Thursday, 3 September 2020
You'll never find a better sparring partner than adversity. Throughout history humankind has made discoveries in the most adversarial of circumstances. The internet, microwaves, zips, the wristwatch, disposable tissues, stainless steel surgical instruments, even duct tape were all invented during a time of war. So if adversity is the mother of invention, then the 170-plus COVID vaccine trials around the world offer us a very big dose of hope and optimism that we can beat this pandemic.
This virus has dominated our lives and wreaked havoc on the health and prosperity of almost every nation on this planet. At this stage the best certainty we can have in protecting ourselves is a vaccine. Either that, or the virus becomes less virulent and we learn to live with it as we have with other coronaviruses. This latter idea, however, is a hope rather than a likelihood.
Across the globe our best and brightest researchers, health professionals and scientists are all working in the race to create a COVID-19 vaccine. Australia's most experienced scientists, biotech and pharmaceutical experts are providing advice through the COVID-19 Vaccines and Treatments for Australia—Science and Industry Technical Advisory Group. This advisory group, led by Professor Brendan Murphy, our former Chief Medical Officer, will assess and work through all viable options to test, secure and administer a safe and effective vaccine if and when one is found. Australia has always punched above its weight in the field of medical research, and this time is no different. Already three vaccine candidates have begun clinical trials in Australia, including one by the University of Queensland, using molecular clamp technology; one by Flinders University and Adelaide company Vaxine; and one by international company Clover Biopharmaceuticals.
The Morrison government are under no illusion that we can put all our eggs in one basket when it comes to vaccine development. First and foremost, it is imperative we make sure any vaccine is safe and effective. Even if an effective vaccine is found, there is still a possibility that different vaccines will be required for different ages, because it seems that our immune system responds differently to COVID depending on our age. At this stage, the most promising vaccine, because it is the most advanced in testing, is the University of Oxford's COVID-19 vaccine, which has entered its third phase of testing. The results will be known by the end of the year.
The speed of getting a trial of this magnitude to this point is simply phenomenal. Most trials take years. This one has taken a matter of months. But speed should never take precedence over safety, and that is why the federal government has made the first optimistic but cautious agreement with AstraZeneca to procure the Oxford vaccine only if it is both safe and effective. If that vaccine is safe and effective, it will be manufactured on shore by Australia's very own CSL, now a global leader in vaccine manufacturing. Should the vaccine be safe and effective, Australians will be amongst the first in the world to receive it, and I'm proud to say it will be provided free to all Australians.
Despite the stumble of hotel quarantining breaches in Victoria and the subsequent massive community transmission outbreak, Australia is starting to feel like we have turned a corner. Even in Victoria, where we have endured the state's first ever curfew—where five million Melburnians can't leave their home after 8 pm, where five million Melburnians are locked in their homes for 23 hours per day—we are seeing hope in the air. We're looking hopefully to a future where we have curtailed and controlled COVID. Whether the virus itself changes and we learn to live with it or a vaccine is developed, the world hopes to be able to move beyond the global carnage that COVID is currently wreaking. This is a crisis the likes of which we have never seen, but what distinguishes this crisis from the past is our ability to respond in an unprecedented way with globally collaborative research to develop diagnostics and treatments to beat this pandemic.