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When could Australians have access to a new COVID-19 vaccine?

He It’s driving cases in Australia and other parts of the world, but we don’t have a vaccine targeting it.
However, that could soon change, as global health authorities recommend that Vaccine makers update their formulas to address it.

But when could we see new vaccines arriving in Australia?

Current vaccines are not “optimal”

On Tuesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended an update of to target the JN.1 variant.
Professor Raina MacIntyre was part of the WHO team that made its recommendation.
“JN.1 and its variants are the dominant variants in circulation, so the XBB vaccine is not as compatible. It will still provide protection, but (the new vaccine) will provide better protection,” he said.
Clinical microbiologist Dr Paul Griffin also backed calls for an improved COVID-19 vaccine.
“The virus is changing rapidly, immune escapes are increasing, we have updated the vaccine three times to keep up,” he said.

“We need to be agile and adapt quickly.”

Gloved hands holding a needle inserted into a vial

Health authorities have recommended that the COVID-19 vaccine be updated to target the JN.1 variant. Fountain: AAP / Peter Byrne/PA/Alamy

University of South Australia biostatistician and epidemiologist Adrian Esterman agreed.

“The current vaccine is not optimal due to the emergence of new strains,” he said.
“New subvariants like KP2 in the United States are derivatives of the JN.1 strain, so a vaccine targeting JN.1 would be more effective against new subvariants that appear.”

While there is widespread support for a new vaccine, it could take months to reach Australia.

Fast to manufacture, slow to approve

Vaccines using mRNA technology can be updated and manufactured in less than two months, according to MacIntyre and Griffin, but regulators must give the green light, which can cause delays.
“The speed of the process, from its recommendation (by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization) to approval (by the Therapeutic Goods Administration) for implementation is a challenge, which is added to the delay in the arrival of vaccines,” he said MacIntyre.

There is also a similar approval process for the flu vaccine, which is updated periodically.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) said it was concerned about social media material that appeared to be presented as being from the TGA, when it is not.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration oversees the licensing of Australian manufacturers and also checks that overseas manufacturers meet the same standards as their Australian counterparts. Fountain: AAP

Griffin would like to see COVID-19 approvals similarly “streamlined.”

“Australia is quite conservative in terms of rapid approval, we can be weeks or even months behind other countries like the United States,” he said.

“New flu vaccines are approved very efficiently in Australia every year, but that is not the case with the COVID-19 processes.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee will meet on May 16 to discuss strain selection recommendations for upcoming COVID-19 vaccines.
Esterman predicted the United States would likely roll out a new vaccine a few months before Australia.
In 2023, the FDA recommended in June that vaccine manufacturers develop a monovalent vaccine targeting the XBB.1.5 subvariant. The first vaccines were administered in September.
In Australia, they were .

Winter is coming

The winter months have historically seen a rise in COVID-19 cases in Australia, so there is likely to be an increase in the coming weeks.
Esterman said JN.1 could be reported at higher rates.
“We can expect a wave of COVID-19 this winter, but it will probably be milder than last year,” he said.
“In winter, people tend to stay home longer and be closer to others, and since people are more likely to go to hospitals for flu or illness, the number of people reported as positive for COVID-19 will also increase.”

SBS News has contacted Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration for comment.