Time between vaccine being developed and being readily accessible could be months

Dr Rob Grenfell, the CSIRO's Health Director, Health & Biosecurity.
Dr Rob Grenfell, the CSIRO's Health Director, Health & Biosecurity.

The man leading the CSIRO's efforts to develop a COVID-19 vaccine says it is realistic - but not certain - an approved product would be available by 2021.

It is one of the predictions on which the Federal Government has based spending in its 2020-21 budget, handed down on Tuesday.

Dr Rob Grenfell, the CSIRO's Health Director, Health & Biosecurity, said significant progress is being made.

"Optimistically, we may well have results from phase-three clinical trials at the end of this year or early 2021 that tell us whether some of the leading vaccine candidates have proven safe and effective in humans," he said.

"However, there are still several hurdles to cross including regulatory approval, manufacturing of the vaccines and the logistics of mass immunisation.

"While we may have a vaccine by next year, it may take months more before it is readily accessible to all Australians."

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Dr Grenfell, based in Natimuk in western Victoria, welcomed measures to fight the virus included in the budget. These include $16 billion for the pandemic health response, $2.3 billion for COVID-19 treatments and vaccines, $2.4 billion for Telehealth and $3.3 billion for a National Medical Stockpile of time-critical and essential medical supplies.

Mallee MP Anne Webster said she had faith in the "experienced advisors and informed opinions" the government used to devise its budget during the pandemic.

Dr Grenfell said the CSIRO had completed testing on vaccine candidates from Oxford University and Inovio Pharmaceuticals.

Once the early data from their study is reviewed for quality assurance, the organisation can move to the clinical trial phase.

In the meantime, Dr Grenfell said Wimmera residents needed to continue undertaking public health measures such as wearing masks, washing their hands and socially distancing.

He said it was likely the region would live with the virus for several more years to come.

He did not explicitly say whether he agreed with the Victorian government's handling of pandemic restrictions in the wake of the so-called "second wave" of cases.

"The nature of this virus and its behaviour in populations has been demonstrated to us in Europe," he said.

"It's easier to impose restrictions and much tougher to remove them. Although the viral rates in Victoria are now very low, we know the virus is still circulating in many states in Australia.

"This means the risk of re-emergence is real and we need to maintain vigilance and adherence to public health measures."

This story COVID vaccine 'realistically' available in 2021, says CSIRO head of health first appeared on The Wimmera Mail-Times.