Australia-purchased COVID vaccine ‘90% effective’

written by Adam Thorn | November 10, 2020
Qantas A380 takes off from YMML (Phillip Gelling)
Qantas A380 takes off from YMML (Phillip Gelling)

One of the COVID vaccines purchased by Australia is “90 per cent effective” and could begin being rolled out worldwide by the end of the year, in the most significant breakthrough in the crisis yet.

Global pharmaceutical giant Pfizer said its jab’s performance was better than expected and will soon submit data to the FDA, the US drug approval agency.

Pfizer chief executive Dr Albert Bourla declared the vaccination would “help bring an end to this global health crisis” and comes just a week after the IATA said aviation’s recovery had “hit a wall” due to a second wave of infections.

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Last week, Australia announced it had purchased 10 million doses of the vaccine produced by Pfizer/BioNTech, which is one of the world’s leading candidates. The country has also agreed to deals with candidates from Novavax, the University of Oxford and the University of Queensland.

Manufacturing of the Pfizer vaccine is already underway and the business said it could supply up to 50 million doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion in 2021.

The vaccine works by injecting people with the genetic material needed to grow the “spike protein” of SAR-CoV-2 inside their owns cells, which elicits an immune response.

Phase 3 trials – the final, mass testing vaccines must go through – began on 27 July and has so far enrolled more than 43,000 participants, most of whom took the required two doses. The trial contained a mix of people from a variety of racial and ethnically diverse backgrounds.

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John Bell, Regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, which is creating a rival vaccine, said Pfizer’s effort had shown an “an amazing level of efficacy”.

“Today is a great day for science and humanity,” said Dr Bourla. “The first set of results from our phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial provides the initial evidence of our vaccine’s ability to prevent COVID-19.

“We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development program at a time when the world needs it most with infection rates setting new records, hospitals nearing over-capacity and economies struggling to reopen.

“With today’s news, we are a significant step closer to providing people around the world with a much-needed breakthrough to help bring an end to this global health crisis. We look forward to sharing additional efficacy and safety data generated from thousands of participants in the coming weeks.”

BioNTech was founded by two married German scientists, Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci. It originally set out to develop new types of immunotherapy for cancer but has recently concentrated on tackling COVID-19.

COVID has been the biggest crisis Australian aviation has seen. In June, the wider Qantas group said it would cut 6,000 jobs altogether, or nearly 20 per cent of its workforce, and later revealed a further 2,500 ground handling jobs could be lost.

The drastic cuts followed the business’ full-year financial results showing a loss before tax of $2.7 billion and an underlying profit before tax of just $124 million.

Virgin, meanwhile, went into administration before cutting 3,000 jobs and axing the Tigerair brand.

The director-general of the International Air Transport Association has said aviation’s recovery has “hit a wall” after new figures revealed passenger traffic has flatlined.

“A resurgence in COVID-19 outbreaks – particularly in Europe and the US – combined with governments’ reliance on the blunt instrument of quarantine in the absence of globally aligned testing regimes, has halted momentum toward re-opening borders to travel,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO.

Total demand in September was still down 73 per cent from the same month last year, a minuscule improvement from being down 75 per cent from August.

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