Over a million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are sitting in vials less than a month before the jab begins to roll out across Australia.
Over a million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine are already sitting in vials ahead of their rollout later this month.
Around 15 million vials-worth of the vaccine was being stored in freezers at minus 80 degrees, representatives for drug manufacturer CSL told a Senate inquiry on Tuesday.
CSL has begun production of the AstraZeneca vaccine ahead of its rollout at the end of the month.
The company’s Christopher Larkins said it expected to “hit a run rate of well over” a million doses per week.
“I was just down at our freezers earlier today, and there are well over a million doses sitting there in vials ready to be packed,” he said.
“Our expectation is we will hit a run rate of well over a million doses a week. We will start releasing the product around the end of March, and we hope to hit a million doses or more after that time.”
Rollout would be in rounds of 300,000 doses, he said.
It would be subject to an approval process between CSL, AstraZeneca, and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), taking “a day or two, if not hours”.
The vaccine was one of two granted approval by the TGA, alongside the Pfizer vaccine, and the only to be manufactured in Australia.
The federal government has ordered more than 53 million doses of the jab, 50 million to be manufactured onshore.
It argued onshore production would incubate Australia from global supply chain issues.
But concerns have been raised over the efficacy of vaccines in the face of new COVID-19 variants, with the prospect of yearly vaccinations to combat mutations.
CSL’s Beverley Menner confirmed the company was “open to the possibility” of working with AstraZeneca as it adapted its vaccine to virus mutations.
“We work very closely with them on the current vaccine and the process there, but we’re also having broader conversations with them about what the world might need out of this vaccine down the track,” Dr Menner said.
Mr Larkins said CSL could be in a position to manufacture and release new variant vaccines by the end of the year.
The company said adapting to COVID-19 variants would require “fairly minor” changes to its set-up.
But Mr Larkins warned switching to a different vaccine would be a far more complex, cost-intensive task.
“That will take much more effort, probably completely new equipment and refitting out our clean rooms and processes differently,” he said.
The pair said CSL was open to producing other vaccines after it finished its manufacture of the AstraZeneca jab and if requested to do so by the government.
But they reiterated the company could not manufacture two vaccines concurrently.