Department of Health Acting Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly has released a statement likening the coronavirus pandemic to a race, with a safe and effective vaccine the key to winning that race. Professor Kelly added that medical researchers have made huge progress remarkably quickly, considering there has never been a successful vaccine for a coronavirus, and several of the most promising vaccines are based on new technology. Professor Kelly added that there has been unprecedented global cooperation among governments and researchers.
“We are not there yet — but I am very confident we can jump the remaining hurdles,” Professor Kelly said. “I believe a vaccine is likely to be available to Australians from as early as next March.” The Australian Government has revealed that a coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine will not be mandatory, but it will be free and strongly encouraged. Professor Kelly has revealed that the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine will be made available to those with an increased risk of becoming very sick or drying from the virus, those at an increased risk of exposure and those working in services critical to the functioning of society.
Health and medical workers and elderly Australians in residential aged care will be among the first to be offered the vaccine, subject to approvals. There is also scope for prioritising groups in the event of an outbreak. In the statement, Professor Kelly said that the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s (TGA) proactive work with international regulators and vaccine developers is helping to speed up the process to a COVID-19 vaccine, while ensuring all critical checks and balances remain in place. Sponsors of three potential vaccines — AstraZeneca, Pfizer Australia and Janssen-Cilag — have also indicated that they will make applications for approval.
The TGA has been provided with early data for two of these vaccines (AstraZeneca and Pfizer Australia). Once a vaccine has been registered, it is standard practice for the TGA to closely examine it through more clinical trials, surveillance and monitoring, including quality assessment of every batch. “If a vaccine or vaccines clear these hurdles, Australia is well prepared,” Professor Kelly said. “The rollout of a new vaccine to all Australians who choose to be vaccinated is a big logistical hurdle, but we have the best minds across the country mapping this out, looking at data for each COVID-19 vaccine.”
Australia has secured agreements for four vaccines, totalling more than 134 million doses, and is part of the international COVAX agreement, which provides access to a range of other potential vaccines. “Our Vaccination Plan ensures that we have broad access — all our eggs are not in the one basket,” Professor Kelly said. Professor Kelly added that the ‘finish line’ for the COVID-19 race will only emerge when a sizeable proportion of the Australian population is vaccinated. The goal is to provide a vaccine to all Australians who seek to be vaccinated before the end of 2021.
Professor Kelly acknowledged that Australians have jumped many COVID-19 hurdles to date, and stressed the importance of maintaining physical distancing, hand and respiratory hygiene, environmental cleaning and staying at home and getting tested when experiencing symptoms. “I am buoyed by the progress to make a COVID-19 vaccine (or vaccines) a reality, and look forward to the day when this race is finally run and won,” Professor Kelly concluded.
The situation of COVID-19 in Australia is changing rapidly. For the latest information on Australia’s whole-of-government response to COVID-19, visit www.australia.gov.au.