Australia has secured access to a "promising" potential coronavirus vaccine, the prime minister announced Tuesday, saying the country would manufacture it and offer free doses to the entire population.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia had reached a deal with Swedish-British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
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 of the vaccine and a local manufacturer has not been locked in.
However, Australia has signed an Aus$25 million ($18 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.
It hopes to have results by the end of the year.
The company 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 United States.
Morrison said Australia remained "committed" to ensuring early access to the potential vaccine for Pacific countries and regional partners in Southeast 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".Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.