Australia has approved the highly effective Moderna coronavirus jab for children aged 12 to 17.
One million doses will arrive this month after the American vaccine was given approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
The vaccine requires two doses 28 days apart and latest data from the US shows it is 93 per cent effective against Covid-19 infection, 98 per cent effective against severe disease and 100 per cent effective against death.
Australia has approved the Modern coronavirus vaccine. Pictured: Pfizer vaccinations for HSC students in Sydney on Monday
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (right with TGA boss John Skerrit) speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra
The jab – which has been approved for over 18s – uses the same mRNA technology as the Pfizer vaccine and is not linked to the rare blood clots caused by the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Professor John Skerritt, head of the TGA, said the decision was made to approve the jab in adults only – rather than wait for more data on teenagers – to help speed up the rollout.
‘We made the decision in conjunction with the company to do the adults first because that enabled us to reach a decision earlier which can then start the whole process of access to the vaccine in Australia earlier,’ he said.
‘The data on the teenagers does look good and we should be able to make a decision again convening the expert advisory committee within the next three or four weeks.’
Professor Skerritt described the jab as ‘really exciting’ because of its high efficacy.
The Moderna jab has been used widely in the UK, Europe and the US where 140million doses have been given.
One million doses are expected to arrive in Australia in late September and three million in each of October, November and December.
A woman receives the AstraZeneca vaccine at the new drive-through centre in Melbourne on Monday (pictured)
Everything you need to know about the Modern jab:
WHO IS MODERNA?
Moderna is an American Biomedical and pharmaceutical firm which specialises in RNA therapeutics.
The company is based in Cambridge Massachusetts and has developed 24 vaccine candidates for diseases like the flu, HIV and the Nipah virus.
It first gained approval for its Covid jab in the US in late 2020.
HOW DOES THE VACCINE WORK?
Moderna, like the Pfizer jab, uses mRNA technology to ‘teach our cells how to make a protein—or even just a piece of a protein—that triggers an immune response inside our bodies,’ the Centre for Disease Control in the US explained.
That means, those who receive the potentially life-saving shot can gain protection without ever having to risk the serious consequences of getting sick from Covid-19.
HOW EFFECTIVE IS IT?
Even against the highly infectious Indian Delta variant, Moderna’s vaccine is highly effective with US clinical trials showing a 94.1 per cent protection rate from coronavirus after the second dose.
DO I NEED TWO JABS?
Like other Covid vaccines, the inoculation requires two shots about 28 days aparts for maximum results.
IS IT SAFE?
The Moderna vaccine has proven very safe during its use throughout the world and has been given the green light by Australia’s medicines watchdog, The Therapeutic Goods Administration.
However there is no vaccination that is entirely risk-free, so it is best to speak with your GP before receiving the shot.
WILL THE MODERNA JAB REQUIRE BOOSTER SHOTS?
As the coronavirus continues to mutate, boosters shots are likely to be offered to those already fully vaccinated.
This will be the case for Moderna and almost every other vaccine provider.
WHO IS ELIGABLE FOR THE MODERNA JAB?
The US Centers for Disease Control recommends anyone over the age of 18 is suitable to get vaccinated with Moderna.
In Australia, regulatory health bodies are yet to determine what age group will be eligible.
BUT WHAT ABOUT KIDS?
Given the highly infectious nature of the Indian Delta variant Moderna is in the midst of planning a clinical trial for children aged between 6-12.
About 6000 children are expected to be involved in the US study and the company has also flagged it may include nations like Canada and Australia.
Exactly when the trial is to get underway and if Australia will be involved is still being discussed.
WHAT ADVANTAGES DOES MODERNA HAVE?
Although the Moderna vaccine is similar to the Pfizer jab, it doesn’t not need to be stored at minus-75 degrees Celsius in specifically designed medical freezer units.
Moderna doses can be stored at -20 degrees Celsius, roughly the same temperatures as a regular kitchen freezer.
That means it will be far easier to transport the Modern vaccine into rural areas.
Australia’s agreement with Moderna is for 10million doses of their current vaccine in 2021 and 15million doses of booster or variant-specific versions of the vaccine in 2022.
‘This means we have an additional 25 million doses of Moderna to add to the 125 million Pfizer doses and 53 million AstraZeneca doses we’ve already started rolling out,’ Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
‘We will have 10 million of the Moderna doses arriving before the end of this year. The first one million doses is on track to arrive next month and will go to pharmacies.’
It comes as 16 million Australians in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane are in lockdown due to outbreaks of the Delta variant of Covid-19.
