Vaccine deal gets further shot in the arm

An Oxford COVID-19 vaccine is slated for early 2021 and a UQ version is on track for mid-year.
An Oxford COVID-19 vaccine is slated for early 2021 and a UQ version is on track for mid-year.

Australians could get access to coronavirus vaccines next year after the federal government secured deals to deliver two promising candidates.

The Oxford vaccine is slated to be available from early 2021, while the University of Queensland version is on track for mid-year.

It follows the government's initial "letter of intent" signed with the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca, and talks with the University of Queensland/CSL.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison unveiled the $1.7 billion plan on Monday, saying he was hopeful Australians would start receiving vaccinations early next year.

"Australia needs some hope today. Particularly in Victoria, they need some hope today," he told reporters in Canberra.

"We don't expect this will be the last decision we make in this area, but these are the two best prospects."

The University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is in the third phase of trials and is considered one of the best hopes in the world, with regulatory approval expected to be sought shortly.

UQ has recently announced that pre-clinical testing showed the vaccine is promising and already effective in animal models.

Russell Basser, a senior executive at CSL's research arm Seqiris, said the UQ vaccine was in the process of moving to the next stage of clinical trials.

He said other leading candidates, including the Oxford research, were more advanced.

"We're not at the frontline. We're sort of at the front of the middle pack," he told reporters.

The vaccine will be tested on about 30,000 people in countries with high infection rates including the US, European countries and potentially Latin America.

"We need to go to countries where there is quite a lot of virus," Dr Basser said.

The UQ vaccine uses more traditional immunisation technology. However, the Oxford/AstraZeneca treatment applies new methods not yet used in commercially available products.

It is also unclear if either will wear off over time.

"It will take months I hope before we understand whether there's a likelihood of further vaccination - maybe even a year or two," Dr Basser said.

"That will be because people who have been vaccinated start to get unwell again, but hopefully we don't see that."

Health Minister Greg Hunt plans to this week speak with religious leaders to allay fears about nature of the research and give assurances vaccines will be voluntary.

He said it would not be mandatory but the government wanted to see as broad coverage of the population as possible.

The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia is pushing for state and territory governments to pass legislation allowing pharmacists to administer a coronavirus vaccine.

Labor health spokesman Chris Bowen said the government needed to ensure it did not put all of its eggs into one or two baskets, but he welcomed the deals.

Australian Associated Press