Vaccine deal is just days away

Australia is just days away from locking in a deal to potentially produce a coronavirus vaccine, if final phase trials are successful at combating the deadly virus.

The Sunday Telegraph has confirmed the federal government is in the final stages of negotiations with a major vaccine manufacturer - believed to be UK pharmaceutical giant ­AstraZeneca - to produce doses of a vaccine in Australia.

It comes just days after Mexico and Argentina reached similar agreements to produce the drugmaker's promising COVID-19 vaccine, designed by Oxford University.

A final proposal is expected to go before the powerful Expenditure Review Committee within days and ­ sources are confident a contract will be signed within a fortnight.

It is understood the ­government wants to use local facilities to produce the vaccine, with auditors currently reviewing as many as 30 ­potential sites.

Health Minister Greg Hunt told The Sunday Telegraph he was "increasingly optimistic" about the prospect of a vaccine.

The government has faced criticism for failing to sign contracts with big pharmaceutical companies when other nations including the US, UK and Japan have already reached agreements.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt denies Australia is lagging in the race to produce vaccines. Picture: James Ross/AAP
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt denies Australia is lagging in the race to produce vaccines. Picture: James Ross/AAP

One pharmaceutical industry insider told The Sunday Telegraph Australia was at risk of being "at the begging bowl" by failing to lock in a supply of a vaccine.

"This should have happened months ago," one source said.

But Mr Hunt rejected the accusation, claiming there was no queue and Australia was advanced in its discussions.

Experts believe a COVID-19 vaccine could be on the market within months, with researchers from Oxford University to report on clinical trials in September.

The Oxford vaccine is being produced in partnership with AstraZeneca, which has already announced deals with the UK, US, Brazil and Japan.

Australia is believed to have used a secret weapon in negotiations with the company, with senior ministers dealing directly with AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Sorio, who is an Australian citizen.

 

Mr Sorio is also a board member of Australia's biggest health company CSL, which is understood to be discussing local manufacturing options.

A spokeswoman for AstraZeneca said the pharmaceutical giant was "leveraging its own industrial capacity as well as working with a number of partners to establish parallel supply chains in record time".

Australia is also expected to boost its commitment to the World Health Organisation-led COVAX body, described as an international buyers club which will allow countries to pool funds to access successful vaccines.


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