Australia approves highly effective Moderna Covid-19 jab for over 18s – adding 25million doses to national vaccine orders
- Australia’s medical regulator has approved American Moderna jab for over 18s
- One million doses will arrive in September and 10 million by the end of the year
- The move helps nation reach 70 per cent vaccination rate to end lockdowns
Australia’s beleaguered vaccine rollout has been given a shot in the arm with the approval of the highly effective Moderna coronavirus jab.
One million doses will arrive next month after the American vaccine was given provisional approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration on Monday afternoon.
The vaccine requires two doses 28 days apart and latest data from the US shows it is 93 per cent effective against any infection, 98 per cent effective against severe disease and 100 per cent effective against death.
Australia has approved the Modern coronavirus vaccine. Pictured: Pfizer vaccinations in Sydney on Monday
Professor John Skerritt, head of the TGA, said the decision was made to approve the jab in adults only – rather than wait for more data on teenagers – to help speed up the rollout.
‘We made the decision in conjunction with the company to do the adults first because that enabled us to reach a decision earlier which can then start the whole process of access to the vaccine in Australia earlier,’ he said.
‘The data on the teenagers does look good and we should be able to make a decision again convening the expert advisory committee within the next three or four weeks.’
The Moderna jab was approved by the UK in January and has also been used widely in Europe and the US where 140million doses have been given.
One million doses are expected to arrive in Australia in late September and three million in each of October, November and December.
Australia’s agreement with Moderna is for 10million doses of their current vaccine in 2021 and 15million doses of booster or variant-specific versions of the vaccine in 2022.
‘This means we have an additional 25 million doses of Moderna to add to the 125million Pfizer doses and 53million AstraZeneca doses we’ve already started rolling out,’ Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
‘We will have 10million of the Moderna doses arriving before the end of this year. The first one million doses is on track to arrive next month and will go to pharmacies.’
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (right with TGA boss John Skerrit) speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra
It comes as 16million Australians in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane are in lockdown due to outbreaks of the Delta variant of Covid-19.
On Monday afternoon the Byron Bay region near the NSW-Queensland border was also locked down after a man from Sydney travelled there and later tested positive.
Only 22.56 per cent of eligible Australians have been fully vaccinated, way behind rates in the UK (74.5 per cent), Canada (70.2 per cent) and the US (58.7 per cent).
But Mr Morrison insisted the rollout was rapidly ramping up with 1.3million jabs handed out last week.
‘We’ve a plan to get to 70 per cent of Australians vaccinated before the end of the year.
‘We can do this because we are doing this. Every vaccination saves lives. Every vaccination gets us a step closer to where we want to be,’ he said.
Moderna is also considering using Australia as a trial country for children as young as six months if the medicines regulator grants approval.
The Moderna vaccine uses the same mRNA technology as the Pfizer vaccine. Pictured: Sydney residents in Bondi on Monday
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said the government ultimately wanted people of all ages included in the rollout.
‘Moderna’s looking at a global trial, Australia may be part of that, but that will be subject to all of the technical and scientific advice that needs to be provided,’ he told Sky News on Monday.
Professor Skerritt said Moderna had not yet applied for a clinical trial.
‘They are interested in testing the efficacy of their vaccines in children as young as six months. We welcome that,’ he said.
Why has Australia’s vaccine rollout been so slow?
Australia’s rollout started in late February, more than two months after the UK and the US, because there was no need to rush through emergency approval of vaccines.
The first setback came in March when the EU banned the export of vaccines made on the continent, meaning that 3.1million out of 3.8million doses of AstraZeneca did not arrive in Australia on time.
As a result, Prime Minister Scott Morrison missed his target to vaccinate four million Aussies by the end of March by 85 per cent.
Then in April the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation advised that Australia’s main vaccine and the only one it can make onshore, the AstraZeneca jab, should not be given to patients under 50 due to a very rare but serious blood-clot side effect.
Australians have been queuing up to get scarce Pfizer but have shunned abundant AstraZeneca
The move threw the rollout into chaos as the government scrambled to secure more doses of Pfizer, its only other approved vaccine, and pushed back its aim to give everyone a first dose by October to December.
Pfizer agreed to sell Australia 20 million more doses, doubling the existing total, but said they would not all arrive until the end of the year.
Mr Morrison admitted that the change had huge implications for the vaccination program, saying: ‘Now, that was a big shock to the roll-out and they are events outside of the government’s control.’
The change also prompted an increase in hesitancy as an Essential survey found 16 per cent of Aussies said they would not get vaccinated, up from 12 per cent in March, and the portion willing to get vaccinated as soon as possible slumped from 47 per cent to 42 per cent.
Then in June, the experts changed the advice again, recommending that only people over 60 get the AstraZeneca jab after 12 more cases of blood clots were recorded in a week, seven in their 50s.
Officials made their decision based on a risk-benefit analysis which took into account that Australia had very low levels of Covid-19 due to its tough international border closure.
Dr Jamal Rifi, who owns Belmore Medical Centre in western Sydney, told the ABC: ‘People talk about hesitancy or reluctance, it’s well beyond that. It’s a refusal of patients to have the AstraZeneca.’
On July 8, the government announced a deal with Pfizer to bring forward its deliveries to secure at least a million vaccines a week from July 19.
Australia approves highly effective Moderna Covid-19 jab for over 18s