An Australian COVID-19 vaccine maker who has earned the support of anti-vaxxers for his disparagement of other approved shots has crowdfunded nearly $300,000 to apply for his invention to be approved by medical regulators.
Nikolai Petrovsky is facing being laid off as director of endocrinology from Flinders Medical Centre because of its vaccine mandate. He has refused to take an approved vaccine and is seeking an exemption because he says he’s given himself two doses of COVAX-19, a candidate developed by his company, Vaxine.
COVAX-19 would be the first and only locally designed vaccine in Australia If approved. More than 16,000 people in Iran are taking part in phase-three trials. The country has issued an emergency permit for the jab, with the head of its medical regulator praising the vaccine’s efficacy against the Delta variant.
Despite this, the credible, verifiable evidence of its safety and efficacy in humans is scarce. Results from the first two trials have not been published in a peer-reviewed publication (although a paper on the vaccine’s effects on mice and ferrets has been published in Vaccine). The phase-three trial began in August and won’t finish until March. COVAX-19 shows promise but has received nowhere near the scrutiny of other approved vaccines being safely administered in Australia.
After a deal to buy Vaxine by an ASX-listed biopharmaceutical company for $100 million reportedly fell through in September, Petrovsky began publicly campaigning for the approval and manufacturing of COVAX-19 in Australia. And part of his argument has been criticising or casting doubt on other, approved vaccines — a message vaccine sceptics have been all too glad to hear.
The description for the GoFundMe that’s raised $291,120 to make COVAX-19 available locally cites deaths from the rare blood-clotting side effect of AstraZeneca and claims that the government is preventing access “to a safe and effective protein-based vaccine alternative”.
In other places, Petrovsky has said he believes mRNA vaccines like Pfizer are “gene therapy”, a fear-mongering claim pushed by anti-vaxxers disputed by other experts. Petrovsky argues that his type of vaccine, similar in development to vaccine for diseases like hepatitis that have been administered billions of times, is safer despite having not yet completed its clinical trials.
He opposes vaccine mandates because of his fears about the side effects from approved vaccines.
In interviews with Discernible — an independent media company that’s been highly critical of vaccine mandates and COVID public health restrictions, promoted the “Great Reset” conspiracy theory and repeatedly platformed people who’ve criticised vaccine safety — Petrovsky made claims that have been clipped up and seen tens of thousands of times with sensationalist titles like “Governments are misleading people on vaccines” and “How many adverse events are acceptable?”
Petrovsky repeatedly criticised the government for failing to move funding from other failed vaccines or give an advanced purchase commitment, accusing it of corruption. The federal Health Department denied Petrovsky’s claim that it was ignoring his vaccine.
Petrovsky says Nationals MP David Gillespie had lobbied Health Minister Greg Hunt last year but had stopped since he was promoted to the federal ministry.
He told Crikey: “It’s obviously a complete nonsense. They don’t care that we’re the best vaccine in the world. You have to ask: who’s paying them?”
In one clip that’s gone viral — including one version on Twitter that’s been viewed more than 175,000 times — Petrovsky says he’s uncomfortable with the approved vaccines.
“As a vaccine developer, I am not fully confident about what has happened over the past 18 months,” he says to an anti-vaccine mandate gathering in Adelaide. “It’s really difficult to say because it might be misconstrued, but it’s a fact.”
Regardless of his intentions, anti-vaxxers have seized upon the comments as further proof for their campaign to undermine faith in vaccines.
Pete Evans, Craig Kelly and Rod Culleton all shared video clips of him speaking. Former Liberal adviser-turned-conspiracist John Adams said it was a “MUST WATCH — EXPLOSIVE INTERVIEW”. Fringe political candidate and QAnon promoter Riccardo Bosi called it “the smoking gun” of a vaccine conspiracy enacted by the federal government to poison its citizens. Videos of him disparaging other vaccines have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times across YouTube, Facebook and alt-tech video sites.
Paul Griffin is an associate professor of infectious diseases and microbiology at the University of Queensland and part of the AstraZeneca advisory board. In June, he wrote about COVAX-19 that it was “great to see another Australian group at the forefront of COVID-19 research and particularly vaccine development”.
But Griffin is concerned about Petrovsky’s self-administration of an unapproved vaccine and his refusal to get an approved shot: ”As a vaccine advocate, you’d understand there is a process for good reason. Only approved vaccines can be approved for use or mandate.”
He also says Petrovsky’s criticism of other vaccines may be undermining vaccine confidence.
Petrovsky disputes the claim that taking COVAX-19 himself was unethical — ”Ethics do not cover what people take or do to themselves” — and argued that he was not responsible for how his comments were being used.
“Ultimately all you can do is speak the truth and clarify,” he said.