Australian COVID vaccine may take an extra year
Australia would need up to a year to make a COVID-19 vaccine if the final successful and safe option is a non-protein based version.
Industry, science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews said she expected Australian biotech company CSL would need nine to 12 months to develop the capability to make a vaccine based on mRNA, or messenger ribonucleic acid.
Traditional vaccines introduce proteins to the body to prompt the immune system into responding, but an mRNA vaccine - such as the one being developed by US company Moderna - uses molecules to instruct cells how to build a defence to a disease.
It therefore requires different technology to be manufactured.
Ms Andrews said CSL would be able to start making a protein-based vaccine immediately, but "significant work" would be required if it was another type based on mRNA.
"I would hope that we would be able to do it in about the nine-month to 12-month time frame," she told the ABC.
"I think we need to be really conscious that with a vaccine, there are a lot of variables in there … so we are trying to prepare across a wide range."
Ms Andrews said the government would help CSL complete technical upgrades, with some work already started for the expected delivery of a protein-based vaccine such as the AstraZeneca/Oxford University option.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the government's advice remained that if the AstraZeneca vaccine proves safe and effective it would be available to some Australians by the first quarter of 2021.
"There's no surprise here that the earliest patients will, on the advice of the medical expert group, be those primarily within the health sector," he said.
"We have a million health workers in Australia, and if the indication is approved for this purpose, obviously for the most frail elderly."
Mr Hunt said the University of Queensland's "molecular clamp" vaccine was also progressing.
"(The) Prime Minister visited and was just amazed at the ingenuity of Australia's researchers CSL is aiming to make sure that vaccine is available during the course of next year, about the middle of the year so we have a pipeline of vaccines."
Mr Hunt said Australia's participation in the Codex facility would mean the nation received up to half a million units of any successful vaccines developed globally.
It comes as US expert Dr Anthony Fauci said it should be known by the end of November or early December if a vaccine was safe and effective.
"We will know whether a vaccine is safe and effective by the end of November, the beginning of December," Dr Fauci, America's leading expert in infectious diseases, said during an appearance on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.
"The question is, once you have a safe and effective vaccine, or more than one, how can you get it to the people who need it as quickly as possible?
"The amount of doses that will be available in December will not certainly be enough to vaccinate everybody. You'll have to wait several months into 2021."
Dr Fauci was responding to a question on whether there was truth in US President Donald Trump's claim that a COVID-19 vaccine would be ready by the end of the year.
He also added health workers and people with medical issues would be the first to get the vaccine.
"That could start by the end of this year, the beginning of January, February, March of next year," he added.
Originally published as Australian COVID vaccine may take an extra year