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Australia’s Covid-19 vaccination rollout is expected to be complete by the end of October and ahead of schedule, the federal health minister Greg Hunt has said, reiterating that getting vaccinated against the virus will be voluntary.
Previously, Hunt said Australians would be vaccinated by the end of 2021. All three of the vaccines acquired by Australia: the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine, and the Novavax vaccine, require two doses spaced several weeks apart.
On Monday, Hunt said Australia “is on track and ahead of schedule” in its vaccine approvals process.
“We expect that Australians will be fully vaccinated by the end of October, on the basis that it’s free, universal and entirely voluntary,” Hunt said.
“We want to urge as many Australians to be vaccinated as possible, and we’ve seen some very heartening reports over the weekend of an expected uptake of up to 80%. In order to do that, they have to have the confidence that our regulators are making sure that every safety step is taken, and we’re ticking all of those boxes just a little bit earlier than expected.”
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is expected to be the first to be rolled out, from March, and will go to health workers and residents in aged care homes. It is an mRNA-based vaccine that gives human cells instructions for how to make a protein unique to the virus that causes Covid-19. The protein is harmless, but the body recognises it should not be there and begins to build an immune response. If infected with the real virus, the body will know how to attack.
Hunt said he expected that Australia’s drugs regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, will have the final data on this vaccine to analyse by February.
He said AstraZeneca/Oxford University had submitted additional data about their vaccine and TGA data analysis for that should be complete by the end of February.
“The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is progressing well both in terms of results and in terms of its passage through the UK, US and European processes,” Hunt said. “First, it’s not just on track, but we are hopeful that we will have both domestic production and international import ahead of schedule. And I think that’s reassuring, reaffirming, and an important point of hope.
“The progress through the international regulators is also ahead of where I had previously understood it to be. The results are good. And I think that’s the important thing. They don’t have all of the data in yet, but the results are good.
“And that means that we will have, subject to our Australian regulators agreeing, a safe, effective, and plentiful vaccine. But we are ahead of schedule.”
The AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine is a viral vector vaccine, containing a weak or inactivated virus that cannot cause disease. This virus has genetic material from the Covid-19 virus inserted in it. Once the viral vector is inside human cells, the cells make a protein unique to the Covid-19 virus. This triggers the body to begin to build an immune response. If infected with Covid-19, the body will remember how to activate this response and fight the real virus.
Australia has also secured a vaccine from Novavax, which is a classical protein vaccine, and includes harmless pieces of Covid-19. Once vaccinated, the immune system recognises that the proteins don’t belong in the body and begins building antibodies.
Hunt says 3.8m doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine are expected to be ready before the end of February, with the first steps in production of the first batch already complete.
He said this vaccine, combined with the Pfizer and Novavax vaccines, should give “great hope to Australians”.
“I think it will be a good new year for Australians, and also a safe and healthy new year,” he said.
Asked if there was any likelihood of the vaccine being rolled out before March, Hunt says “we are in the hands of the data”.
The TGA would do a 14-day safety test of the first batches, something Hunt said he did not want to bypass, especially since Australia’s situation was not as urgent or dire as that of other countries.
“We will stick by our March timeframe but our goal is to underpromise and overdeliver,” he said.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Australians will be ‘fully vaccinated’ against Covid by October, Greg Hunt says | Health