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Australian scientists question the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine

A group of Australian scientists has called on the government to reconsider its Covid-19 immunization strategy over concerns that the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine has not been effective enough to generate herd immunity.

Several immunologists and the opposition Labor Party said Wednesday that Canberra should seek additional supplies of BioNTech / Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which show the trials are more effective – a measure to prevent infection or serious illness – than Oxford. AstraZeneca.

Some health experts are also advocating a “break” in the introduction of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine next month. The proposal was rejected by Canberra.

“Until we get more data to show that AstraZeneca is as good as the rest, the scientific and medical risk you are taking is that you will not get immunity to the herd,”

; said Andrew Miller, president of the Australian Medical Association in Western Australia. . “The political risk is that you will get a good vaccine for the rich and a less good vaccine for the poor.”

Dr Miller said Canberra should stop the planned introduction of Oxford / AstraZeneca and the most effective vaccines. As Australia has largely refrained from the virus – unlike Britain or the United States – it must wait and provide the best available vaccines to build public confidence, he added.

However, the government said the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine would provide vital protection against the virus and had no plans for a political reversal.

“The AstraZeneca vaccine is effective, safe and a high-quality vaccine,” said Paul Kelly, Australia’s chief medical officer. “It will be available immediately after TGA [medicine regulator] gives a tick that we expect to be in February. “

Australia’s vaccination strategy took a hit last month when a domestic candidate developed by the University of Queensland and CSL was abandoned after several participants in the study returned false positives for HIV. However, Canberra had an emergency plan and agreed to $ 3.3 billion ($ 2.6 billion) deals with pharmaceutical companies for alternative vaccines.

His biggest order is with AstraZeneca. The Anglo-Swedish drug maker has agreed to deliver 53 million doses of its vaccine, which has achieved an average effectiveness of 70% in trials. He has also ordered 10 million doses of the BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine, which is more than 90 percent effective and is expected to be approved by the TGA next month.

Canberra has also agreed to purchase 51 million doses of Novavax vaccine, although they are expected to be available by mid-2021.

Some researchers are concerned about Australia’s dependence on Oxford / AstraZeneca, noting that data from studies show that when the stroke was given as two full doses with an interval of at least a month, its effectiveness was only 62%.

“Switching to Moderna and Pfizer vaccines seems like a good idea in an ideal situation,” said Stephen Turner, president of the Australian and New Zealand Immunology Society.

He called a review of Canberra’s vaccination strategy appropriate, but warned that there were practical difficulties in introducing the BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine, as it must be stored at minus 70 ° C. The Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine, which can be stored at 2C until 8C could be a useful tool in the short term to control the virus, Mr Turner said.

The Australian Society of Virology has said it does not support a “pause” in the introduction of vaccines. Rather, all data should be analyzed for safety and efficacy by the Australian Medicines Regulatory Authority before the final decision to introduce the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine, the statement said.

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The Labor Party said the government should negotiate more deals with vaccine manufacturers, noting that there are three contracts, while other developed economies have five or six. However, this does not require a break in the introduction of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine.

Peter Collingon, a professor of microbiology at the Australian National University, described the calls to stop the spread as “unrealistic”. He said the government is unlikely to be able to get enough alternative vaccines this year, and it is crucial that people are vaccinated before winter.

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