Coronavirus News Asia

Cyberattacks plague Covid-19 vaccine race

SYDNEY — High-level cyberattacks on facilities researching Covid-19 vaccines have alarmed Australia and the United States, with defense strategists urging them to confront China, the nation widely believed to be responsible for them.

The United States Studies Center at the University of Sydney, which receives part of its funding from the Australian government, said on Tuesday (June 23) that the US and Australia should jointly protect vulnerable medical sectors.

Health research and vaccines “are things that are almost universally considered off-limits for geopolitical rivalry,” warned Ashley Townshend, director of foreign policy and defense studies at the respected think tank.

“While all countries engage in underhanded activities in their national interest – this is one domain which I think the world really wants to see international progress on,” said the researcher.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed on Friday (June 19) that multiple tiers of government, business and academia had been targeted in a series of cyber incidents, including hospitals and education facilities.

Security agencies in the US also warned that China was attempting to steal American research to develop Covid-19 vaccine and treatments. Beijing has made it clear that China wants to produce and distribute the first coronavirus vaccine.

Major pharmaceutical companies, institutes and universities across the world are working on Covid-19 vaccine research. Image: WHO

At least a dozen research centers are helping to develop or test potential Covid-19 treatments and vaccines in Australia, as well as pharmaceutical firms and academic faculties. Many have links to overseas projects. 

University of Queensland will launch human trials of a vaccine candidate in July, after signing a partnership with pharmaceutical company CSL and the global Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. It hopes to produce up to 100 million doses of the vaccine by the end of next year.

Monash University in Melbourne reported a breakthrough on Monday (June 22) with the new antiviral drug α-ketoamide, after their research confirmed that it can protect against the virus. The improved version of α-ketoamide, an existing drug, was developed by researchers in Germany.

A laboratory at the Westmead Children’s Hospital in Sydney is conducting research to see whether the Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) tuberculosis vaccine can protect medical staff from possible Covid-19 lung infections. 

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