British-based AstraZeneca is developing the vaccine in partnership with Oxford University, with advanced trials now underway with thousands of volunteers across multiple countries.
Under the deal, the Australian government would manufacture the vaccine and offer free doses to all citizens.
"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," said Prime Minister Scott Morrison in a statement released late Tuesday local time. "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."
"However there is no guarantee that this, or any other, vaccine will be successful, which is why we are continuing our discussions with many parties around the world while backing our own researchers at the same time to find a vaccine," he added.
Speaking on Wednesday, Morrison acknowledged that there were "big hurdles" in producing a successful vaccine but said the AstraZeneca-Oxford University project is "one of the best prospects in the world today."
The deal is still in early stages, with both parties having signed a Letter of Intent. A final formal agreement at a later stage will lay out more concrete details like pricing and distribution. However, the Australian government has previously indicated that it will spend billions of dollars on its vaccine strategy.
Speaking to a local radio station, Morrison said Australia would have a target of 95% vaccination, which would account for people with health conditions that prevented them being vaccinated. "I would expect it to be as mandatory as you could possibly make it," he told Melbourne radio station 3AW.
However, he later clarified his comments, telling a Sydney radio station that the government would not make vaccination mandatory. "Nobody's going to force anybody to do anything as a compulsory measure, but we will certainly be encouraging people to take this up," he told the 2GB station.
The AstraZeneca vaccine
AstraZeneca released early results of its closely watched Phase 1/2 trial in late July, which suggested that its vaccine candidate was safe and induces an immune response.
The Phase 2/3 trials will now aim to prove whether the vaccine protects people against the novel coronavirus. Results are expected later this year, and will depend on the rate of infection within the trial communities, AstraZeneca said.
The company has already reached agreements with several governments and organizations to produce at least 3 billion doses of the vaccine, with the first deliveries starting as early as September, it said on its website.
The United States has made a deal with AstraZeneca for 300 million doses, delivering as early as October. Other countries that have also made deals for a potential supply include Russia, South Korea, Japan, China and Brazil, the company said. AstraZeneca has also struck a deal with the European Commission to provide up to 400 million doses for all member states of the European Union.
"With production in our European supply chain soon to be started, we hope to make the vaccine available widely and rapidly, with the first doses to be delivered by the end of 2020," said company CEO Pascal Soriot in a statement last week on the EU deal.
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