New COVID vax, treatments get green light

Andrew Brown |

A fourth type of COVID-19 vaccine has been granted approval for use in Australia, with the country’s medical regulator giving the green light for the Novavax vaccine.

It comes on the same day the Therapeutic Goods Administration allowed for two oral COVID-19 treatments to be used.

The administration granted provisional approval for Novavax, recommending two doses be given three weeks apart.

The government has ordered 51 million doses of the vaccine, with a final approval still pending from Australia’s leading vaccine advisory group.

While more than 95 per cent of the population aged 16 and older have received their first dose of a vaccine, the head of the TGA John Skerritt said Novavax would complement existing vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna.

“There are some individuals, notwithstanding a massive take up of vaccination in this country, who have been waiting for Novavax, and it’s great that it’s finally been approved,” Professor Skerritt said.

“Our dream is we might turn our 95 per cent into a 97 or 98 per cent in this country.”

Meanwhile, the regulator also approved the first oral treatments for COVID-19, the Pfizer-made Paxlovid, along with Lagevrio.

However, the treatments are not intended to be used as a substitute for COVID-19.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the new treatments will be able to be prescribed to people by their doctor.

“That means they won’t necessarily have to take them in hospital … and it adds to our protection and will focus on those that have mild to moderate symptoms but are at risk of severe disease,” Mr Hunt told reporters in Canberra.

The government has ordered 800,000 courses of the treatment, which are expected to arrive in the country in coming weeks.

Prof Skerritt said one of the new treatments was not necessarily more effective at treating COVID than the other.

“Because these drugs were tested at different times with different amounts of COVID around, you can’t really say ‘this one is so much better now’,” he said.

“It’s a bit like the Olympics – you don’t know who is the best athlete until they come head to head.”

State and territory leaders are meeting with Prime Minister Scott Morrison to determine an approach for students to return to schools safely in the wake of rising Omicron cases.

Mr Morrison said how schools use rapid antigen tests to carry out COVID surveillance would be a matter for each jurisdiction.

Access to rapid antigen tests will also be on the agenda for national cabinet.

With rapid tests still in short supply across the country, the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia said stock is expected to remain sparse until February, placing those in the profession under large amounts of pressure.

The health minister said he has asked the consumer watchdog to investigate claims by some companies that rapid tests were being seized by the Commonwealth.

“They are lying – that is why I am reporting them to the ACCC,” Mr Hunt said.

Thursday will also see the number of five to 11-year-olds who have received their first vaccine dose surpass 500,000.

Meanwhile, Australia has passed the grim milestone of having recorded two million COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began two years ago.

While it took until January 10 for the country to record one million cases, it took just 10 days for the second million cases to be reached.

There were 30,825 cases and 25 deaths reported in NSW on Thursday, with a further 21,996 infections and 15 fatalities in Victoria.

Queensland registered nine deaths and almost 17,000 cases while Tasmania had 927 new cases.