The Morrison government has announced a deal to supply Australians with the possibility of a COVID vaccine, subjecting the nation to a dose of déjà vu.
Here we go again. The Australian government has apparently finalised a deal to produce two potential COVID-19 vaccines, closing the deal that Scott Morrison said was done back in August. According to The Guardian, “The $1.7bn agreement will see two vaccines, being developed by the University of Oxford and the University of Queensland, manufactured in Australia and provided free to all Australians. The first doses could be available by January 2021.”
But, like everything of late, it’s best we don’t inadvertently step in the marketing bull plop. Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies has taken aim at leaders hitching their wagons to a vaccine solving the issue. Raising expectations and rushing new drugs into production risks damaging public trust in any vaccination programmes that eventually arrive, he wrote in The Observer. Farrar also warned against “vaccine nationalism”, calling for an even distribution of any vaccine, instead of a nation’s wealth dictating where they stood in the queue.
In a statement, the prime minister said: “Australians will gain free access to a Covid-19 vaccine in 2021 if trials prove successful.”
“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,” Morrison said.
The other danger, is naked political point-scoring. Morrison drew criticism from many when the deal was initially announced, with Chris Bowen, the Shadow Minister for Health writing on Twitter, “The Prime Minister says Australia has a COVID vaccine agreement with AstraZeneca. AstraZeneca says we don’t. Tip for @ScottMorrisonMP: you can’t do a victory lap if you haven’t even finished the race.”
As Andrew Wicks noted in The Big Smoke back in August, securing a free vaccine for every Australian isn’t a Morrison government policy, he’s utilising a provision that is already in place. The National Immunisation Program provides free vaccines to ‘eligible citizens’. The kicker, that program was introduced in 1997.
Greg Hunt said on Sunday night: “Any decisions regarding vaccines will be based on the advice of the Australian technical advisory group on immunisation and other experts, and will be contingent on a vaccine meeting all requirements with regard to testing and safety.”
“While the government supports immunisation, it is not mandatory and individuals maintain the option to choose not to vaccinate,” the health minister said.