COVID vaccine to be rolled out within months: Hunt
Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced Pfizer's groundbreaking COVID vaccine will be rolled out in Australia from March.
"I'm delighted to announce that the government has secured as part of its agreement with Pfizer, full cold chain logistics, distribution for the Pfizer vaccine.
It's what you call an mRNA vaccine, we have 10m units of that, part of a 134.8m unit, four-vaccine strategy … We have secured that for Australia, well ahead of expectations and on schedule, to deliver vaccines to Australians, commencing in March 2021," he said.
"That is I think extremely important news. While, again, the advice is today that we may well have another zero community transmission case day for Australia, they are still waiting on two jurisdictions, we nevertheless have to be aware that we will not be out of this until we have a nation which has had a full vaccination program."
The Therapeutic Goods Administration has given the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines the green light after "very promising" data from early clinical trial phases.
This puts both developers on track for approval in January and for Australians to be vaccinated against COVID-19 from March 2021.
"It essentially expedites the process and brings critical medicines, or vaccines, at a faster rate then would otherwise be the case but with an absolute premium on safety," Mr Hunt said.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration is expected to receive more clinical information needed to approve the vaccines around December.
The news comes as the Morrison government confirmed it would be able to distribute Pfizer's world-first messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) type vaccine, which needs to be kept at minus 70C.
Very "sophisticated eskies", which require dry ice that lasts for 14 days, would be used to hold and transport the vaccines, Therapeutic Goods Administration deputy secretary John Skerritt said.
"(The eskies) can be refilled twice without the need to connect to electricity," Professor Skerritt said.
"These eskies with the two refills gives you a month-and-a-half of cold chain protection."
The distribution process that goes to the National Cabinet on Friday includes giving vaccines to hospitals, respiratory clinics and general practices.
Professor Skerritt said the eskies would speed up the rollout of the vaccines because they allowed for multiple distribution points.
However, he said the jabs would not be approved until experts were confident they met the requirements of efficacy and safety.
WHO WILL GET THE COVID VACCINE:
The first batch of Pfizer's successful COVID-19 vaccine will reach just a fifth of the Australian population, starting with frontline health workers and the elderly.
These five million Australians will receive two doses of the drug - using all ten million rations the government has secured - and we can't manufacture more doses here.
The roll out of the vaccine, in the first three to six months of 2021, will also be difficult because it has to be kept at an extremely low temperature - minus 70 degrees - to remain stable.
There should be just enough doses for the 609,000 practising frontline health workers including doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, 3.8 million people aged over 65 and 250,000 aged care workers.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Pfizer trial results were "very promising and I'm optimistic and hopeful next year about the rollout of those vaccine programs".
Like much of the world, Australia's sharemarket responded positively to the vaccine news.
The key S&P/ASX 200 index closed 42 points higher at 6341, a 0.7 per cent rise for the day, after surging 2.2 per cent in morning trade.
Health Minister Greg Hunt told News Corp Pfizer had committed to providing the cold chain delivery equipment to distribute the vaccine in Australia.
Experts warn the vaccine won't mean the end of social distancing, handwashing and mask wearing until almost every Australian has received it.
CSIRO's Director of biosecurity Dr Rob Grenfell said while the vaccine would prevent people getting sick but it would not "prevent you getting colonised by the virus".
To eliminate the virus entirely, vaccines would have to be developed to stop the virus in the nasal cavity. The Pfizer vaccine does not do this.
Successful trials by Australia's Doherty Institute of delivering the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine into the noses of ferrets have led to a human trial of this method in the UK.
"If that develops an immunity at the surface of the nasal cells and it's demonstrated to have nasal sterility, which is really the endpoint you're looking for, that would then go a long way towards decreasing the spread of the virus," Dr Grenfell said.
Conventional vaccines use a weakened form of the virus to prompt an immune response but mRNA vaccines like the one made by Pfizer use the virus's genetic code to make a person's own cells produce vaccine antigens and generate immunity.
This new age vaccine technology has never been used in humans before.
Nucleus Network's Paul Griffin has trialled a number of mRNA flu vaccines in humans with no serious side effects.
"It's not gene therapy, it is not able to be incorporated into the host genome so there's absolutely no prospect of altering human DNA using the vaccine," he said.
While Australia's vaccine manufacturer CSL is producing two other COVID-19 vaccine candidates it does not have the equipment needed to make Pfizer's mRNA vaccine and we will be dependent on receiving our supply of the vaccine from overseas manufacturers.
Mr Hunt told News Corp the government was considering over the longer term setting up an advanced pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in Australia that could produce this new type of vaccine.
While pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and BioNTech announced clinical trials of their COVID-19 vaccine were 90 per cent effective, the study was yet to be published or peer reviewed.
Pfizer said it would produce 50 million doses of its vaccine by the end of the year and 1.3 billion doses in 2021 but this would be enough to vaccinate less than one per cent of the world's population.
There are over 200 vaccines in development and more than 40 are in clinical trials with several key trials due to report this month.
The Australian Government has deals to buy a total of 134 million vaccine doses made by Oxford AstraZeneca, University of Queensland, Novavax and Pfizer.
The Australian sharemarket rise was more subdued than offshore markets where key share indices in the US, Britain and Europe soared between 3 and 7 per cent.
Among local stocks were some big movers, with Corporate Travel Management climbing 16 per cent and Flight Centre adding more than 8 per cent.
Investment platform eToro's market analyst, Adam Vettese, said the vaccine news had "injected optimism into travel stocks in particular".
"However, while this is obviously a positive step forward there is still a way to go," he said.
JBS Financial Strategists CEO Jenny Brown said markets were forward-looking and buyers were betting on a return to international travel.
"There's a lot of positivity but it has pulled back a bit," she said.
Originally published as The Aussies who will get Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine