The federal government has reached a deal to pay for 84.8 million doses of two coronavirus vaccines, should they prove successful in clinical trials.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Health Minister Greg Hunt and Science Minister Karen Andrews are expected to officially announce the agreement on Monday. But the broad outline was revealed in a statement from Mr Morrison on Sunday evening.
Australia will pay $ 1.7 billion for priority access to the two potential vaccines.
Those vaccines are the one being developed by Oxford University/AstraZeneca, and the one being developed by the University of Queensland/CSL.
The former could be available as soon as January of next year, and is currently in phase three trials, with promising results so far.
The latter isn’t quite so far along in development. It could conceivably be ready in mid-2021.
Should the agreements go ahead, Australia will get 33.8 million doses of the Oxford vaccine and 51 million of the University of Queensland one. Ninety-five per cent of those doses would be manufactured in Australia.
“Australians will gain free access to a COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 if trials prove successful,” Mr Morrison said.
“By securing the production and supply agreements, Australians will be among the first in the world to receive a safe and effective vaccine, should it pass late-stage testing.
“There are no guarantees that these vaccines will prove successful, however the agreement puts Australia at the top of the queue if our medical experts give the vaccines the green light.”
The federal government had previously signed a letter of intent for the Oxford vaccine.
Speaking about the potential deal last month, Mr Morrison said any vaccine would need to get to about 95 per cent of the population.
“I would expect it to be as mandatory as you can possibly make it,” the Prime Minister told 3AW host Neil Mitchell.
“There are always exemptions for any vaccine on medical grounds but that should be the only basis.
“I mean we’re talking about a pandemic that has destroyed you know, the global economy and taken the lives of hundreds of thousands all around the world and over 450 Australians here.
“We need the most extensive and comprehensive response to this to get Australia back to normal.”
However, he later backtracked on those comments, telling 2GB’s Jim Wilson that the vaccine wouldn’t be compulsory.
“There’s been a bit of an over-reaction to any suggestion of this, there will be no compulsory vaccine,” he said on Wednesday afternoon.
“What we want to achieve is as much vaccination as we possibly can.”
It came after Industry, Science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews told 2GB’s Deborah Knight that the Prime Minister had made it clear “we are looking at it being a mandatory vaccine”.
“Basically, there will be medical exemptions that will be considered, but the Prime Minister’s made it clear that we are looking at it being a mandatory vaccine,” Ms Andrews said.
She said issues such as penalties for refusing the vaccine will be considered “in due course”.
During a later press conference, Australia’s acting chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly said the vaccine would at first, be voluntary.
“Of course, the first will be a voluntary call for people and I’m sure there will be long queues – socially distanced, of course – for this vaccine,” Prof Kelly said.
He said there would be strong campaigns to encourage people “and we’ve had experience before of linking vaccination with other programs and all of those things will be looked at over time”.
While the ‘no jab, no play’ program is aimed at getting children vaccinated, the Prime Minister was asked what the government would do when they were adults.
“We’re going to take this one step at a time,” Mr Morrison told reporters.
“I don’t think offering jelly beans is the way to do that as you do with kids but we’ll take those issues as they present and consider what steps are necessary at that time.”
He said the rollout of the program would also depend on clinical advice that would identify any vulnerabilities in communities.
“The obvious priority is around health workers and people like that,” he said.