Australia’s terribly slow vaccine rollout is about to get a boost. The federal government has agreed to purchase 25 million doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, which should start to arrive later this year.
The Moderna vaccine still needs to be approved by Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) for use in Australia. Once approved it should hopefully help to fill the gap left by Astra Zeneca for those in the under 50s age group.
What is the Moderna vaccine?
Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine is an mRNA injection. Like Pfizer, this is a relatively new vaccine technology and works by injecting genetic material that encodes a viral protein. This works like instructions to the immune system, allowing it to design antibodies that can neutralise COVID-19 should the person be infected.
It is rolled out in two shots, spaced one month apart. According to the CDC, Moderna’s clinical trials showed a 94.1% efficacy against COVID-19 infections, which puts it on par with the Pfizer vaccine.
So far the vaccine has been approved in a number of countries including the U.S., UK, Canada, European Union and Singapore.
When will we get it in Australia?
Health Minister, Greg Hunt, announced that Australia should receive its first 1 million doses of Moderna by September, with a further 9 million by December.
The 25 million dose agreement will see 10 million doses arrive in 2021 with a further 15 million in 2022. Minister Hunt said that the Moderna agreement would be updated to include variant boosters in 2022.
Australia doesn’t currently have any local mRNA manufacturing capabilities, which means we have to wait for imports of the vaccine. However, Minister Hunt said that the government was in negotiations to produce mRNA vaccines like this one in Australia.
Moderna CEO, Stephen Bancel, said in a statement that the company would continue discussions about potential local manufacturing opportunities in Australia:
“As we seek to protect people around the world with our COVID-19 vaccine and potentially our variant booster candidates, we look forward to continuing discussions with Australia about establishing potential local manufacturing opportunities.”
Moderna said it would make a submission to the TGA for approval shortly.
How does this vaccine compare to the others?
There are currently two COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in Australia.
The Pfizer mRNA vaccine has been rolling out in Australia since February. It managed 90 per cent efficacy in its Phase 3 clinical trials and is given in two shots, spaced at least 21 days apart. Australia has secured around 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is a viral vector vaccine, meaning it uses a modified portion of the virus to deliver instructions to the immune system. It received a 62 per cent efficacy rate in clinical trials and was provisionally approved by the TGA in February. Australia has secured 53.8 million doses of Astra Zeneca.
The rollout of AstraZeneca had to be altered in Australia after a link was established between the vaccine and a very rare blood clotting disease. Following this ATAGI recommended the Pfizer vaccine be used in those aged under 50, pushing back the rollout target significantly.
Australia’s vaccine rollout plan was expected to occur in four phases with targeted completion by the end of the year.
Although considering how botched this has become there’s really no telling when you’ll get your vaccine, Moderna or otherwise.