Australians could be forced to wait even longer for a shot in the arm as major delays push back the expected delivery of 51 million Novavax Covid-19 vaccine doses until next year.
Novavax, a biotech company based in the United States, had secured a deal with the federal government to provide 51 million doses of its two-dose protein-based vaccine by early 2021.
However, major delays have forced Novavax to push back the delivery until 2022, quashing plans for the vaccine to be used as part of Australia’s primary rollout.
In a Covid committee hearing on Friday, Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy conceded without a clear production timeline, Novavax would no longer be considered a primary vaccine.
“Because we don‘t have full registration yet and we don’t have a clear production timeline, our current plan is not dependent on having Novavax for our primary vaccination course this year,” he said.
“But they are still committing that they will give us some doses in the fourth quarter. If they come, that will be valuable and could help accelerate.
“But our plan is not dependent on having Novavax this year.”
The ordered doses will now serve as part of the government’s booster program.
In January, Health Minister Greg Hunt said the Novavax vaccine would act as a backup in case Australia’s first choice, AstraZeneca, faced problems.
“Novavax … (is) there either as a primary vaccine option, pending any issues that may arise with regards to either the efficacy or the production of our current vaccines, or, as is more likely the case, it’s there as the potential for subsequent vaccination,” he said.
But on Monday his language shifted, refocusing the vaccine as playing a role in Australia’s booster program.
“We’ve always thought of Novavax as the backup if there were an issue with the first three vaccines for this year, and as a foundation stone and platform for the booster program next year,” he said.
A Health Department spokesperson told NCA NewsWire the Therapeutic Goods Administration was assessing preliminary data for the Novavax vaccine, but the company had yet to provide a complete data package for approval.
Novavax has yet to apply to the TGA for approval, and has not yet been approved for use in any other country.
On Friday, TGA deputy secretary John Skerritt said it was “at the mercy” of Novavax but hoped to have a complete set of information by September.
“We’re on the phone to them almost daily, that we will receive a complete set of information in September, but we really are at the mercy of the company for when they’ve sorted out the manufacturing issues,” he told a Covid committee hearing.