While the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will likely be the first to get approval in Australia, most of us will end up receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot, Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly says.
During a national coronavirus update, Professor Kelly said the fact the Pfizer vaccine needed to be made overseas meant we would be getting large supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“We know that the Pfizer vaccine is the one that will have the most experience around the world, [because] it was the first to get the emergency use authorisation in the US, UK and other places,” he said.
“But it is being made overseas. There is limited supply that we will be getting of the Pfizer vaccine.”
It also presents logistical challenges: The Pfizer vaccine needs to be shipped and stored at -70 degrees Celsius.
“As for the AstraZeneca vaccine, it is being made right now in Melbourne and it is well advanced, so we will be getting large supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Professor Kelly said.
Australia has secured 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 53.8 million of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The first to be rolled out will be from Pfizer, which the Government hopes to have approved by the end of this month.
Professor Kelly said the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) should have the information it needed to able to make a decision on approving the AstraZeneca vaccine in February.
“We have the interim phase-three results that were published in December … but what regulators will get is a much more fulsome set of data from AstraZeneca,” he said.
“Once we have that, that’s when we will be able to answer questions about what is the actual dose that should be used.”
Professor Kelly said nations that had given emergency use authorisation to the AstraZeneca vaccine had opted to administer the full dose twice.
In November last year, AstraZeneca said the vaccine protected against the virus in 62 per cent of those in a group given two full doses. In another group, which was initially given half a dose, the vaccine was 90 per cent effective.
However, the second group included only 2,741 people, which was too few to provide a conclusive result.
Because of this, Professor Kelly said: “People should be very wary about making decisions or suggestions about that particular vaccine as being less effective on the basis of interim data from one study.
“I think we should wait for the regulator to do their full work.”
Confidence in AstraZeneca vaccine ‘most crucial component’ for rollout
The Federal Government has spent $24 million on a public health messaging campaign due to launch this month, ahead of the expected vaccine program rollout.
Professor Kelly said he hoped the campaign would help build confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine in Australia.
“The crucial component of a vaccine rollout is confidence in a system, so we need to build confidence in this particular vaccine,” he said.
“Of course there’s been a lot of interest and discussion about it.
“The approvals and such have gone fast, much faster than usual, because of that danger that we are in and trying to get back to some sort of normal life.
“But absolutely, there are no shortcuts. Every tick that needs to be ticked will be ticked before there is any rollout of this vaccine into the community.”
The Chief Medical Officer said the advertising campaign would also help Australians understand the practicalities of the queue, as well as where to get vaccinated.
The priority will be those people who are at higher risk of exposure to the virus such as those working at Australia’s borders, those working in quarantine hotels, along with health professionals, cleaners and transport workers.
The other most important priority group are those that are more likely to get severe infections.
Messaging around the vaccine will also be provided in multiple languages, Professor Kelly said.
“We absolutely will be telling people everything they need to know about the vaccine in the coming weeks and months,” he added.