Australian scientists question Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine

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A group of Australian scientists have called on the government to review its vaccination strategy against Covid-19, fearing that the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine may not be effective enough to generate herd immunity.

Several immunologists and the opposition Labor Party said on Wednesday that Canberra should seek additional supplies of BioNTech / Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, whose trials show higher efficacy – a measure to prevent serious infections or illnesses – than the vaccine. Oxford / AstraZeneca.

Some health experts are also advocating a “pause” in the rollout of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine next month. The proposal was rejected by Canberra.

“Until we get more data that shows AstraZeneca is as good as any other, the scientific and medical risk you take is that you won’t get herd immunity,” said Andrew Miller, president of the Australian Medical Association in Western Australia. “The political risk is that you get a good vaccine for the rich and a bad vaccine for the poor”

Dr Miller said Canberra should halt the planned rollout of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine and procure vaccines with the greatest effectiveness. Because Australia has largely contained the virus – unlike the UK or the US – it should wait and procure the best vaccines available to build public confidence, he added.

However, the government said the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine will provide vital protection against the virus and that there are no plans for a policy reversal.

“The AstraZeneca vaccine is effective, it is safe and it is a high quality vaccine,” said Paul Kelly, Chief Medical Officer of Australia. “It will be available as soon as the TGA [medicine regulator] gives its tick, what we expect will be in February. ”

Australia’s vaccine strategy suffered a heavy blow last month when a local candidate developed by the University of Queensland and CSL was dropped after several trial participants returned false positives for HIV. However, Canberra had a contingency plan and made Australian $ 3.3 billion ($ 2.6 billion) deals with pharmaceutical companies for alternative vaccines.

His biggest order is with AstraZeneca. The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker has agreed to provide 53 million doses of its vaccine, which has achieved an average efficacy of 70% in trials. It has also ordered 10 million doses of the BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine, which has achieved over 90% effectiveness and is also expected to be approved by the TGA next month.

Canberra has also agreed to purchase 51 million doses of the Novavax vaccine, although those are not expected to be available until mid-2021.

Some scientists are concerned about Australia’s reliance on Oxford / AstraZeneca, noting that test data showed that when jab was given in two full doses at least one month apart, it was only effective. by 62%.

“Pivoting towards Moderna and Pfizer vaccines seems like a good idea in an ideal situation,” said Stephen Turner, president of the Australian and New Zealand Society for Immunology.

He called a review of Canberra’s vaccine strategy appropriate, but warned that there were practical difficulties in deploying the BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine as it must be stored at minus 70 ° C. The Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine, which can being stored between 2 ° C and 8 ° C, could be a useful short-term tool to control the virus, said Mr Turner.

The Australasian Virology Society has said it does not support a “pause” in vaccine rollout. Instead, all data should be analyzed for safety and efficacy by the Australian drug regulator before a final decision to deploy the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine, he said.

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Labor said the government should make more deals with vaccine makers, noting it had three contracts while other developed economies had five or six. But he did not call for a pause in the rollout of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine.

Peter Collingon, professor of microbiology at Australian National University, called calls to stop the deployment “unrealistic”. He said the government was unlikely to be able to procure enough alternative vaccines this year and that it was crucial to get those at high risk vaccinated before winter.

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