The federal government has promised every Australian citizen and resident a free dose of a COVID-19 vaccine being developed by Oxford University, pending its success.
Speaking on breakfast television this morning, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia had reached an agreement with British pharmaceuticals company AstraZeneca to secure 25 million doses of the vaccine – if it proves successful in human trials.
If successful, Australia would also look to manufacture and supply vaccines on home soil, the Prime Minister said.
“This is one of the most promising and most advanced vaccine developments anywhere in the world and we have been working on this for some time,” Morrison told the Nine Network’s Today.
“There are about 160 different projects around the world and Professor Brendan Murphy is leading a team of experts to identify and work through the other promising options.
“And, of course, we have the University of Queensland option, which is not quite as advanced as what is happening with Oxford, but that is making good progress.”
The Prime Minister added that health authorities would “work quickly” to roll out the Oxford vaccine to those most susceptible to COVID-19 first.
“The hope is we can get it to everybody as quickly as possible,” Morrison told Today.
“But you are obviously going to deal with those who are most vulnerable, and the medical experts will set that queue up, I’m sure. But they will move very quickly.”
Morrison cautioned that while AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate is showing early promise, there was no guarantee it would materialise as an effective tool in preventing COVID-19, according to Reuters Australia.
However, according to AstraZeneca, the Morrison government is yet to sign a deal or an agreement with the pharmaceutical company, but has, in fact, signed a “letter of intent”.
“The next step will be to conclude other contractual agreements, including arrangements with a selected manufacturer who can produce the vaccine locally,” AstraZeneca said.
“As a company, AstraZeneca is committed to ensuring fair and equitable access to a vaccine against COVID-19, and will provide the vaccine at no profit during the pandemic.
“We look forward to confirming the next steps with the Australian government and other critical partners shortly.”
The company expected to manufacture the vaccine, CSL, said it is currently in discussions to determine whether it is possible to provide local manufacturing support for the Oxford University vaccine, should it prove successful, while protecting its commitment to the University of Queensland’s vaccine candidate, which remains its priority.
“We are assessing the viability of options ranging from the fill and finish of bulk product imported to Australia through to manufacture of the vaccine candidate under licence,” CSL said.
“There are a number of technical issues to work through and discussions are ongoing.”
The news comes amid a race to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus, with Russia last week announcing it had approved a controversial COVID-19 vaccine yet to complete critical ‘Stage III’ clinical trials.
It’s become abundantly clear in recent weeks and months that the development of a COVID-19 vaccine will be absolutely critical for the wholesale return of international travel to and from Australia.
Australia’s former Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, warned just that in his ‘exit interview’ in June with ABC News.
Featured image source: iStock/Meyer & Meyer