Australia joins global COVAX pool

Australia joins global COVAX pool

Australia will have access to some of the world's leading COVID-19 vaccine candidates after the Federal Government committed more than $120 million to enter a global vaccine agreement.

The Federal Government has struck a deal to join the global vaccines facility known as COVAX, which is co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO), epidemic response group CEPI and the Vaccine Alliance of Governments and Organisations (GAVI).

COVAX aims to develop at least three safe and effective vaccines that can be made available to those participating in the scheme, and has so far secured funding commitments of $1.4bn. 

Nine candidate vaccines are currently being supported by CEPI; eight of which are currently in clinical trials, it said.

"This is a landmark moment in the history of public health with the international community coming together to tackle this pandemic," said Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI. "The global spread of COVID-19 means that it is only through equitable and simultaneous access to new lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines that we can hope to end this pandemic."

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the Australian Government's initial $123 million investment gave Australia the opportunity to buy doses for up to half the population if one of the vaccines in the scheme was successful, with purchases of doses to be negotiated as potential vaccines are proven to meet safety and effectiveness standards.

But he said the money spent was also a down payment for any future vaccines.

"It gives us a place at the front at the queue, but it also acts as a credit towards any vaccines we may purchase through that facility," he said.

Governments had until September 19 to sign up to COVAX, and the facility will now start signing formal agreements with vaccine manufacturers and developers.

More than 150 countries, representing 64 per cent of the world's population have signed-on to the scheme, which aims to develop and distribute 2 billion doses of safe, effective vaccines by the end of 2021.

"COVID-19 is an unprecedented global crisis that demands an unprecedented global response," the WHO chief said. "Vaccine nationalism will only perpetuate the disease and prolong the global recovery."

"The COVAX Facility will help to bring the pandemic under control, save lives, accelerate the economic recovery and ensure that the race for vaccines is a collaboration, not a contest," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a media briefing.

"COVAX and the idea of equal access to a COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of ability to pay, is not just a moral imperative, it is the only practical solution to this pandemic," Dr Edwin G Dikoloti, Minister of Health and Wellness for Botswana, said in a statement. "Protecting everyone is the only way we can return our world - our trade, tourism, travel, business - to normal. We urge those countries who have not yet signed up to do so. Let us work together to protect each other." 

"COVAX is now in business: governments from every continent have chosen to work together, not only to secure vaccines for their own populations, but also to help ensure that vaccines are available to the most vulnerable everywhere," Gavi CEO Dr Seth Berkley said in a statement.

"With the commitments we're announcing today for the COVAX Facility, as well as the historic partnership we are forging with industry, we now stand a far better chance of ending the acute phase of this pandemic once safe, effective vaccines become available."

The statement said 64 wealthier economies had joined the facility, which aims to bring together both  governments and manufacturers to ensure eventual COVID-19 vaccines reach those in greatest need wherever they are in the world. More were expected to join in the coming days, it added.

The project is to ensure any future vaccine against COVID-19 is fairly shared throughout the world has secured the backing of 156 countries and territories, representing about 64 percent of the global population, but the United States and China have yet to sign up.

The Australian Government has already signed a deal with UK-based drug company AstraZeneca to secure the potential COVID-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University if its trials prove successful.

There are currently more than 160 vaccine candidates in pre-clinical and clinical trials, including 29 undergoing clinical trials in humans.

Several of those are being conducted in Australia, with human trials underway for a potential vaccine developed by the University of Queensland.

Mr Hunt said the Government was not confining its search for a vaccine to just one