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Vaccines: all you need to know

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Vaccines: all you need to know

As more and more Sunshine Coast residents roll up their sleeves for their first and second COVID jabs, the government says it’s likely 80 per cent of the nation will be vaccinated by Christmas. So what does this mean, what are the vaccines on offer and what does the future hold?

It’s looking a lot like Christmas – this is the time touted as the date by which 80 per cent of Australians will be fully vaccinated against COVID.

According to the federal government’s August Vaccine Sentiment Summary report, our intention to get vaccinated significantly increased this month with
79 per cent likely to get (or already have had) a shot.

To ensure this happens, in the past month the first drive-through vaccination centre opened in Victoria, Brisbane opened a huge vaccination hub at Southbank’s convention centre and the government has commenced a mass mail-out advising of available dates and places for vaccinations. At this pace of 1,425,984 doses a week, we can expect to reach the 40 million doses needed to fully vaccinate Australia’s adult population in mid-December.

This is a couple of months short of the first vaccination schedule, announced in late February this year that promised a nationwide completion date of around October.

However, last month Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged that goal would not be met and apologised to the nation for the delay in the vaccination rollout. Since then, the program appears to be full steam ahead and if current daily vaccinations are maintained, Australia will reach its projected target.

“If you get vaccinated, you get to change how we live as a country,” the Prime Minister says.

However, the vaccination charge is not perfect – Australia’s Grattan Institute reports that “vaccinated people can still catch COVID, but those that do pass it on to about half as many others compared to the unvaccinated”.

The report also say that “two doses of Pfizer offer about 88 per cent protection against infection, while two doses of AstraZeneca offer about 67 per cent protection”.

Yet the figures from around the world are clear – if you do catch COVID, you have a 95 per cent less chance of ending up in hospital if you are vaccinated.

It’s been a fast and furious ride with the coronavirus and the creation of a vaccination has arrived at a similar pace.

Considering past vaccinations could take decades to invent, manufacture and distribute, the creation of COVID vaccines has been phenomenally fast.

Experts in the field attribute this to a number of factors including global governments throwing in huge amounts of research dollars and the fact that works had already been completed on the SARS and MERS vaccines – these were coronaviruses that previously made the jump from animals to people. This meant experts weren’t starting from scratch when developing a COVID vaccine.

According to the Federal government website, more than $5 billion has been committed to five vaccine agreements.

Where to book a vaccination appointment:

  • At a Queensland Health vaccination location – register online and you will be contacted to make a booking as soon as appointments become available.
  • At a participating GP or community health service. Visit the Australian Eligibility Checker and book an appointment directly with your GP.

The mass vaccination hub at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre last week. image: AAP

 

The vaccines

AstraZeneca
The vaccine was developed by the Swedish-British drugmaker AstraZeneca with the University of Oxford. The AstraZeneca option is a viral vector vaccine, which uses a harmless chimpanzee adenovirus to deliver DNA into our cells. For the vaccine to work best, you need to get two doses. The first 300,000 doses of the vaccine arrived in Australia on February 28, 2021. Fifty million doses will be manufactured in Australia by bio-pharmaceutical company CSL, in partnership with the developer, AstraZeneca. Distribution of these Australian-made CSL doses has commenced and will continue on an ongoing basis.

Doses for Australia

  • Australia has secured 53.8 million doses of this vaccine.
  • 3.8 million doses have been contracted to be supplied from offshore.
  • 50 million doses will be manufactured in Australia. CSL will manufacture these doses for AstraZeneca.

Its efficacy ranges between 62 and 90 per cent, depending on dosage amount and time between doses. New research shows a 12-week break between doses gives the vaccine an efficacy of around 82 per cent.

Pfizer
This vaccine was produced by German biotech firm BioNTech and US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. The drug is being produced at BioNTech and Pfizer facilities in Germany and Belgium and in other countries. The vaccine was approved for use in Australia on January 15, 2021.

Doses for Australia

  • In November 2020, the Australian Government announced an agreement to secure 10 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
  • In February 2021, Australia purchased an extra 10 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
  • In April 2021, the Australian government announced purchase of 20 million more doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines, and last week, the government secured one million more doses.
  • The two doses should be administered at least 21 days apart.
  • Doses for Australia may be manufactured in several European locations.

Moderna
This month, the Moderna vaccine has been granted Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) provisional approval. The vaccine requires two doses 28 days apart. The first million doses are due to arrive in September and will be allocated to pharmacies. Three million doses are expected to arrive in each of the final three months of the year. The company is also considering using Australia as a trial country for children as young as six months if the regulator grants approval.

Doses for Australia

  • The government has secured 25 million doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, including the supply of 10 million doses in 2021 and 15 million doses of its updated variant booster vaccine in 2022.
  • TGA boss John Skerritt says the vaccine is 93 per cent effective against COVID-19, 98 per cent against severe disease and 100 per cent against death.

Novavax
On January 2021, the TGA granted a provisional determination to Biocelect (on behalf of Novavax). The granting of a provisional determination means the TGA has decided that Biocelect is now eligible to apply for provisional registration. Doses for Australia may be manufactured in several locations across Europe. If the Novavax vaccine is successful it is expected 51 million doses will be available in Australia.

 

An open letter from the wife of a frontline worker

“As my husband left the Sunshine Coast to do a six-month secondment at a major Brisbane hospital, he joked, “I’m not off to war”, but it weirdly feels like it.

“Heading into the hub of a metropolitan city as the virus sweeps and locks down other capital cities – it feels like a bit of war.

“And you know what, he’s the brave one. He’ll be at emergency waiting for you, or your parents or your kids, when they have a stroke or a car accident or need a broken arm X-rayed – and we carry that burden at home.

“Our reality is that in helping others, he may come home with COVID because some people don’t want the vaccine.

“Our whole adult family and extended family are vaccinated, but not our children who are too young to have it – and this keeps me awake at night.

“I don’t want to spread it, or die if I catch it, or clog a hospital system for someone vulnerable who can’t get vaccinated, so I got vaccinated.

“The thought of giving COVID to our kids, or having my active and adored parents in their sixties and seventies not getting a ventilator or an ICU bed because they’re ‘too old’ and someone younger needs it frightened the hell out of me. So I had the vaccine.

“And with that all stewing through my brain, we sent my husband, the father of our four young children off to war. I mean work.

“Something to think about if you’re thinking you don’t need or want the vaccine. You don’t necessarily do it for you; you do it for those you love and to support the medical system and its frontliners that may just be the ones you need to save your life.”

 

Vaccine passports

A vaccine passport is essentially a government-issued document that proves an individual has either had a recent negative COVID-19 test or is vaccinated. While the idea of a vaccination passport is still under review in Australia, the Prime Minister says those who pose less of a risk to others should be allowed to undertake riskier behaviour. In a sense the process has already begun in Australia with the recording of your COVID-19 vaccinations logged in your MyGov account. A digital COVID-19 vaccination certificate is also already available for vaccinated Australians and can be accessed through the Express Plus Medicare app, but gives no additional freedoms to vaccinated Australians. The European Union this month implemented a vaccine passport system that allows anyone who is fully vaccinated with any of five Western-made vaccines to travel freely in the EU. France has a ‘vaccine passport’ that people must produce to access a whole range of places such as sports venues, cinemas, museums and festivals. Greece has made a vaccination certificate mandatory for anyone to be allowed into indoor restaurants and bars. Malta is the first country in the EU to ban any visitor over the age of 12 from entering unless fully vaccinated. In Australia, Qantas says it will require all international flight passengers to be vaccinated once quarantine-free international travel resumes.

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