If the dithering and fumbling over Novak Djokovic’s entry to Australia surprised you, the answers to two other major Aussie Covid-related questions will leave you gasping. Here are the two questions – and the answers.
- Rapid antigen tests (RATs) are vitally needed in Australia but are desperately hard to find. Is it true they are being mass-produced in Queensland, at over 100,000 a day, and all exported overseas?
- Is it true that a vaccine company in South Australia has developed a promising anti-Covid vaccine – yet has had to resort to crowdfunding for finance, while the Federal Government poured money into another vaccine effort, which failed?
Here’s a spoiler: the answer to both questions is ‘yes’.
- The first answer.
Rapid antigen tests (RATs) are scarce, with demand hugely exceeding supply. Despite many other countries recognising RATs as an essential tool in the fight against Covid, Australia waited until 1 November 2021 to make RATs legal for retail purchase. This was months after other nations. The effects are now biting.
More than 100,000 RAT kits are made every day at Ellume’s Brisbane factory. All are currently exported to the US.
The only Queensland company manufacturing RATs cannot respond to the severe shortage of the test kits in Australia until mid-2022, despite being taxpayer-funded, the Brisbane Times has reported.
Ellume plans to scale up production to 200,000 kits a day to satisfy US demand before it is in a position to supply Australia.
The US knows a good thing when it sees one. Ellume won a $300 million US-government contact to supply 8.5 million RATs to the US market.
In May 2020, the Queensland government paid Ellume an undisclosed sum from the state’s $50 million program to bolster the supply chain of essential goods and secure local jobs. The investment did not guarantee Australians access to any Ellume kits.
- The Second Answer.
On 8 October 2020, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed in a media statement that the Australian Government was investing “a total of $2.3 billion to support home-grown researchers and manufacturers to develop and produce a Covid-19 vaccine, while engaging in strategic international partnerships to support access for Australia and our region.”
“Under its COVID-19 Vaccine and Treatment Strategy, the Australian Government is investing $1.7 billion to pre-order 84.8 million doses of vaccine with leading Australian manufacturer CSL Limited (Seqirus) and UK-based AstraZeneca,” Hunt said.
“On 7 September 2020, the Australian Government announced that should promising trials prove successful for the University of Oxford/Astra Zeneca and the University of Queensland vaccine candidates, more than 80 million doses of the two potential COVID-19 vaccines would be made available for the Australian population, almost entirely manufactured in Melbourne.”
A photo at the time showed Prime Minister Scott Morrison wearing a white coat as he toured the University of Queensland Vaccine Lab in Brisbane “to look over their research as they try to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus”.
The University of Queensland’s Covid vaccine hit a problem so severe the project had to be dropped. It turned out that the vaccine made recipients test false-positive to HIV, even though they didn’t have the HIV virus.
The federal government cancelled its agreement to supply the UQ/CSL vaccine.
This leaves Covax-19 – developed by South Australian based biotech, Vaxine – as the most advanced Australian-developed Covid vaccine. But rather than tapping a fountain of public money, Vaxine has found raising funds to support its efforts to be like squeezing blood out of a stone.
Vaxine, founded in 2002 with the aim of developing new vaccine technologies, is headed by Professor Nicolai Petrovsky, who is also director of the Department of Diabetes and Endocrinology at Flinders Medical Centre.
The Flinders University website says of Petrovsky: “Nikolai Petrovsky has developed vaccines against influenza, hepatitis B, sting allergy, malaria, Japanese encephalitis, rabies and HIV, has authored over 90 papers and chapters and is a regular invited speaker at international vaccine conferences.”
Vaxine has fought an uphill battle over its recombinant protein-based Covid vaccine. It has had to resort to crowdfunding in a bid to bring the vaccine to Australia.
The company’s website says: “Our Covid-19 vaccine effective against delta in Phase 3 trials, now approved in Iran was found to be safe. To be approved in Australia, we must apply to the TGA to have our Covax-19 vaccine assessed which is an extremely expensive process, so we have taken the unusual step of setting up a GoFundMe campaign so we can raise much needed funds. https://gofund.me/38134186”
It has raised over $930,000 so far.
A statement on the GoFundMe page says:
Covax-19 is the first synthetic protein vaccine against Covid-19 to receive market authorisation, after showing protection against the Delta virus variant in a Phase 3 clinical trial in 16,876 subjects in Iran.
As the first and only Southern hemisphere-developed vaccine and one shown to successfully protect people against symptomatic clinical infection with the delta variant, you might think that the government would be throwing their full support behind this safe and effective locally developed vaccine.
Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Apart from a token grant provided more than a year after the pandemic started, the govt has failed to support our vaccine while allocating potentially billions of dollars in support to our wealthy competitor, CSL, who produce the AstraZeneca vaccine that has been linked to deaths from central venous thrombosis.
Not only have the govt failed to adequately support our efforts, while proudly claiming how many billions they have given to other failed projects, but if Australians are to have any chance to access our Covax-19 vaccine then the government requires that we first must pay the TGA more than 300 thousand dollars just to assess our application let alone the cost of all the work that is required to make a successful application.
A petition to “commit to bringing COVAX-19 vaccine back to Australia” was submitted to Federal Parliament on 22 December 2021 with 31,277 signatures.
In a recent development, Vaxine says Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), part of the federal Department of Health, has now granted provisional determination to the company’s vaccine, meaning the company is now eligible to apply for provisional registration for its vaccine in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG).
Scientists are awaiting publicly available clinical data on the Covax-19 trial in Iran.
Written by Peter Needham (who is fully vaccinated with AstraZeneca and Moderna booster)
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