The use of personalised 3D-printed face guards to cover gaps on the sides of masks will be tested in one of six coronavirus-related clinical trials to win funding from the Australian government.

The health minister, Greg Hunt, said on Sunday the government was providing $10m from its Medical Research Future Fund towards six trials, including of two “next-generation” vaccines developed by researchers at the University of Melbourne.

The 3D printing trial, overseen by Assoc Prof Anand Ganesan of Flinders University, has secured $973,119 of the funding. It will focus on developing facial guards to better protect healthcare workers from Covid-19.

“Mask leak with existing P2/N95 respirators is a major problem for healthcare workers,” Hunt said. “The main reason for face mask leak is the individual variability in the shape of the human face.”

The minister said the trial would test the effectiveness and feasibility of using customised 3D-printed face guards in conjunction with P2/N95 respirators.

“This is a rapidly scalable, customised technology that could quickly and feasibly be utilised around the world,” he said.

Turning to other trials to win funding, Hunt said researchers would also “test the effectiveness of an inexpensive and rapidly implementable germicidal ultraviolet air-treatment strategy, used in conjunction with existing infection control measures, as a means to reduce rates of respiratory viral infection in residential aged care facilities”.

The federal government has come under pressure over inadequate measures to protect aged care residents from Covid-19 outbreaks. So far, 685 deaths have been recorded among people living in Australian government-subsidised residential aged care facilities – 655 of them in Victoria.

Hunt said volunteers aged between 18 and 75 years would be recruited by mid-2021 for an accelerated clinical trial of two new Covid-19 vaccines overseen by University of Melbourne researchers.

He said these “next-generation” vaccines offered “a number of potential advantages to ‘first-generation’ Covid-19 vaccines, and do not require storage in the extremely low temperatures needed for the Pfizer vaccine”.

“Following encouraging results during preclinical testing, the government’s support is expediting the process to move research efforts from the lab and into human trials.”

The new funding has been announced at a time when the toughening of state border restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the community has triggered calls for Australian authorities to speed up the rollout of existing vaccines.

The federal government is sticking to March as the start date for the rollout in Australia, with Scott Morrison declaring last Friday that “public health is our number one priority on the vaccine” and “there will be no short cuts”.

The prime minister argued that approval standards must be upheld to ensure public confidence in the vaccine – something that was crucial to ensuring the uptake was as high as possible.

In December the Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, called for a faster, larger rollout of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine in Australia, saying if it was approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration in January the jabs should begin urgently.


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