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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

University of Queensland coronavirus vaccine trials prove successful on elderly

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The world rejoiced when American pharmaceutical Pfizer confirmed its coronavirus vaccine was the first to clear interim clinical trials.

The giant drug maker’s product outperformed expectations and proved 90 per cent effective in stopping people from falling ill.

But its side effects are inconclusive, meaning the elderly, children and those who are pregnant could miss out on the initial distribution of the vaccine.

The vaccine being produced by the University of Queensland, however, is not only producing virus-neutralising antibodies, but it is also proving to be especially effective on the elderly.

Details of the groundbreaking production will be revealed on Friday when Health Minister Greg Hunt tours the Brisbane-based laboratory.

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The Prime Minister visited the UQ lab recently. Picture: Nick Moir – Pool/Getty Images
media_cameraThe Prime Minister visited the UQ lab recently. Picture: Nick Moir – Pool/Getty Images

He said the latest data from the University of Queensland research showed the vaccine was ahead of schedule, according to The Courier-Mail.

“Their initial lead is that the vaccine through the phase 1 trials is proving to be safe and, just as importantly, it’s showing a positive response, which means it has got neutralising antibodies,” he said.

“Especially in the elderly. The elderly cohort is responding well.”

UQ’s infectious diseases expert, Dr Paul Griffin, said the early results published from human trials was “really exciting”.

“We’ve certainly seen the elderly population are very vulnerable to getting this virus in its severest form so we need a way to protect them,” he told Today.

“We need to make sure a vaccine has good protection in that population. A lot of our vaccines unfortunately don‘t work as well in that population as the younger ones, that’s why lot of studies are including elderly cohorts.

Dr Griffin explained why the Pfizer and UQ jab relied on “completely different technologies”.

“The Pfizer vaccine is an MRNA vaccine, basically a blueprint for the response injected into people,” he said.

“This (UG vaccine is) a protein subunit vaccine where something that‘s usually on the surface of the virus is made into the vaccine and that’s injected to get an immune response against the virus.

“It’s typically a well-trodden path and typically a very safe type of vaccine and doesn‘t have some of the storage issues we have seen with the Pfizer vaccine that requires that minus 80. This is a technology we’re familiar with and great to see it appears to be working in this case as well.”

Mr Hunt said the UQ vaccine was one of the first two acquired by the federal government, which has bought 51 million units – enough for each Australian to receive a two-shot booster.

“It’s fundamental to our distribution here but also our ability to support countries in the region, which is critical to our safety and our regional interests,” he said.

The government has also purchased 10 million units of the Pfizer vaccine but this will be manufactured overseas, while local biomedical giant CSL will produce the UQ product.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the UQ jab was ahead of schedule. Picture: Sean Davey.
media_cameraHealth Minister Greg Hunt said the UQ jab was ahead of schedule. Picture: Sean Davey.

Australia’s former chief medical officer, Dr Brendan Murphy, said the Pfizer vaccine was a “very exciting technology”.

“MRNA vaccines are very different technology and we don’t have that production capability, certainly not at a commercial scale in Australia,” Dr Murphy said.

“So the decision, as part of the diversified strategy, we thought 10 million of this vaccine would be a good first option (for Australia).

“If this turns out to be the most successful vaccine, obviously there’s a capacity to buy more. And there is the capacity, we are exploring the potential, of whether we could set up local manufacturing, but that isn’t a prospect at the moment. It’s something we have been looked at.

“As the Prime Minister said, we are continually being nimble about our approach to vaccines, so we’re looking at all options of purchase, all options of manufacturing, but this gives us the best diversified position at the moment.”

Originally published as Why Aussie vaccine beats overseas rivals

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