SYDNEY • Australia’s leader yesterday called for coronavirus immunisations to be mandatory, as the race to develop a vaccine gathers pace.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he wants all 25 million Australians to get the jab after the country secures access to a vaccine under development.
“There are always exemptions… on medical grounds, but that should be the only basis,” he said.
Australia has signed a deal with British drugmaker AstraZeneca to produce and distribute enough doses of its potential vaccine for the country’s entire population. It will be cost-free to citizens.
The vaccine is being developed by Britain’s University of Oxford and licensed to AstraZeneca.
“Should we be in a position for the trials to be successful, we would hope that this would be made available early next year,” Mr Morrison said. “If it can be done sooner than that, great.”
All Australians will be offered doses but a medical panel will determine the priority list.
“Naturally you would be focusing on the most vulnerable, the elderly, health workers, people with disabilities in terms of the speed of roll-out,” Health Minister Greg Hunt told Sky News.
Health authorities would also take into account where the highest risk of transmission is and how the vaccine works in different age groups when deciding who should get it first, said Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton.
“If it does work and it’s 80 to 90 per cent effective, then absolutely it will be a game changer,” he said, though he cautioned that broad testing was still at a preliminary stage.
Australia’s fresh outbreak of infections in Victoria showed further signs of easing yesterday, allaying fears of a nationwide second wave.
There were 12 deaths and 216 new cases in the past 24 hours, down from more than 700 infections two weeks ago. There were just 12 new cases in three other states.
Mr Morrison said Australia was also looking for other vaccine deals, including with the University of Queensland and its partner, Australian firm CSL.
He said Australia is talking to its Pacific neighbours, including Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji, about supplying the vaccine.
Nations are scrambling to gain access to vaccine contenders in the final stages of clinical trials.
Russia on Aug 11 said it had developed the world’s first vaccine offering “sustainable immunity” and was in the final stage of human testing. But the news was met with scepticism by the World Health Organisation, which said it still needed a rigorous review.
Scientists also pointed out that Russia’s vaccine had been approved without large-scale trials.
Brazilian health regulators on Tuesday green-lighted the final stage of trials on a vaccine by Johnson & Johnson. The US firm will test its drug on 7,000 volunteers in Brazil, part of a group of up to 60,000 worldwide.
South Africa will this week launch clinical trials of a US-developed vaccine with 2,900 volunteers.
But the push for a vaccine has coincided with a rise in anti-vaccine sentiment that could hinder efforts to encourage widespread uptake.
The global outbreak has seen a sharp rise in online misinformation and opposition, with debate raging over whether vaccine rules impinge on personal freedoms.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS