Why Australia’s a hotspot for COVID-19 vaccine trials



EXCLUSIVE: Australia is becoming the go-to destination for vital Phase II COVID-19 vaccine trials because of our scientific expertise and low virus case numbers.

Four clinical trials on COVID-19 vaccines are already taking place here and a new consortium led by the Doherty Institute called Vax4COVID is about to test two New Australian vaccine candidates and another for a large US consortium.

It comes as Oxford University prepares to report positive results from its early vaccine trials - the second glimmer of hope the medical community has delivered the world in a week.

On Wednesday, US biotechnology company Moderna revealed its early stage vaccine was safe and provoked an immune response in trial participants.

A volunteer is injected with Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine. Picture: University of Oxford via AP
A volunteer is injected with Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine. Picture: University of Oxford via AP

Stock markets rallied on Thursday in response to hopes that progress with two coronavirus vaccines would boost economic recovery.

Details of the Oxford team's progress was laid bare in British newspapers on Thursday, with

claims it will reveal to The Lancet medical journal that early safety trials of the vaccine found it offered double protection producing virus killing antibodies as well as killer T cells (a key immune response).

The Oxford vaccine is the most advanced in the world and is already in trials in Brazil and South Africa to test whether it can actually prevent people catching the virus.





The Oxford team has a deal with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca to make 30 million doses for the UK, 300 million doses for the US and an Indian manufacturing plant will make one billion doses for countries elsewhere in the world.

Sarah Gilbert who is heading Oxford's vaccine research said there is an 80 per cent probability the vaccine will stop people being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 and she will know whether it works by September.

Ms Gilbert's three children, triplets aged 21, have been injected with the vaccine as part of the clinical trials.

The Oxford vaccine uses a chimpanzee adenovirus (a common cold virus) to carry genetic material from the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 into the body as a way of tricking the immune system to fight it off.

AstraZeneca saw its share price rise 5.2 per cent to 89.96 pounds on the news.

Moderna shares jumped by $5.18, or 6.9 per cent, to $80.22, after it reported its vaccine produced antibodies in all 45 people in the clinical trial.


Professor Terry Nolan, who is leading Australia's Vax4COVID team, said the consortium will soon start testing two New Australian COVID-19 vaccine candidates produced by the Doherty Institute.

It is also in discussions with a large US consortium on another vaccine.

"Basically it's a portal for people in the US, Europe analysis from the big companies and other consortia to see what available expertise there is in Australian academic centres to conduct these clinical trials," he said.

Australia was a perfect place to run safety trials of COVID-19 vaccines because we have top scientists and not a lot of circulating virus.

However he said Phase III trials that test whether a vaccine prevents people catching COVID are best done in places like the US, UK or Brazil where there is a lot of virus in the community.

Australian teams are already conducting safety and dosage trials for coronavirus vaccines made by Novavax, Clover Biopharmaceuticals, Vaxine and the University of Queensland.





At least one person became infectious within 24 hours of contracting coronavirus, it's been revealed.

Giving an update on Thursday afternoon, deputy chief medical officer Professor Michael Kidd said the instance was unusual but not impossible.

"We have received some additional advice from New South Wales about at least one person who appears to have become infectious within 24 hours of being infected with COVID-19," Prof Kidd said.

"The advice from infectious disease experts and the AHPPC is that while this is unusual, it is not implausible.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Michael Kidd said Australia is starting to see examples of people with early infectivity. Picture: AAP
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Michael Kidd said Australia is starting to see examples of people with early infectivity. Picture: AAP

"There is a wide distribution in the incubation period for COVID-19 and the time that people become and remain infectious. People usually develop symptoms within five to seven days of infection but may be infectious one or two days before the symptoms develop.

"As we see large numbers with COVID-19 infected, in Australia, we are starting to see examples of people with early infectivity."

He said it is unlikely the virus has changed to develop a short incubation period.

"We think it is unlikely the strain has changed but what we think is how it is expressed in individual people."

It comes as Victoria recorded 317 new coronavirus cases on Thursday - the biggest rise since the pandemic began.

Two men in their 80s died bringing Victoria's death toll to 29. There were 2128 active cases on Thursday.









The Australian economy is "fighting back" and employment figures released on Thursday show there is "hope" despite a rise in the jobless rate, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

Latest labour figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show Australia's June unemployment rate has risen to 7.4 per cent, a 0.3 per cent rise on the previous month.

It is the highest monthly unemployment rate since November 1998.

However, an easing of coronavirus restrictions across the nation saw 210,000 Australians re-enter the workforce, Mr Morrison said.

"Australians have been endeavouring to live with this virus and to press on, we've seen Australians get back into work and this has been a core objective of our approach over these past many months and it remains the focus of our approach together with managing the health situation in Victoria and other states as outbreaks and other challenges emerge," he said.

The majority of the jobs Australians returned to were part-time roles and underemployment had also fallen through an improvement in hours.

Mr Morrison said the employment figures showed "there is hope".

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said there is hope for jobs in Australia. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Andrew Taylor
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said there is hope for jobs in Australia. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Andrew Taylor

"It shows we have done it before and we can do it again. We will continue to apply every resource we have available to ensure we get on top of the health situation with the virus in the foyer, and across the other states and territories," he said.

"That is our absolute commitment but equally, we need to ensure that we don't allow setbacks, Australians are incredibly resilient and even as we go through these difficult times, let's lift our heads and keep looking forward."

The prime minister, appearing alongside Employment Minister Michaelia Cash, also announced the $2 billion JobTrainer program created with $500 million in federal funding that is to be matched by the states.

"This funding will support the creation of in excess of 340,000 new training places, and the key to this announcement is that we will work with the national skills commission and state and territories to ensure that the training that is being funded is in areas of demand," Senator Cash said.


Originally published as Why Australia's a hotspot for COVID-19 vaccine trials