Government Let AstraZeneca and CSL Write Vaccine Strategy

After twiddling its thumbs for four months on inking a supply deal with Pfizer, even while hundreds of people were dying of Covid-19 in Melbourne, the federal government was then led by the hand by AstraZeneca and CSL on local vaccine manufacturing.

The Government Doesn’t Know an mRNA vaccine from a Protein-Based Vaccine

Liberal Senator James Paterson, who sits on the government’s Covid Committee, recently described the Novavax vaccine as a “similar style” to Moderna and Pfizer vaccine, which are mRNA-based. The difference is crucial, because mRNA vaccines cannot be made by Australia’s local vaccine manufacturer, CSL. Protein-based vaccines can. 

So the question arises whether or not the government considered contracting a Novavax manufacturing run from CSL. While final trial results are still forthcoming, early numbers suggest Novavax’s vaccine may be much more effective than AstraZeneca’s.

AstraZeneca drove Australia’s vaccine roll-out, not the government

Yet reports suggest Novavax never made it into the discussion, because the deal was brokered between AstraZeneca and CSL.

“We approached the government in February last year to offer any assistance that we could in the way that best made sense in terms of the local response to the pandemic,” Beverley Menner, who runs CSL’s Covid-19 vaccine projects, told a Senate committee, as reported by Tom Dusevic.

Yet no significant steps were taken until mid-year, when CSL was approached by AstraZeneca, who “asked whether we would have the capacity and the capability to step up and provide the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Menner said.

“That kicked off multiple discussions with both AstraZeneca and the government to get us to a place where we reached agreement with both of those parties to do that. So, it was an approach to us from AstraZeneca.”

So after the deal to import Pfizer was made at least four months late, the local manufacturing was organised between the corporates, then signed off by Canberra.

The government still doesn’t know how many Pfizer doses it has

The states have now stepped in to aid the ailing federal government, offering to set up mass vaccination centres. The problem is that the government can’t confirm when it will provide vaccine doses.

While it hasn’t admitted as much, the numbers on Pfizer doses in stock are not forthcoming. The Guardian has been seeking the figures from the federal Health Minister, but is being stonewalled.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly’s appearance on ABC Radio last week was not reassuring. “We’re getting Pfizer doses in relatively small numbers every week and as we’re getting them we are rolling them out,” Kelly replied, adding, “I’m not going to talk about numbers today.”

As we approach our second winter of the pandemic, the Australian people would very much like to talk about the numbers.

Follow Christian on Twitter for more news updates.

Feature image courtesy of @Sabine_van_Straaten via Unsplash.

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