Australia’s coronavirus vaccine plan has hit a setback after trials of the University of Queensland’s program were scrapped when false positives for HIV were recorded.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed it has been scrapped from Australia’s plan but downplayed the setback when addressing reporters on Friday.
He said Australia would now increase its purchase of its other vaccines. The number of AstraZeneca vaccines acquired will rise from 33.8 million to 53.8 million and the Novavax vaccine from 40 million to 51 million.
“I think what this demonstrates is the effectiveness of our strategy,” Mr Morrison said.
Australia had hoped the University of Queensland vaccine would provide 51 million doses. It was one of four vaccines secured by the federal government.
Mr Morrison said it was not a surprise and that the protection of Australians was a priority.
Murphy says false positives gave ‘lack of confidence’
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia was still on course to roll out its vaccine plan from March next year.
"I think it's important to understand that we planned in all of our contracts, for the potential either to discontinue … or to expand the number of vaccines," Mr Hunt said.
Department of Health Secretary Dr Brendan Murphy said while the Queensland University vaccine would likely have worked very well, the false positive had given a “lack of confidence”.
There is no HIV infection risk associated with the scrapped vaccine.
Biotech company CSL confirmed participants of its trial were informed prior to its commencement of the possibility of antibodies interfering with HIV tests. Dr Murphy said the chance of it occurring had been deemed extremely low.
Vaccine development ‘a real shame’
Dr Darren Saunders, associate professor of Medical Science at the University of NSW, said the development was “a real shame”.
Dr Nancy Baxter, head of the University of Melbourne’s School of Population and Global Health, failed to share Mr Morrison’s enthusiasm, pointing out doses of the two most advanced vaccines globally, Pfizer and Moderna, would not change.
“I think Scott Morrison is really putting a very positive spin on this,” she told ABC News Breakfast.
“We only have 10 million doses of the Pfizer. We have no doses of the Moderna vaccine.”
She said it was unlikely Australia would increase those totals due to fierce global competition.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the outcome was “very, very disappointing”.
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