19 Aug 2020

Australia signs agreement with Oxford to guarantee supply of potential Covid-19 vaccine

7:13 am on 19 August 2020

The Australian government has signed an agreement with UK-based drug company AstraZeneca to secure the potential Covid-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University, if its trials prove successful.

A scientist is pictured at the Oxford Vaccine Group's laboratory facility at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, west of London on June 24, 2020.

A scientist is pictured at the Oxford Vaccine Group's laboratory facility in June. Photo: AFP

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said if the vaccine succeeded, the government would manufacture it immediately and make it free for all Australians.

"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.

The Oxford University vaccine has entered its third phase of trials, where it is tested on thousands of volunteers to confirm its effectiveness.

It has been considered a frontrunner in the global race for a vaccine, which includes more than 160 candidates.

The UK has already moved to shore up its supply of the vaccine, reserving 100 million doses, but the Australian government's agreement is different, securing vaccine development, production and distribution.

It means that if the Oxford University vaccine trial succeeds, Australia will receive its vaccine formula straight away and be allowed to manufacture it domestically.

Biotechnology giant CSL confirmed it has had discussions with AstraZeneca and the government about producing the Oxford vaccine locally, but it said there were still a number of technical issues to work through.

It is unknown at this stage exactly when the vaccine would be available, although the project could deliver the first vaccines by the end of 2020.

The exact cost of the agreement has also been kept tightly under wraps.

Medical device company Becton Dickinson has been awarded a $24.7 million contract to deliver the vaccine doses as soon they are available, with 100 million needles and syringes secured to make sure that if there is an international shortage of consumables, Australia will not be left short.

Government not confining search to one vaccine

There are currently more than 160 vaccine candidates in pre-clinical and clinical trials, including 29 undergoing clinical trials in humans.

Several of those are being conducted in Australia, with human trials underway for a potential vaccine developed by the University of Queensland.

Mr Morrison said as a result, the Government was not confining its search for a vaccine to the Oxford University candidate.

He said there were continuing discussions with many parties around the world, while backing Australia's own researchers.

The work is part of the government's new Covid-19 vaccine and treatment strategy, headed by an advisory group established to help the government acquire a portfolio of safe and effective vaccinations.

The advisory group is led by Department of Health Secretary Brendan Murphy, and it is understood the Government's entire vaccine strategy will be worth billions of dollars.