The COVID vaccine Aussies can’t get

With winter almost here, many Australians are heading to doctors and pharmacies for their annual flu vaccines. But although it’s no longer front of mind for many, COVID cases are expected to rise in the colder months. COVID vaccines, therefore, remain important. However, one company’s COVID vaccine is being denied to Australians – for now at least. 

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has delayed approval for Novavax XBB.1.15, and may not grant it at all. According to SBS news, the TGA has advised that a decision has yet to be made on Novavax’s latest vaccine version. However, the company has advised the US Securities Exchange that it was told by the TGA approval would not be granted. 

Previous iterations of the Novavax COVID vaccine received approval, with the last batch expiring on 31 January. The non-approval of Novavax XBB 1.15 means Australians will only have access to mRNA vaccines. 

Why has the new version of the Novavax COVID vaccine not been approved?

While the TGA has not specified the reasons for the non-approval, Novavax’s advice provides a clue. A statement from Novavax said it was working, “on an amendment that addresses performance obligations and future delivery schedules”.

This could be interpreted as doubts about the vaccine’s efficacy and Novavax’s ability to ensure an adequate supply. The TGA, however, would not provide specific elaboration on either of those potential roadblocks. 

“Ultimately, the supply of any vaccine can only commence once the TGA is satisfied that the product meets strict safety, quality and efficacy standards,” the administration said.

What does this mean for ordinary Australians?

Novavax’s COVID vaccine is the only one in the US that is not mRNA-based. It was also the only such vaccine available to Australians, meaning that Aussies’ only remaining choices are mRNA-based vaccines.

Does that matter? From a purely scientific perspective, no. In fact, according to Yale Medicine in the US, mRNA-based Pfizer and Moderna display a higher efficacy than Novavax.

From an uptake perspective, though, the unavailability of Novavax could have an impact. Although research has shown that mRNA-based vaccines are no riskier than traditional ones, public doubts about them remain and many of those still hesitant about them have chosen to take Novavax.

With that option removed, some hesitant Australians may choose to avoid being vaccinated rather than accept an mRNA-based one. This in turn could open the door to a rise in COVID cases.

What’s the difference between an mRNA-based COVID vaccine and a non-mRNA one?

Traditional vaccines rely on the use of a small amount of the microbe they target to be effective. Depending on the vaccine, this could be a weakened live version of the microbe or a dead one. In either case, the immune system responds, producing strong and lasting protection against future infections.

However, vaccines using a live virus may not be suitable for those with weakened immune systems. 

The more recently developed mRNA-based vaccines contain genetic material (mRNA), which ‘teaches’ your body how to make a protein. This protein causes an immune response, which instructs the body how to protect itself from a specific virus.

As with all mRNA-based vaccines, the COVID vaccine based on this technology contains no viruses or microbes – alive or dead. This makes infection impossible. 

And contrary to some claims, mRNA-based vaccines do not change your DNA. In terms of side-effects, research points to them being the same in either type of the vaccine.

This means Australians who previously had the Novavax COVID vaccine can switch to any of the mRNA-based vaccines available here. Seeking advice from your health professional is always recommended, but mRNA vaccines pose no greater risk than the traditional versions.

The new Novavax version of the COVID vaccine may yet be approved. In the meantime, Australians can opt for the mRNA versions with confidence.

Have you previously used the Novavax version of the COVID vaccine? Would you be happy to change? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: Experts recommend update to COVID vaccines

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.
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