Australia close to deal to produce Covid-19 vaccine

Healthcare workers at a popup Covid-19 testing clinic in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, on Aug 14, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG) - Australia said it is close to reaching a deal to produce a Covid-19 vaccine, as the country struggles to contain spiralling infections in Victoria, a state that has seen renewed lockdown measures.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Sunday (Aug 16) that the Australian government is in advanced negotiations with different companies. Victoria state reported 279 new infections in the past 24 hours and 16 deaths.

Mr Hunt told both Sky News and The Sunday Telegraph he was genuinely optimistic that a vaccine would be internationally available by next year.

The federal government is in the final stages of negotiations with a major vaccine manufacturer, believed to be British drugmaker AstraZeneca, to produce doses of the vaccine in Australia, The Sunday Telegraph reported.

Australia would join Mexico and Argentina in reaching an agreement to produce the treatment being developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford. The vaccine is among the leaders in the race to develop an immunisation against the coronavirus pandemic that's killed more than 768,000 people worldwide.

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

The government wants to use local facilities to produce the vaccine, with as many as 30 potential sites being reviewed, according to the newspaper.

AstraZeneca's chief executive officer Pascal Soriot is a pending board member of Australia's biggest health company, CSL.

Australia was making significant progress in negotiating access to various potential vaccines and would ideally manufacture any candidate onshore through CSL, Mr Hunt told Sky News.

"We are very fortunately placed due to years and years of preparation, with regard to having the national reserves facility which CSL operates," Mr Hunt said.

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