Canada is a good role model for Australia to follow when it comes to getting the most out of Moderna vaccine, while overcoming lingering hesitancy, leading epidemiologists say.
- Moderna is the fourth vaccine to be approved in Australia
- Australian epidemiologists say it has delivered “excellent results” overseas
- Canada turned around sluggish vaccination rates with a massive influx of Moderna doses in June
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Monday that the Moderna jab had been given provisional approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, with 1 million doses set to arrive next month and delivered through pharmacies.
Moderna is administered over two doses, separated by four weeks, and has been widely used around the world, including countries like France, the UK, Singapore, the US and Canada.
Although Moderna was approved by Canada’s regulator as long ago as last December, a significant boost in supply in recent months has helped the North American nation race up the Johns Hopkins’ University coronavirus vaccination chart.
Canada, with a population of 37.5 million, now has 61.8 per cent of eligible citizens fully inoculated, with more than 72 per cent having received at least one jab.
On June 1, just over two months ago, fewer than 6 per cent of Canadians had received two doses of a coronavirus vaccine.
Canada’s rapid improvement has seen it surpass both the UK (58.7 per cent fully vaccinated, 70.4 per cent with one dose) and the US (50.7 per cent, 58.7 per cent). Belgium (62.5 per cent, 71 per cent) is the only major European country ahead of Canada in terms of full vaccination.
Australia has just 22.6 per cent of its population fully vaccinated, with around 44 per cent having received a first dose.
Canada gets summer boost from Moderna
Before the start of June, Moderna had supplied only 6.2 million doses to Canada, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, with other companies providing the majority of the country’s vaccines.
But, by the end of that month, the Massachusetts-based company had sent another 9.5 million doses over the US border for a total of 12.9 million in the second quarter of 2021.
While Canada has suffered badly during the pandemic — with 26,618 deaths from COVID-19 and almost 1.5 million infections — it has got things largely under control during this northern hemisphere summer.
It has reported 235 coronavirus fatalities over the past month, compared to a record high of 4,279 in January 2021.
‘The target is to stop people dying’
Professor Collignon said Moderna was similar to Pfizer-BioNTech as another Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine that taught cells how to make a protein that triggered an immune response, providing “good protection”.
“They’re seeing very few deaths of people who have been vaccinated,” he said.
Like Australia, Canada has also relied heavily on the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.
It had broken from the US with its pandemic strategy, due to limited supply earlier this year.
It controversially mandated a four-month gap between first and second doses — with the exception of high-risk groups and health workers — to ensure that as many citizens as possible received at least some protection.
But with the addition of the extra Moderna jabs in June, Canada saw daily second-dose rates more than double from 250,807 on May 31 to 619,170 on June 29, according to Canada’s COVID-19 tracker.
Infectious disease experts hope that Moderna’s arrival in Australia will have a similarly transformative effect.
Of the 25 million doses Australia has ordered, 10 million will be for primary vaccination and 15 million will be for booster shots.
The government says the first 1 million doses are on track to arrive in September with batches of 3 million doses also due to arrive in October, November and December.
“It’s really exciting as it will greatly accelerate our vaccine rollout,” said Robert Booy, a University of Sydney infectious diseases expert and former head of clinical research at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance.
Some Australians have been reluctant to take AstraZeneca due to the very small chance of developing blood clots.
Easier to store than Pfizer
In the US, where it has been administered 140 million times, Moderna has been 93 per cent effective, according to figures released by the company last week.
Data compiled over six months showed that it provided 98 per cent protection against severe disease from COVID-19, although this did not include tests against the more contagious Delta variant.
But Professor Collignon said Moderna’s advantage over Pfizer was that it didn’t needed to be stored at such low temperatures.
“It can be refrigerated at minus 20 degrees Celsius, instead of minus 70 degrees Celsius for Pfizer, which makes it easier for transportation and distribution,” he said.
Developed ‘within weeks of Wuhan’
Professor Booy described Moderna as a “very good vaccine” that had delivered “excellent results”.
“Within weeks of the Wuhan strain, they already had a blueprint of the vaccine, and within two to three months they went into trials, showing more than 90 per cent protection,” he said.
“I would gladly have a Moderna vaccine, but I’ve already had two AstraZeneca shots, and I was happy to have them.”
Having vaccinated so many people with Moderna this summer, Canada now faces a new problem of waste.
Although vials of Moderna can be stored in a freezer for up to six months, they arrive at pharmacies in a thawed state, and can last in the fridge for only 30 days.
And once a vial is punctured to withdraw a dose, the remaining doses — typically around 13 — expire in 24 hours.
This will be something that Australian medical authorities will need to keep in mind as Moderna vaccines arrive in force next month.
With the Prime Minister setting the target of vaccinating 70 per cent of the eligible population by the end of the year, Professor Booy called on Australians to harness the same competitive spirit as our high-achieving Olympians.
“Moderna can help, but we really need to inhabit that Olympic spirit to get more people vaccinated so we can get out of these terrible situations with lockdowns.”