More vaccines could be made in Australia – but not for months

Vaccines will be tracked in MyGov and Medicare

Vaccines will be tracked in MyGov and Medicare

Biotech company CSL will consider its ability to make the Novavax COVID vaccine, but has urged caution on the idea and says its first priority will be the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Only after making the scheduled 50 million AstraZeneca doses will the Melbourne-based CSL even “reassess” its capability to make the Novavax jab, which would require a significant overhaul of the company’s manufacturing operations and facilities.

It comes as the federal government faces criticism for its commitment to AstraZeneca, over other vaccines with higher efficacy, and promises from chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly that Australia negotiating with “a dozen” other vaccine makers.

Trial results are still being collated for the Novavax vaccine, but Professor Kelly said it was showing “very strong performance”. Australia has ordered 51 million doses, but it’s unclear where – or even if – they would be made here.

“At the request of government, we have carefully considered our ability to simultaneously manufacture the Novavax vaccine, but unfortunately we do not have the capacity or capability to manufacture two COVID-19 vaccines involving live viruses,” a CSL spokeswoman told The New Daily on Thursday.

Later, however, CSL said it could look to make Novavax doses later in 2021.

“Following completion of the manufacture of 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine campaign, CSL would, if requested by the Australian government, reassess its ability to manufacture other vaccines such as the Novavax vaccine,” the spokeswoman said.

CSL is already making AstraZeneca doses and expects to begin delivering them in the second quarter of 2021.

The clarification comes after a News Corp article on Thursday, which said CSL had the capacity to make 51 million doses of Novavax on top of the 50 million of AstraZeneca. CSL quickly moved to clarify that it could not make both at the same time.

Despite both being protein-based vaccines, the AstraZeneca and Novavax vaccines require different manufacturing methods. A CSL spokesperson said the company had considered making both at once, but said there were differences between the two sets of production.

CSL said it had already “retooled” its laboratory with “significant adjustments” and “extensive preparation work” to make the AstraZeneca model.

Staff at CSL in Melbourne working in the lab where the AstraZeneca vaccine is being manufactured. Photo: Getty

That included new equipment, hiring workers for an “around-the-clock production schedule”, approvals for handling a live virus, and new material to allow the production of huge numbers of vaccines, the company said.

However, TND understands the government had never anticipated CSL would produce both vaccines at once, and had always hoped it would make Novavax’s model sometime in the future.

Health minister Greg Hunt told TND that Novavax’s current contract with Australia would see the 51 million doses manufactured at several sites in Europe. However, manufacturing in Australia is seen as a preferable option.

TND understands the federal government considers Novavax a long-term future option, and as a “backup” for the priority vaccines, AstraZeneca and Pfizer. Health minister Greg Hunt says Australia already has “whole of population” coverage with those two vaccines for the short-term.

However, the Novavax jab is seen as potentially having more long-term advantages.

For instance, it’s unclear whether COVID vaccines will need future booster shots after the first doses, much like annual flu jabs. Large-scale trial results for the Novavax vaccine are still being collated, but it is hoped that it might be more effective long-term if multiple or yearly jabs are required.

Australia has “whole of population” vaccine coverage. Photo: Getty

“I have a very strong feeling that Novavax, or one of the other protein vaccines will be the long-term option for vaccination for the world,” Professor Kelly, said in Canberra on Wednesday.

“We always had a backup in the Novavax vaccine … And that’s showing very strong performance and quicker than we had thought.”

Novavax has not yet submitted an application for registration to the Therapeutic Goods Administration, the federal Department of Health told TND. More information is expected in coming months.

“As CSL has stated, following completion of the manufacture of 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine campaign, they would, if requested by the Australian Government, reassess its ability to manufacture other vaccines such as the Novavax vaccine,” Mr Hunt told said.

“But we do note that we already have full manufacturing committed internationally.”

TND has contacted Novavax for comment.

“We’re likely to get the full dossier for data in relation to that vaccine before the middle of the year,” Professor Kelly said.

“That would be another option later in the year for us, hopefully.”

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