The Australian Government has today doubled the number of COVID-19 vaccine options at its disposal if trials prove successful, securing 50 million potential doses from Novavax and Pfizer/BioNTech.
The latest breakthrough adds to existing commitments to purchase the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, as well as a local candidate from the University of Queensland in conjunction with CSL (ASX: CSL) subsidiary Sequirus.
Taking the Federal Government's COVID-19 vaccine investment to more than $3.2 billion, these deals involve 40 million doses of the Novavax nanoparticle vaccine and 10 million doses of Pfizer/BioNTech's mRNA-based vaccine.
This lifts the total number of vaccines Australia could potentially access to 134 million doses.
Like the Oxford trial, Novavax's vaccine candidate is currently in the advanced Phase 3 stage involving tens of thousands of participants in the US and UK, with expectations to have interim data as early as the first quarter of 2021.
Meanwhile, in September German authorities approved a Phase 2/3 trial for Pfizer/BioNTech's vaccine candidate with 30,000 participants.
The Australian Government believes both the new vaccines will be available in Australia from early to mid-2021, provided they are given the green light by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
"By securing multiple COVID-19 vaccines we are giving Australians the best shot at early access to a vaccine, should trials prove successful," says Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
"We aren't putting all our eggs in one basket and we will continue to pursue further vaccines should our medical experts recommend them.
"There are no guarantees that these vaccines will prove successful, however our strategy puts Australia at the front of the queue, if our medical experts give the vaccines the green light."
Similarly to the UQ-CSL candidate, the Novavax vaccine is protein-based contains an adjuvant that stimulates a stronger immune response. The vaccine has been developed using recombinant nanoparticle technology and triggered "robust antibody responses" in earlier trials.
The candidate from Pfizer/BioNTech, whose rolling submission to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) started in early October, uses BioNTech's messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) technology. Preliminary results show it triggers not only the creation of neutralising antibodies but also T cells that target the virus that causes COVID-19.
In a release, Pfizer highlighted a combination of an antibody and T cell (cellular) response is believed to be important in eliciting protection against viral infection and disease.
A study from the UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium, Public Health England and Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust recently found cellular immunity against SARS-CoV-2 is likely to be present within most adults six months after their primary infection.
In contrast to these three candidates, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine that is arguably at the forefront in the race for approval utilises a weakened version of a common cold virus found in chimpanzees that has been genetically altered not to grow in humans, with a protein found on the surface of SARS-CoV-2 that relates to the infection pathway added into the mix.
Diversity is the key to success in an uncertain field like vaccine development. Health Minister Greg Hunt highlights Australia's deals with two protein vaccines, one mRNA and one viral vector-type vaccine, all help strengthen the country's position to access safe and effective vaccines as soon as they are available.
"The goal and the expectation is that Australians who sought vaccination will be vaccinated within 2021," says Minister Hunt.
"There are no surprises, health and aged care workers and the elderly and vulnerable will be the first to gain access to a vaccine that's deemed safe and effective."
The Australian Government is consulting with the states and territories, key medical experts and industry peak bodies on the framework for the initial roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccination program in early 2021.
Key vaccination sites will initially include GPs, GP respiratory clinics, state and territory vaccination sites and workplaces such as aged care facilities.
Internationally, Australia has also joined the COVAX facility, which will provide access to a large portfolio of COVID-19 candidates and manufactures around the world for up to 50 per cent of the Australian population.
The Australian Government has also committed to support access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines for the Pacific and Southeast Asia, as part of a shared recovery for our region from the pandemic, as well as $80 million to the international COVAX Facility for the benefit of high-risk populations in developing countries.
Updated at 11:14am AEDT on 5 November 2020.