Every Australian will be able to receive a British-designed coronavirus vaccine for free – should trials prove safe and effective – under a deal struck by the Morrison government.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said an agreement had been reached between Australia and UK-based drug company AstraZeneca, which is working on stage three trials of a vaccine with the University of Oxford.
“The Oxford vaccine is one of the most advanced and promising in the world, and under this deal we have secured early access for every Australian,” Mr 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.”
Mr Morrison admitted there was no guarantee the vaccine would be successful, so the government was continuing talks with other parties as well as backing Australian researchers.
There is also an Australian commitment to provide early access to a vaccine for countries in the Pacific and Southeast Asia.
The letter of intent with AstraZeneca, and a needle and syringe contract with Becton Dickinson, are the first announcements under a national COVID-19 vaccine and treatment strategy.
A final formal agreement will include distribution, timing and price of the vaccine.
The vaccine strategy is expected to be worth billions of dollars.
The Oxford University trials are under way in the UK, Brazil and South Africa and are due to soon start in the US, running into early 2021.
But Australian medical advisers are aware of 167 vaccine candidates in pre-clinical and clinical trials, including 29 undergoing clinical trials in humans.
An expert group led by Health Department secretary Professor Brendan Murphy is examining all options to ensure Australia doesn’t pin all of its hopes on one vaccine.
Australia is also in talks with the Gavi-led COVAX Facility, which aims to pool global resources to accelerate the development and distribution of vaccines.
The government has already submitted a non-binding expression of interest to take part in the facility.
Biotechnology company CSL said while development of the University of Queensland’s vaccine candidate remained its priority, it was also in discussions with AstraZeneca and the federal government on providing local manufacturing support for the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine.
“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 in a statement.
“There are a number of technical issues to work through and discussions are ongoing.”