SYDNEY - International visitors to Australia may be required to have a vaccination against COVID-19 under government plans. Canberra says it has secured the rights to the Oxford University vaccine in the United Kingdom, which is thought to be one of the front runners in the global race to find an effective treatment.
The Oxford University study is among a crowded international field of teams racing to develop a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine. Usually scientific work of this complexity would take years, but research is being fast-tracked at unprecedented speed.
Australia has signed a deal with British drug maker AstraZeneca to produce and distribute the Oxford vaccine if it works.
All Australians would be offered doses, but a medical panel would determine a priority list of recipients, including health workers and the elderly.
“We have signed a letter of intent with AstraZeneca, which will enable Australia to access should it be successful the vaccine for COVID-19 here in Australia, manufactured here in Australia, distributed free for 25 million Australians in the event that those trials prove successful,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Morrison backtracked after earlier suggesting vaccinations against the coronavirus could become mandatory for Australian citizens. However, government officials have said the vaccine could be compulsory for anyone travelling to Australia if that was the advice from medical experts. Australia’s borders are currently closed to foreign nationals.
Paul Kelly, the nation’s chief medical officer, believes uptake of any vaccine in Australia would be high.
“The first will be a voluntary call for people, and I am sure there will be long queues, socially distanced, of course, for this vaccine, and will be incredibly welcomed by many,” he said. “It will be the absolute ticket to get back to some sort of normal society and the things that we all love and enjoy.”
The aim is for 95% of the population to be inoculated, although experts doubt that figure could be achieved because of concerns in Australia about any new coronavirus drug and the speed at which it has been developed.
Australia was also looking to sign deals with other vaccine developers. Human trials on a potential treatment have started at the University of Queensland. Experts there believe a vaccine will be available for emergency use by the middle of 2021.
Officials in Canberra have said they were in discussions with Australia’s neighbors, including Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji, about supplying a vaccine.
Australia has recorded about 450 coronavirus deaths, most from an outbreak in the state of Victoria.