Australia to manufacture ‘promising’ virus vaccine, free to citizens

SYDNEY • Australia has secured access to a “promising” potential coronavirus vaccine, the prime minister (PM) announced yesterday, saying the country would manufacture it and offer free doses to the entire population.

PM Scott Morrison said Australia had reached a deal with Swedish-British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca plc to receive the Covid-19 vaccine it is developing with Oxford University.

“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,” he 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.”

The Oxford vaccine is one of five globally in Phase 3 efficacy trials, and researchers hope to have results by the end of the year.

It is the first such deal for Australia, and Morrison said his government was also in talks with “many parties around the world” over other potential vaccines, as well as supporting local scientists in their efforts.

The country is yet to reach a final agreement with AstraZeneca on the cost, and a local manufacturer has not been locked in.

However, Australia has signed an A$25 million (RM75.24 million) agreement with American medical technology company Becton Dickinson to buy 100 million needles and syringes to administer the doses.

Although none of the coronavirus vaccines under development has proved its efficacy yet in clinical trials, at least 5.7 billion doses have been pre-ordered around the world.

Five vaccines — three Western and two Chinese — are in Phase 3 efficacy trials involving thousands of people, including the Oxford vaccine.

AstraZeneca has also signed agreements to provide doses to the US, Europe and Brazil.

Another deal struck by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, would see India manufacture the Oxford vaccine for distribution in 57 low- and middle-income countries.

First shipments of a Covid-19 vaccine created by Western laboratories have often been snapped up by the US.

Morrison said Australia remained “committed” to ensuring early access to the potential vaccine for Pacific countries and regional partners in South-East Asia.

Earlier this month, he called on nations to share potential vaccines, saying any country that discovered one and did not make it available globally “would be judged terribly by history”.

Australia has recorded almost 24,000 cases of Covid-19 and 438 fatalities to date. — AFP