- Australians look like they’ll have to wait until March before any COVID-19 vaccine is made available, as Scott Morrison resists pressure to speed up the approval process.
- With just a tiny fraction of the coronavirus cases in other countries, Morrison insisted that Australia “can’t cut corners on the vaccine”.
- Allen Cheng, the current Chair of the Advisory Committee for Vaccines, appeared to back the call overnight, saying “we can afford to wait for the TGA to do its job and make sure we’re getting a safe, effective and quality vaccine”.
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While other countries hurry to vaccinate millions of people from COVID-19, Australia is taking its time as Scott Morrison resists pressure to speed up the approvals process.
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister rejected calls from the federal opposition and others in rolling the vaccine out quickly, as Sydney scrambles to control its latest outbreak.
“Australians rightly want the vaccine to be safe, and they want it to be timely,” Morrison told 2GB.
“Australia has one of the highest rates of vaccination in the world because people have confidence in the system. I’m not going to shortcut that system.”
With the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel all pushing ahead with available vaccines, Morrison contrasted their number of cases with the Australian experience.
“They’re in a position where they have to do emergency vaccinations,” he said. “That’s not our situation so we can’t cut corners on the vaccine. It has to be rolled out in an orderly way.”
The US has racked up more than 20 million cases since the pandemic began, with deaths surpassing 350,000 overnight.
England and Scotland meanwhile have both announced national lockdowns, as the UK records more than 58,000 new daily cases.
Australia, by comparison, had just 279 total active cases across the country on Tuesday, according to Department of Health estimates.
The initial rollout of vaccines is currently slated to begin in Australia in March, with the regulatory body, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, waiting on more data to be provided in the meantime.
Other nations like the UK meanwhile issued emergency or temporary approvals as early as December to begin immunising residents.
Slow and steady approach backed by chief vaccine advisor
With the coronavirus posing a relatively smaller threat here, Australia can take its time, according to epidemiologist Allen Cheng.
Cheng is the current Chair of the Advisory Committee for Vaccines, the body which consults with the TGA, the national regulator.
“Even with the current situation in New South Wales and Victoria, we can afford to wait for the TGA to do its job and make sure we’re getting a safe, effective and quality vaccine,” Cheng wrote on Twitter in a thread explaining the reasoning.
“We want to know that there is the correct amount of vaccine in each dose. We want to know they are free from contamination. That there are no differences between different batches or those made in different factories. We need to know the shelf life under different conditions.”
More time is needed, Cheng suggested, to also collect enough data to understand the various vaccines and its potential risks.
“The phase 3 studies have generally included about 20,000-25,000 people who received the vaccine. This is sufficient to exclude moderately uncommon side effects, but not serious but rare side effects — eg those occurring in less than 1 in 10,000 people,” he said.
Meanwhile, more can be learned about how the vaccines may work in combination with others, and how it may affect different groups.
For COVID vaccines, we have published papers that report that the vaccines appear to be effective and generally safe. Many people think that published papers are the gold standard in evidence, but they just scrape the surface of what we want to know.
— Allen Cheng (@peripatetical) January 4, 2021
As long as new case numbers stay down in Australia then, the March timeline looks to remain unchanged.
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