The Australian government has locked in a deal to get access to the University of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine as early as January if it is deemed safe and effective.
Australians would receive 3.8million doses of the drug being developed by UK firm AstraZeneca in the first two months of next year.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will on Monday unveil agreements worth $1.7billion with both AstraZeneca and the pharmaceutical firm behind a University of Queensland vaccine to make 84.4million doses if the drugs are approved.
Researchers at the UQ are in early controlled-group stages in the testing of their vaccine – known as phase one – while the University of Oxford scientists are at the more advanced phase-three stage involving 30,000 people.
A chemist is pictured at AstraZeneca’s headquarters in Sydney on August 19. Australians are set to get early access to 3.8million doses of the University of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine as early as January 2021 if it is deemed safe
The early access doses would be given to Australians most vulnerable to the disease first and then front-line healthcare workers.
Meanwhile, the tens of millions of additional doses would be produced primarily in Melbourne and available to the rest of the population ‘progressively’ throughout 2021.
‘Australians will gain free access to a COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 if trials prove successful,’ Mr Morrison said.
‘By securing the production and supply agreements, Australians will be among the first in the world to receive a safe and effective vaccine, should it pass late-stage testing.
‘There are no guarantees that these vaccines will prove successful, however, the agreement puts Australia at the top of the queue if our medical experts give the vaccines the green light.’
The agreement released by the Federal Government on Sunday said 33.8million of the doses would be for the Oxford vaccine and 51million would be the UQ version.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison at AstraZeneca headquarters in Sydney in August. He said Australia would be the ‘first in the world’ to gain access to a ‘safe and effective’ vaccine if they are found to be safe
Late last month, volunteers aged 56 and over were urged to help with the next phase of human trials for the UQ’s COVID-19 vaccine.
The tests would gauge if the vaccine is safe for older people, virologist and project co-leader Professor Paul Young said.
‘As most people are now aware, COVID-19 appears to have a higher degree of disease severity in older individuals,’ he said.
‘By conducting this expanded safety study, we’ll be able to gather key data to support the large-scale efficacy trials.’
UQ is recruiting 48 volunteers between 56-65 years of age and another 48 volunteers aged 66 years and over.
The team was aiming to start the new trials within three weeks, with volunteers required to make nine visits for two doses and ‘regular bleeds’.
The global progress in vaccine development comes as Melbournites were told they would remain under coronavirus lockdown until at least October 26. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has outlined a four-step plan for the state to return to normality if case numbers continue to fall.
From September 14, the nightly curfew will start an hour later at 9pm and run until 5am.
Pictured: The development of the University of Oxford vaccine. The Australian government has also announced an agreement to make 33.8million doses of the Oxford vaccine domestically
People living alone can nominate a friend or family member who can visit them and two hours of daily exercise will be allowed, including ‘social interactions’ such as having a picnic at a local park or reading a book at the beach.
Further restrictions could be eased from September 28 and the government will consider lifting the curfew entirely from October 26, depending on case numbers.
‘We can’t run out of lockdown. We have to take steady and safe steps out of lockdown to find that COVID normal,’ Mr Andrews said on Sunday.
Under Mr Andrews’ roadmap out of lockdown, residents will have to wait until November 23 for all retail stores to reopen.
UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND’S PIONEERING ‘MOLECULAR CLAMP’ TECHNOLOGY FIGHTING COVID-19
The university received a request from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to use its newly patented DNA-based molecular clamp technology to fast-track the vaccine after the virus hit Australia’s shores in January.
A team of 20 researchers have spent the last 15 months preparing for a ‘rapid response’.
The technology uses the DNA sequence of the coronavirus released by China to produce a protein that’s the same as the one on the surface of the actual virus.
That protein will be the essence of the vaccine, capable of generating immune system responses that protect people.
The vaccine was developed using molecular clamp technology that locks the ‘spike’ protein into a shape