the carrier had “aligned the selling of our international services to reflect our expectation that international travel will begin to restart from July 2021”.

“We continue to review and update our international schedule in response to the developing COVID-19 situation,” she said.

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New Zealand is the only international destination Qantas is currently flying to. While major routes such as Los Angeles and London are back on sale, Qantas is yet to return destinations including New York, Santiago and Fiji to its network.

Even when the airline restarts long-haul flying it will be at a significantly reduced capacity after mothballing its fleet of 12 Airbus A380s super-jumbos in deep storage until at least 2023.

Most of its 11 Boeing 787s Dreamliners were also sent to storage in Victorville, in Southern California, but all except one are back in service operating either freight services or government-chartered repatriation flights, which in the past week has included operations from Frankfurt, Chennai and London.

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Earlier this year, Qantas retired the last of its iconic Boeing 747s that operated on the Santiago and Johannesburg routes.

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Staggering reality of COVID-19 vaccine rollout


One of Australia’s top virus experts has outlined in stark detail the unprecedented challenge ahead for the country when the vaccine program gets underway.

Australians will receive the COVID-19 vaccine under a voluntary program starting in March, and Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said he expected Australians would be “fully vaccinated” by October.

University of NSW Professor of Epidemiology McLaws said mass vaccination would be a huge challenge while outbreaks continue to flare.

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“Vaccinating 80 per cent of Australia in eight months means 170,000 injections per day every day; four times the average daily number COVID tests (Apr-Dec),” Prof McLaws tweeted on Wednesday.

“Our health system will struggle to vaccinate while fighting outbreaks unless quarantine flaws are strengthened before March.”

Prof McLaws said 80 per cent was believed to be the minimum herd immunity figure for COVID-19.

“Vaccines don’t ringfence until it reaches herd immunity because vaccines don’t (yet) stop symptomless infection and transmission by vaccinated persons,” she said.

“Herd immunity for COVID is yet undetermined but assumed to be greater than 80 per cent.”

It comes as Australia’s deputy chief health officer Paul Kelly said the nation’s vaccination plan was “on target”.

In a press conference in Canberra on Wednesday, Prof Kelly said Australian authorities were closely watching the vaccine rollout in the UK and US.

“We are going ahead with all of those preparatory phases, which includes the procurement of vaccines, making sure that those deliveries are coming when they need to be here, that our regulators are continuing to work through this period and are eagerly awaiting further information from both AstraZeneca and Pfizer in the coming days,” Prof Kelly said.

“There are no approvals yet, no full approvals yet anywhere in the world for any COVID vaccine.

“The emergency use authorisation or similar mechanisms that are happening in some parts of the world are exactly that. They are for an emergency use.

“We are watching very closely what is happening (in the UK and US) in relation to, firstly, the plans of the rollout, how that’s working and what we can learn from those things, but particularly any safety concerns that may emerge with this increased numbers of vaccines that have been given in other parts of the world.”

He said the Therapeutic Goods Administration was in close contact with other regulatory mechanisms throughout the world “virtually on a daily basis” and would be “fast but thorough” with their assessment.

“We need to keep that confidence and people should have confidence in that regulatory approach here in Australia, particularly around safety, but also quality of these brand new vaccines.”

Prof Kelly said while Australia was looking into the possibility of immunisation passports for international travellers, a vaccine would not replace the need for mandatory hotel quarantine.

“If people have been vaccinated or not, they will be having 14 days quarantine for the time being,” he said.

“And we should remember that although a vaccine has been rolled out in a number of countries — I think tomorrow will be the first person in the UK will be getting their second dose of vaccine — and we know that the Pfizer vaccine … is very effective, that maximum effectiveness doesn’t kick in until a week after the second vaccine, which is essentially a month after the first vaccine.

“So we have some time to consider these matters, but for the moment, vaccination will not be an alternative to 14-day quarantine, and those decision also have to be thought through carefully over the coming months as to how that will be handled.”

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Prof Kelly also addressed the issue of pre-flight testing, particularly in light of new virus strains emerging from the UK and South Africa.

He said the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee had discussed the issue earlier today.

“There is no change in our medical advice as to what should happen there, but we are looking at those issues carefully going forward,” he said.

Prof Kelly said Qantas had implemented pre-boarding testing and recently refused boarding to 12 people who tested positive prior to an international flight to the Northern Territory.

“We understand that Singapore Airlines is also doing that and Minister Hunt has requested that I write to the other airlines that are coming into Australia to make sure that we know what they are doing in relation to pre-flight testing,” he said.



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