Groundbreaking Koala Chlamydia Vaccination Program Launched in Brisbane

Koala Chlamydia Vaccination

Queensland koalas, eventually including those at the Lone Pine Sanctuary in Fig Tree Pocket, are set to be vaccinated against chlamydia, as part of a new vaccination program undergoing testing in Brisbane.

Brisbane City Council, in collaboration with leading scientists, has announced its commitment to support the registration of Queensland University of Technology’s groundbreaking chlamydia vaccine. With funding allocated to this cause, the Council aims to partner with the University of Queensland’s Koala Ecology Group to deliver a pilot program for proactive koala vaccination. 

This initiative addresses the urgent need for intervention, as chlamydia affects approximately 21 per cent of Brisbane’s koala population, leading to significant fatalities among these iconic marsupials. This bacterial infection may cause infertility, blindness, and urinary incontinence, further contributing to the decline in their populations. 

Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner underscored Brisbane’s status as Australia’s koala capital and emphasised the importance of leveraging this home-grown breakthrough to safeguard the koalas. The pilot vaccination program, as part of a broader koala protection plan, is set for the initial two years, followed by a city-wide vaccination drive. 

“This vaccine shapes as a game-changer for koalas and I am proud that our team will be supporting this home-grown break-through,” he said.

“By funding the registration of the koala vaccine we’re dealing with a key threat to our koala population. 

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“I want to see koala and other native species thrive because our city’s mixture of world-class entertainment combined with access to nature sets us apart and makes Brisbane the most Australian place on Earth.” 

Professor Ken Beagley, who works at QUT’s School of Biomedical Sciences, has provided details about the current experimental status of a vaccine. There are ongoing efforts to achieve registration for broader use, which is expected to make it easier for veterinary clinics and wildlife hospitals to access the vaccine. 

Professor Beagley Koala Chlamydia Vaccination
Photo Credit: QUT

“We now have enough data to show the vaccine is safe and effective and so the next step is to go for registration.  

“Once the vaccine is registered, it will be available more widely, and veterinary clinics and wildlife hospitals will be able to use it without delay. 

“We all want the same thing, a healthy koala population that is growing. 

“After habitat destruction, dog attacks and car strikes, disease is the next most pressing issue for koalas and chlamydia is a major problem.

“A healthy koala can live for eight to 12 years in the wild. Once you get a geographically isolated population that is stressed, chlamydia can take hold. Infection causes infertility, blindness and urinary incontinence, and local populations can die out.

“Since the early 2000s we have seen a 70-80 per cent decline in many koala populations across Queensland so koalas need all the help we can give them.” 

This new technology aims to simplify the vaccination process by eliminating the need for capturing or holding the animals for a second immunization dose. 

Furthermore, QUT researchers are developing a booster vaccine using implant technology to combat chlamydia in koalas further. This technology aims to avoid the need to recapture or hold wild koalas for 30 days to receive a second immunization, significantly increasing the ability to vaccinate wild koalas against chlamydial infections. 

The implant device, slightly larger than a pet microchip, will release the booster at four to five weeks after the first vaccination. The QUT researchers have the support of the Saving Koalas Fund and they expect this project to be completed by April 2026.

Published 1-March-2024