Australia Approves Novavax COVID-19 Vaccine and New COVID Oral Drug Treatments

Australia Approves Novavax COVID-19 Vaccine and New COVID Oral Drug Treatments
Vials with a sticker reading, "COVID-19 / Coronavirus vaccine / Injection only" and a medical syringe are seen in front of a displayed Novavax logo in this illustration taken Oct. 31, 2020. (Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Reuters)

The national drug regulator has given the green light to the Novavax vaccine, along with two oral treatments for patients currently suffering from COVID-19.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) on Thursday approved the Novavax vaccine, also called Nuvaxovid, for adults aged 18 years and over, making it the first protein-based COVID-19 vaccine in the country’s arsenal.

It is advised to be used as a primary vaccine only as studies into using Novavax as a booster shot are still in progress.

Health Minister Greg Hunt on Thursday said he hoped the new jab would increase the nation’s vaccination rates.

“We know that some people have waited for this vaccine, and ... hopefully, this will encourage those people in the last five percent to come forward,” Hunt said.

He said the government had secured 51 million doses of the vaccine, with the first batch to arrive in the coming month.

The jab—which is administered in two doses delivered three weeks apart—will be made available through state clinics, GPs and pharmacies.

TGA boss Professor John Skerritt said his agency was the world’s second major regulator to approve the protein-based vaccine, noting that the vaccine was made using “an older technology.”

“I would have had several hundred emails from individuals and groups who have said for whatever reason we would like to have [this] particular vaccine … this just gives them further choice,” Skerritt told reporters.

“Our dream is to turn 95 percent (vaccination rate) into 97 or 98 percent.”

He added that trials had demonstrated the vaccine had over 90 percent efficacy with “no strong signals of adverse events.”

Novavax still has to get final approval from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), which will decide who will be eligible for the vaccine.

The protein vaccine works by using a non-infectious component found on the surface of novel coronavirus.

After vaccination, immune cells recognise the vaccine protein as foreign and launch an immune response against it.

Novavax is the fifth vaccine to be approved for use in Australia, along with AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and Janssen.

Meanwhile, the TGA has also approved the first anti-viral pills, Pfizer’s Paxlovid and Merck Sharp & Dohme’s Lagevrio but stressed that they are not a substitute for vaccinations.

The pills are designed to prevent a patient’s condition from progressing to a more severe stage and work by interfering with the virus’s ability to multiply within the patient’s body.

Each medication should be taken twice a day within the first five days of contracting the virus for those with mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19.

Around 500,000 doses of Paxlovid and 300,000 of Lagevrio are due to arrive in the country in the coming weeks.

Hunt said patients could get the medication either through a prescription from their GP or in the hospital.

“A course of them will help the most vulnerable, particularly some of our older Australians who have always been at more risk from COVID,” he said.

Pregnant women or breastfeeding women are not recommended to get the pills.