All Australians will be able to access a free COVID-19 vaccine – if the Oxford University human trials prove successful – after the federal government secured an agreement with a major UK pharmaceutical company.
The multimillion-dollar deal with AstraZeneca would see the purchase of at least 25 million doses, but over-60s and Australians with asthma and heart disease, transplant recipients and cancer patients would be given priority.
The best-case scenario, according to industry sources, is that the vaccine would be available by the end of 2020 or early in 2021.
AstraZeneca has promised Britain 100 million initial doses and struck a $1.2 billion deal in May to provide the US with 300 million initial doses.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: “If this vaccine proves successful, we will manufacture and supply vaccines straight away under our own steam and make it free for 25 million Australians.”
He said the Oxford vaccine was one of the most advanced in the world and was in a phase-three stage, but he warned that more work was needed to prove its viability.
Nine reports that the final agreement would probably see Australia’s biggest health company, CSL, producing the bulk of the vaccine at its manufacturing facility at Broadmeadows in Melbourne.
The ABC reports that medical device company Becton Dickinson has been awarded a $24.7 million contract to deliver the vaccine doses as soon they are available, with 100 million needles and syringes secured to safeguard against any international shortage.
The deal with AstraZeneca is part of the government’s new COVID-19 Vaccine and Treatment Strategy, which was released on Tuesday.
That strategy extends to other vaccine trials, with the prime minister saying “there is no guarantee that this, or any other, vaccine will be successful, which is why we are continuing discussions with many parties around the world while backing our own researchers at the same time to find a vaccine”.
The Oxford vaccine progressed to human trials in April and produced an immunity response in the 1000 volunteers that lasted for nearly two months, researchers reported.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said officials had been meeting with the developers of other promising vaccines in recent months.
“We are confident these actions and targeted investments will put us in the best possible position to secure early access to safe and effective vaccines for Australia,” he said.
More than 160 vaccine candidates are in pre-clinical and clinical trials, including 29 that involve humans.
Several of these are in Australia, with human trials under way for a potential vaccine developed by the University of Queensland.
Australian experts have cast doubt on a vaccine developed in Russia, saying it was only in phase two trials and had “enormous risks”.
Mr Morrison said Australia was committed to ensuring early access to the vaccine for Australia’s regional neighbours in the Pacific and in south-east Asia.
Does this news give you cause for optimism? Have you been following the progress on various vaccine trials around the world? Would you be first in line to receive this vaccine?
If you enjoy our content, don’t keep it to yourself. Share our free eNews with your friends and encourage them to sign up.