Daniel McCulloch and Paul Osborne
(Australian Associated Press)
Every Australian could receive a free coronavirus vaccination early next year, if a promising trial proves successful.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he is “hopeful but also naturally cautious” a drug being tested at Oxford University will be safe and effective.
He expects it could be rolled out early next year.
“If we can get it done earlier than that, we will,” Mr Morrison told Seven’s Sunrise program on Wednesday.
The Oxford trial is being run in conjunction with British drug company AstraZeneca.
“We are not putting everything in the AstraZeneca basket but it is one of the most advanced and the most likely, based on the expert advice we have,” the prime minister said.
Mr Morrison believes two-thirds of Australians would need to be vaccinated for a national immunisation program to be effective.
But the prime minister wants about 95 per cent of people to take the jab.
He has not made a decision on whether the vaccine will be mandatory but says the response needs to be “extensive and comprehensive”.
Mr Morrison is mindful of anti-vaxxers who may try to refuse the treatment.
“You have to do it for yourself, your family and for your fellow Australians,” he said.
Under the deal, Australia would make and supply the vaccine and provide it free to all Australians.
The agreement is expected to not only be a shot in the arm for the health response but a booster jab of confidence for the recession-hit Australian economy.
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.
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.
The vaccine strategy is expected to be worth billions.
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.
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.