Aussie vaccine production hopes dented


Australian drug manufacturer CSL has ruled out making the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine on home soil at least until after it has produced 50 million AstraZeneca doses.

The federal government requested CSL consider its ability to produce the two in Australia in a bid to boost local supply.

But the manufacturer has shot down the speculation, saying it was unable to produce two vaccines involving live viruses at the same time.

It would instead focus on completing production of its committed AstraZeneca doses, the first of which it tipped to be ready in the second quarter of 2021, pending regulatory approval.

“Following completion of the manufacture of 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine campaign, CSL would, if requested by the Australian Government, reassess its ability to manufacture other vaccines such as the Novavax vaccine,” it said in a statement.

The Novavax jab is in phase three of its clinical trial, but chief medical officer Paul Kelly has tipped it to form a key part of the global vaccine effort.

The government reached a purchasing agreement with Novavax for 51 million doses of its vaccine on Friday, but how it would be procured remained unclear.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg played down Thursday’s development, saying the government had always worked to ensure Australia had a “portfolio” of vaccine options.

He said the government would consider other options to manufacture Novavax on home soil.

“We’re always exploring, but what we do have is access to safe, effective, available vaccines,” he said on Thursday.

“We’ve adopted a portfolio approach and I think Australia’s in a very good position when it comes to the rollout of those vaccines.”

Although the AstraZeneca and Novavax jabs were both protein-based vaccines, a decision by CSL to produce the latter was not guaranteed.

Producing it onshore would place strain on the company, which has already shifted to 24-hour production to ensure it could produce other lifesaving drugs while meeting its AstraZeneca requirements.

“To fulfil this commitment, CSL has had to make significant adjustments to its base manufacturing business as well as undertaking extensive preparation work to responsibly accelerate production of (the AstraZeneca vaccine),” its statement read.

“Our employees have worked at speed to modify and reconfigure our biotech manufacturing facilities for efficient, safe production of this new vaccine.”

The company had also been forced to hire and train extra staff, install new equipment, and develop new protocols specific to the vaccine, it said.

The federal government has been criticised for relying solely on CSL for its domestic production, with Labor treasury spokesman Jim Chalmers accusing it of playing catch-up.

“The government said that they had done lots of deals and that Australians were at the front of the queue. We now know that that is false,” he said on Thursday.

“The federal government has been too slow off the mark. It doesn’t have enough irons in the fire, it doesn’t have deals with enough companies.

“That means that when there are temporary setbacks like (this) one, it makes things more difficult.”