The coronavirus has upended life all over the world, and currently there over 90 vaccines that are being developed against it by researchers at universities and companies worldwide. Different technologies are being tested out, some of which have not been tested in a licensed vaccine before this.
There are six groups worldwide which are managing clinical trials with volunteers, while others have begun testing animals. As there are many vaccines currently underway, some in trial phases while others have been approved, some of them have been chosen for administration in countries like Australia, the United States (US), and the United Kingdom (UK). Below are a few of these COVID-19 vaccines.
The Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine, Australia’s ‘frontrunner” vaccine
In July of 2020, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and BioNTech began a late-stage trial on the coronavirus vaccine. Half the people got vaccine shots, while the other half got a placebo of saltwater. The companies then observed and waited to see if participants became sick, to assess if the vaccine offered protection.
Out of 44,000 participants, only 94 became ill with the coronavirus. An independent board of professionals detected how many people got the placebo and how many got the vaccine. This analysis showed that the vaccine’s success rate was 90%.
As is routine for clinical trials, the data was ‘blinded.’ It means that no one other than the independent board of experts knows who of the participants out of the 94 people that tested positive for COVID-19 got the placebo or the vaccine.
How many people will get the Pfizer jab?
According to Pfizer, they will have around 30 million to 40 million doses of the vaccine ready by the end of January 2021. This would be enough for about 15 to 20 million people to get an initial shot and a booster three weeks later.
However, who will be prioritised for the initial dose is yet to be decided. Social segments with a higher risk of infection or who are more susceptible to the virus will be the top priority across the world. It includes older adults who have diabetes or obesity, and health care workers fighting on the front line. Both BioNTech and Pfizer have stated that they could increase the number of vaccines to 1.3 billion doses per year.
The doses of this vaccine bought by the Australian government will be produced in Germany, Belgium, and the US.
Pfizer/BioNTech and the Moderna vaccine use messenger RNA (mRNA). COVID-19 has a structure like a ‘spike’ on its surface, which is called an ‘S protein.’ COVID-19 mRNA vaccines give the cell instructions to make a piece of this S protein that is harmless. After vaccination, cells start producing the protein pieces and display them on the surfaces of the cell. Your immune system will build an immune response and make antibodies in response to this protein.
How will the vaccine be distributed in Australia? Who will get it first?
Australia’s government is in touch with territories and states and the medical experts on distributing the COVID-19 vaccine safely. It includes giving roles and responsibilities to the Commonwealth, and state and territory governments to implement a COVID-19 vaccine program in Australia in early 2021 (expected February-March).
The government plans to have 30-50 ongoing Hospital Hubs in urban and rural Australia, which will be finalised with the individual states and territories. At this point in time, the government is committed to managing cold chain storage and Pfizer vaccine only. The social segments that will be prioritised are:
The Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine
Scientists working together at the University of Oxford were among the teams in a joint effort to find a vaccine for the virus. In ten months, they produced and designed a vaccine and proved its success rate and safety through initial clinical trials.
From the phase 3 trials in Brazil and Britain, the vaccine is shown to be 70.4% effective. Over 200,000 volunteers took part in the trials, and half of those were in the United Kingdom. There were recorded cases of 30 patients, which tested positive for COVID-19 in the people who had two vaccine shots and 101 in those who had gotten a control jab.
As for those who received two doses, the vaccine was 62% effective in them. It worked more effectively when given a half-dose initially, which was then followed by a full dose. In this case, the protection rate increased to 90%.
The Oxford vaccine is cheaper than the other vaccines. AstraZeneca’s aim is to supply the vaccine at $3 to $4 per shot. In contrast, Pfizer/BioNTech shot is priced at $20, with the Moderna’s vaccine costing $25.
Who will qualify for the AstraZeneca vaccine? When will Australians get it?
AstraZeneca has signed agreements to produce 2 billion doses of its vaccine by the summer of 2021. Thanks to Europe’s vaccines alliance, around 400 million doses of the Oxford vaccine will be supplied to European nations, starting from 2020. The UK has 4 million doses of the Oxford vaccine and is looking forward to 96 million more. Other orders from the UK include 40 million doses of the vaccine by Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine and 5 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine.
In Australia, a provisional determination was settled by the TGA with AstraZeneca in October of 2020 regarding its vaccine candidate. Australia has secured 53.8 million doses of the vaccine, out of which 3.8 million doses will be delivered at the beginning of 2021. The government currently plans to initiate the vaccine drive by March 2021. Fifty million amounts will be produced in Australia by Melbourne-based company CSL, on behalf of AstraZeneca.
Moderna’s Vaccine for COVID-19
Moderna is an American biotechnology company, based out of Cambridge, Massachusetts. They gathered 30,000 volunteers across the US to take part in the vaccine trial. A quarter of these were aged 65 years or older. The company’s vaccine showed positive results at the end of November 2020, leading them to request the US Food and Drug Administration to allow the vaccine to be used in case of an emergency.
Modern has reported efficacy rate of 94.5% of the vaccine in clinical trials. On the 18th of December, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration issued an EUA (Emergency Use Authorization) for this vaccine.
The vaccine is also a part of the US government’s Operation Warp Speed, an initiative to increase the time it takes the to produce and distribute the vaccine for COVID-19. The US government provided $1 billion to aid in the design and testing of the Moderna vaccine. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health supervised the research, including the clinical trials. Moderna was also given an additional $1.5 billion in exchange for 100 million doses of the safe and effective vaccine.