How many people were ‘waiting for Novavax’?

Jolyon Attwooll

25/02/2022 4:43:26 PM

The approval of Novavax was long-awaited. Now its rollout is under way, newsGP assesses what response GPs are seeing on the ground.

Syringes of the Novavax vaccine
Many GP clinics have opted not to offer Novavax for now. (Image: AAP Photos)

Back in October, a lot of expectation was pinned to the approval of Novavax.
In a poll run that month on newsGP, 55% of respondents said they were fielding daily queries from patients who were ‘waiting for Novavax’.
Hopes were high its more traditional, protein-based formula would shift the remaining vaccine-hesitant population over the line where AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna had not succeeded.
Even though it is only four months ago, a reminder of the context of the vaccine rollout at that stage is important. Only the ACT had a double vaccination rate higher than 90%. Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia were still in the mid-60s range.
By the time Novavax was finally added to Australia’s vaccine rollout earlier this month, the situation was very different. Every jurisdiction apart from the Northern Territory has a double-vaccination rate of more than 90%, as attention turns to the booster program and vaccinating younger children.
When announcing its approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) as part of a primary vaccination course for over-18s, TGA head Professor John Skerritt couched his hopes cautiously.
‘I don’t know whether it is 50,000 or 100,000 or a million or whatever individuals [who will come forward for vaccination], I don’t think anybody knows but there are some individuals, and this just gives them further choice,’ he said.
How is uptake going?
Department of Health (DoH) officials have said they are using a working estimate of reaching around 5–20% of approximately 900,000 people aged 18 and over who have not had a primary course.
By those numbers, the lower end of that scale would be around 45,000 people receiving Novavax in total, while the higher end would push towards 200,000.
The initial days of the rollout – likely to be the busiest – have seen around 15,500 vaccinated with Novavax. The figure was confirmed by Dr Lucas de Toca, who leads the Federal Government’s primary care response to the pandemic, in the latest COVID-19 update webinar.
The total so far is around a third of the lowest end of the working estimate, with Dr de Toca upbeat about the impact.
‘That’s 15,500 people who otherwise potentially would not have gotten a primary course, so it’s really positive and good to see,’ he said.
Earlier this week, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the uptake was ‘well ahead of what we’d anticipated in this timeframe’.
As expected at this stage of the rollout, the dial on first doses has moved in tiny increments in the few days since Novavax became available – a decimal point here and there in states and territories where public statistics are still reflecting the change.
The key question will be on how the rate of Novavax vaccinations changes. One Sydney GP told newsGP many places reported ‘some interest in the first few days and then a quick drop off to nothing’.
In a statement to newsGP, the DoH emphasised the rollout for Novavax is in its very early stages, notwithstanding that some doses were made available a week before the official launch date.
For many general practices at the forefront of Australia’s COVID vaccine drive, the anticipated demand has not been high enough for them to become involved; in NSW, fewer than 20% of general practices participating in the wider COVID vaccine rollout are reported to have ordered Novavax.
The same pattern appears to be playing out elsewhere too.
‘We run high volume vaccine clinics, or they do not work financially, so we declined to participate,’ Melbourne GP Dr Todd Cameron told newsGP.
‘Trying to offer vaccines to unenthusiastic patients is not a great way to invest your time. Nothing I’ve heard from colleagues has caused me to doubt that.’
A newsGP poll last week also suggests that many general practice managers share the same view.
More than 70% of those responding either said their general practice would either not be participating in the rollout of Novavax or would wait to see how much demand there was.
The DoH said more than 3000 GPs and pharmacies have expressed an interest in administering Novavax, with 2646 vaccination sites placing orders for more than 443,000 doses of Novavax.
Even if those doses are all administered, that number is slightly lower than 1% of the total 51 million doses the Government has placed on order – raising the related issue of what plans are in place for the leftover stock.
Booster approval?
The other big remaining question for the fourth vaccine to be approved in Australia is whether it will add to the available options for the booster rollout. While Novavax arrived too late for most of the population as a primary dose, the possibility remains for it to be useful in this later phase.
GPs are reporting requests for Novavax as a booster and are having to explain to patients that it is only currently available as part of a primary vaccination course. 
On a related note, Dr de Toca advised in the webinar that Novavax would not currently be covered by the vaccine compensation program if used off-label as a booster.
‘The vaccine compensation program [only] covers vaccines that are administered consistent with the national COVID vaccine program, which includes TGA-approved vaccines that are administered in line with ATAGI advice,’ he said.
Professor Skerritt said this week the process for Novavax’s approval as a booster is ongoing.
‘We’re expecting to receive initial data from [Novavax] next week,’ he told reporters on Wednesday.
‘They expect to provide the final data during the month of March, and I can’t predict whether that’s middle or end.’
Log in below to join the conversation.

COVID-19 Novavax vaccination vaccine rollout

newsGP weekly poll What areas of healthcare were you hoping would get more funding in this year's Federal Budget?

newsGP weekly poll What areas of healthcare were you hoping would get more funding in this year's Federal Budget?



Login to comment

Getafix   26/02/2022 12:34:58 PM

Given that availability only occurred after the mandate deadline this cannot be accurately ascertained. Most people who work in areas where there are mandates probably obliged by the due dates. Those who categorically refused are probably unlikely to accept Novavax either.

Novavaxian   26/02/2022 10:11:48 PM

Let’s get real/honest/“stop beating about the bush” about this topic…..Novavax has arrived/been approved far too late to be truly useful to the Public Health campaign against COVID 19. My area had significant number of patients who were “waiting” for Novavax, my response (in June) “ won’t be ready til Jan/Feb22” and the fact that mandatory Vax or no job legislation in Sept/Oct was the only reason workers were forced to get mRNA Vax or some chose the AZ 1 in 50K TTS. I have a 10pack(100dose) Novavax sitting idly in the Vax fridge. Not one request/phone call. Expires end of April. The most it will vaccinate will be 10-20 patients!! UNLESS it is approved as a Booster ASAP. Hello ATAGI r u listening. Many many who have had AZ as primary course are requesting Novavax as their preferred booster, as well as some who have has x2 Pfizer wanting a mixed regime but not AZ.
(Addition: have supervised 6000 doses, personally injected 2000). GP.

Dr Arlene Nicol Suttar   28/02/2022 6:35:32 AM

Our pacific Island neighbours could benefit enormously from 50 million unused , in date doses.

Dr Raymond Yeow FIAA FRACGP   3/03/2022 11:43:34 AM

As a personal anecdote, I am one of the 15,500 above who has waited for NVX and has now had my first jab. In fact, after hearing that the NVX rollout was advanced to earlier than 21 Feb; and my usual GP practice was doing Pfizer rather than NVX, and the practice where I work had ordered NVX but not yet arrived; I looked up the Commonwealth website to find a NVX provider.
Managed to find a GP practice only 3 blocks away, and had my #1 NVX in the week before the official roll-out. Very nice old school GP, nil side effects (vs flu shot)…went to gym that afternoon and also gym’ed for next 3 days after that including a weights session on 3rd day after jab

I am booked in for #2 NVX on day 21 , and back to doing GP sessions on 14 March (one week earlier than expected).

Separately, a big hello to getafix – we have known each other from gamsat days, med school, hospital internship. When you are next back in Sydney, let’s catch up …my mobile is still the same.