Meeting the 4×4 challenge: Preparing for the Australian COVID-19 vaccine – Webinar wrap up

The global race to develop a vaccine against the COVID-19 virus is one of the most consequential public purpose endeavours in our lifetimes.

IPAA Queensland’s first pop-up webinar, Meeting the 4×4 challenge: Preparing for the Australian COVID-19 vaccine delivered in partnership with McKinsey & Company on 22 September, provided viewers with a fascinating account of the current state of play on the global vaccine pipeline.

At 4 times the speed, 4 times the scaleDamien Bruce and Brindan Suresh, MD from McKinsey examined Australia’s preparedness to manage a vaccine produced four times more quickly than the previous record and cover a population four times greater than ever before.

Damian and Brendan shared firsthand knowledge and insights from their work with national governments, the World Health Organisation, and multilateral organisations on the race to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 and the challenges ahead to protect us against this deadly virus.

They provided an overview of the landscape of Australia’s end to end preparedness, the vaccines and clinical trials and the prospects for getting candidates approved, manufactured, distributed and ultimately into the arms of citizens – to get the last dose into the last arm of the Australian population.

Excerpts from the webinar are presented below.

What actions has Australia taken?

  1. Investing in domestic vaccine development and manufacturing’ including the vaccine being developed at the University of Queensland (UQ). Read more here.
  2. Supporting global cooperation and multilateral efforts, such as investing in the COVAX Facility, a global risk-sharing mechanism for pooled procurement and equitable distribution of eventual COVID-19 vaccines. Read more about Australia’s investment here.
  3. Engaging with other nations leading R&D efforts; discussions with the UK and France are well underway

Australia also has a strong track record with the existing National Immunisation Program providing a strong platform for scaling. Read more about the NIP here

How many COVID-19 vaccine candidates are there globally?

As at mid September, there were 271 candidates in the pipeline. These fall into three types:

  1. DNA based vaccine (relating to the genetic footprint)
  2. Adenovirus vector based vaccine, e.g. the Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine
  3. Protein subunit based vaccine, e.g. the UQ vaccine

Key Insights

As the virus will be around for a long time, it’s important that the Australian government keeps supporting various trials. It’s not only about being first; bench strength is important to go the distance.

Most countries are hoping broadscale vaccination will end the pandemic. Consequently, any successful vaccine will face a problem – it will be immediately out of stock since the world will want immediate access!

Global manufacturing capacity by the end of 2021 is expected to be 8 – 9 billion doses of the vaccine.  But if dual doses are required as expected, the global supply by the end of next year is cut in half to 4 – 4½ billion. This degree of scale doesn’t get us to global coverage.

There are also questions of affordability and acceptance of the vaccine. A survey conducted in July comparing consumers’ and physicians’ willingness to receive a COVID-19 showed

Country Consumers Physicians
Australia 88% 84%
UK 85% 89%
USA 67% 80%
France 59% 79%
Japan 75% 92%


These figures tell us that public communication about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines is critical to achieving sufficient vaccinations across populations. As these figures will vary over time (notably in the U.S. where recent surveys have showed lower willingness of consumers to receive a vaccine), the public health messages will need to continue and no doubt be adjusted to address pockets of resistance and current perceptions. It’s clear that the public health communications about the use of face masks, hygiene, social distancing, etc. will likely be needed for some time to come.

Thresholds for herd immunity will vary by country.  In Australia, the threshold is 50% of the population that will need to be vaccinated.  However, if the vaccine is about 70% effective, then in the case of Australia, it may take more than a 50% vaccination rate to achieve herd immunity

Alongside the global efforts to develop effective vaccines again COVID-19 are the efforts to prepare for the subsequent manufacture, distribution and administration of the vaccine. Ample manufacturing capacity and a rapid scale-up of production are essential. Rapid scale up of production will rely on technology transfer – the capabilities and processes that can speed vaccines from development manufacturing. Such transfers are difficult!

For more information and insights on technology transfer, see McKinsey’s July 2020 report, Why tech transfer may be critical to beating COVID-19.

You can also find out more about the global vaccine pipeline with these great McKinsey & Company reads

On pins and needles, will COVID-19 vaccines ‘save the world’?, a summary of the latest information on research timelines and the potential impact of a vaccine on the pandemic and society (July 2020)

Preventing future waves of COVID-19, key lessons from responding to the pandemic and how to apply them (August 2020)