Mr Morrison insisted the rollout was rapidly ramping up with 1.3 million jabs handed out last week (pictured, queues at Sydney’s Olympic Park on Monday)
On Monday afternoon the Byron Bay region near the NSW-Queensland border was also locked down after a man from Sydney travelled there and later tested positive.
The stay-at-home orders apply to Byron Shire, Richmond Valley, Lismore and Ballina Shire Local Government Areas from 6pm on Monday until 12.01am on August 17.
Only 22.56 per cent of eligible Australians have been fully vaccinated, way behind rates in the UK (74.5 per cent), Canada (70.2 per cent) and the US (58.7 per cent).
But Mr Morrison insisted the rollout was rapidly ramping up with 1.3 million jabs handed out last week.
‘We’ve a plan to get to 70 per cent of Australians vaccinated before the end of the year.
‘We can do this because we are doing this. Every vaccination saves lives. Every vaccination gets us a step closer to where we want to be,’ he said.
Pedestrians walk along High Street wearing face masks in Penrith on Monday as Sydney remains in lockdown
Labor health spokesman Mark Butler said the Moderna jabs were arriving too late because the government only signed a deal in May this year.
‘In America, they started using Moderna in December, nine months ago. In France, Germany and Italy in January, eight months ago. In Singapore in March, in the UK and Canada in April, and in Japan in May,’ he said.
‘By that time, Australia had not even sat down to do a deal with Moderna. Australia has the lowest vaccination rate in the developed world all because Scott Morrison has been so slow to act in procuring deals with Pfizer and with Moderna.’
The Prime Minister signed off his press conference with a message to Australians struggling through Sydney’s extended lockdown.
‘I don’t want it to be like this for you and your family. I don’t want it to be like that for your kids who I know you want to go to school,’ he said.
‘I want my kids to go to school too. We all want that, but there are no shortcuts here. Delta has made it clear that we have to get through the suppression phase and keep it at bay as best as we can.
‘So, if you’re in an area that’s in a lockdown, please stay at home. Don’t go out for hours on end. Don’t congregate in areas of Sydney. Don’t do it. Stay at home. Only go out if you absolutely have to.’
The Moderna vaccine uses the same mRNA technology as the Pfizer vaccine. Pictured: Sydney residents in Bondi on Monday
Moderna is also considering using Australia as a trial country for children as young as six months if the medicines regulator grants approval.
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said the government ultimately wanted people of all ages included in the rollout.
‘Moderna’s looking at a global trial, Australia may be part of that, but that will be subject to all of the technical and scientific advice that needs to be provided,’ he told Sky News on Monday.
Professor Skerritt said Moderna had not yet applied for a clinical trial.
‘They are interested in testing the efficacy of their vaccines in children as young as six months. We welcome that,’ he said.
Why has Australia’s vaccine rollout been so slow?
Australia’s rollout started in late February, more than two months after the UK and the US, because there was no need to rush through emergency approval of vaccines.
The first setback came in March when the EU banned the export of vaccines made on the continent, meaning that 3.1million out of 3.8million doses of AstraZeneca did not arrive in Australia on time.
As a result, Prime Minister Scott Morrison missed his target to vaccinate four million Aussies by the end of March by 85 per cent.
Then in April the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation advised that Australia’s main vaccine and the only one it can make onshore, the AstraZeneca jab, should not be given to patients under 50 due to a very rare but serious blood-clot side effect.
Australians have been queuing up to get scarce Pfizer but have shunned abundant AstraZeneca
The move threw the rollout into chaos as the government scrambled to secure more doses of Pfizer, its only other approved vaccine, and pushed back its aim to give everyone a first dose by October to December.
Pfizer agreed to sell Australia 20 million more doses, doubling the existing total, but said they would not all arrive until the end of the year.
Mr Morrison admitted that the change had huge implications for the vaccination program, saying: ‘Now, that was a big shock to the roll-out and they are events outside of the government’s control.’
The change also prompted an increase in hesitancy as an Essential survey found 16 per cent of Aussies said they would not get vaccinated, up from 12 per cent in March, and the portion willing to get vaccinated as soon as possible slumped from 47 per cent to 42 per cent.
Then in June, the experts changed the advice again, recommending that only people over 60 get the AstraZeneca jab after 12 more cases of blood clots were recorded in a week, seven in their 50s.
Officials made their decision based on a risk-benefit analysis which took into account that Australia had very low levels of Covid-19 due to its tough international border closure.
Dr Jamal Rifi, who owns Belmore Medical Centre in western Sydney, told the ABC: ‘People talk about hesitancy or reluctance, it’s well beyond that. It’s a refusal of patients to have the AstraZeneca.’
On July 8, the government announced a deal with Pfizer to bring forward its deliveries to secure at least a million vaccines a week from July 19.