Australia‘s prime minister Scott Morrison says the country has signed a deal with drugmaker AstraZeneca to secure and manufacture a potential coronavirus vaccine, and that it will be made available for free to all citizens if successful.
AstraZeneca’s experimental jab is considered a leader in the global race to deliver an effective vaccine against Covid-19.
With several countries moving to secure supplies that some fear may lead to a global shortage, Australia said it had signed a letter of intent with AstraZeneca to produce and distribute enough doses for its population.
“Under this deal we have secured early access for every Australian,” Mr Morrison said in a statement. ”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.”
Nations around the world are trying to reserve supplies of AstraZeneca’s potential vaccine. Most recently Argentina and Mexico said last week they would produce it for much of Latin America.
The UK’s government has inked deals for some 340 million doses of six different experimental vaccines, demonstrating the rush to secure inoculations.
The World Health Organisation has urged wealthy countries not to hoover up vaccine doses at the expense of poorer ones.
Countries who put their own interests ahead of others in trying to ensure supplies of a possible coronavirus vaccine are making the pandemic worse, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Tuesday.
“(Acting) strategically and globally is actually in each country’s national interest – no one is safe until everyone is safe,” he told a virtual briefing calling for an end to “vaccine nationalism”.
Mr Morrison warned that while AstraZeneca’s candidate had shown early promise, there was no guarantee it would turn out to be effective.
Having previously stopped the virus in its tracks, Australia has seen a surge of new infections in the past month. Nonetheless, its tally of nearly 24,000 cases and 438 deaths is still far fewer than many other developed nations.
In addition to the AstraZeneca deal, Australia said it had also signed a $24.7m (£13.6m) deal with Becton Dickinson, a US medical technology company, to buy 100 million needles and syringes.