Doctors have warned a coronavirus vaccine may create dangerous side-effects and argued against a ‘no jab, no play’ policy.
Vaccine development is typically a long and complex process that can take up to 15 years.
Because of the urgency of the coronavirus pandemic, researchers are fast-tracking their testing, hoping to produce a safe and effective innoculation by next year.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has locked in a deal with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca to secure a potential coronavirus vaccine, if its Oxford University phase three trials prove successful.
Australian Medical Association president Omar Korshid said even positive phase three trials would not prove the vaccine candidate is safe.
‘We have to acknowledge it is a rushed approval process and even if the phase three trials on this Oxford vaccine go really well, it’s still not absolutely proven that it is safe, not as proven as is normally the case,’ he told The Age newspaper.
‘That does increase the risk that there might be rare side effects … that we just don’t know about.’
Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has been involved in fast-tracking the testing of the Oxford University candidate vaccine.
In May, the CSIRO said it was already at the stage of pre-clinical trials – a position that typically takes up to two years to reach.
In ordinary times, a vaccine must pass through the pre-clinical stage, animal testing, then two phases of human trials to study the safety, immunogenicity, proposed doses and method of delivery.
If the vaccine passes these hurdles it moves to larger Phase III trials typically involving tens of thousands of people to catch any rare side-effects. Only then is it submitted for approval.
The Oxford University AstraZeneca vaccine candidate is already undergoing phase three trials.
To reach a vaccine within 15 months would be record time as the average vaccine takes 10 years to develop, according to The Lancet medical journal.
Once a safe and effective vaccine is produced, herd immunity can be achieved by vaccinating the population, and life can return to normal.
Herd immunity means enough people have antibodies to the virus so it cannot spread.
Dr Korshid said Australia’s peak doctors’ association is very supportive of vaccines generally as they have normally been through rigorous and extensive scientific testing.
That cannot be said of the coronavirus vaccine candidates, however, of which more than 100 are in development around the world as scientists, governments and other organisations race to find a vaccine.
In June The Lancet reported that 10 vaccine candidates had already advanced to clinical trials, as companies including Moderna, Pfizer, Inovio and Sinopharm all race to be the first with a working vaccine.
In August, Russian President Vladimir Putin sensationally declared that Russia had granted regulatory approval to a vaccine candidate named ‘Sputnik V’ after less than two months of human testing, without even finishing its final trials.
Only about 10 per cent of clinical trials are successful and scientists fear Moscow has put national prestige before safety.
Dr Khorshid said it was expected the Oxford coronavirus vaccine would only be approved for adults in Australia at first.
He said the Australian Government’s proposal of forcing people to take the AstraZeneca vaccine by tying it to services such as childcare, school or social security payments could not be justified because it had been rushed through clinical trials.
Mr Morrison has said he wants to make an approved vaccine ‘as mandatory as possible’, bu it is not going to be compulsory.
Deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth said possible punishments for unvaccinated people could include not being able to go to restaurants, travel internationally or catch public transport.
Monash University Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences Professor Colin Pouton told The Age it was important that people should have the right to refuse.
University of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Professor Heidi Larson, said it was precisely the ‘no jab, no play’ policies that had sparked the anti-vaccination movement worldwide.
Professor Larson said scientists needed to explain to the public how the new coronavirus vaccine candidates are able to be developed so fast.
Coronavirus vaccine research began several years ago done on the earlier Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus.
Professor Larson said research begun years ago had given scientists a head start on the vaccine for the new covid-19 coronavirus.
Australia’s chief nursing and midwifery officer Professor Alison McMillan said any vaccine approved for use in Australia would be subject to strong regulation to make sure it is safe and effective.
‘We will be ensuring we provide clear, accurate, concise information to all Australians about the nature of the vaccine and how safe it is, and we hope and encourage all Australians seek out the information from a reliable source,’ she told reporters on Sunday.
Professor McMillan also warned people to be careful to get their vaccination information from reliable sources after a string of conspiracy websites have promoted vaccine fears without evidence.
Australia’s new coronavirus infections rose by 216 on Sunday night, for a total of 24,619 across the nation.
Victoria is still the nation’s worst-hit state with a total of 18,231 cases of which 4012 are active, Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services said on Sunday night.
Most of the nation’s new cases (208) were from Victoria, although Queensland is now on high alert as its Brisbane Youth Detention Centre cluster continues to grow, adding two more cases for a total of nine.
Worldwide the spread has now infected 23.4 million people with 808,856 deaths and 61,663 in a critical condition according to Worldometers statistics on Sunday night.
The US is still the country with the most cases at 5.8 million infections and 180,174 deaths as of Sunday night.