A national vaccine plan - is it a few months late?

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The Australian government says it is in discussions with companies regarding 'advance purchase agreements' of potential COVID-19 vaccines.

Prime minister Scott Morrison released the government's 'COVID-19 Vaccine and Treatment Strategy' late last week.

It is closely aligned to plans developed and issued by other countries. It is just that many other countries issued the plans several months ago and have already acted on them.

The government's plan did not disclose any financial commitment.

The US initiated its plan, which subsequently became the US$10 billion 'operation warp speed' initiative, in mid-April.

The UK secured its first 'advance purchase agreement' of an investigative vaccine in mid-May with other countries securing hundreds of millions of doses in June and July.

The Australian plan includes "advance purchase agreements to secure direct purchase of vaccine or treatment doses."

The government is yet to announce any "advance purchase agreements" and it unclear when Australia could even secure supply. Other countries have so far signed over 20 deals securing around three billion doses between now and the end of 2021.

It is understood many companies are also sitting on already signed but yet-to-be-announced agreements with other countries and international organisations. 

Companies with COVID-19 vaccines in development have told BioPharmaDispatch contact with Australian government officials has been inconsistent at times, to the extent some have said their own representatives have had to initiate and maintain contact.

A significant challenge is Australia's small market size and its failure to act in the early weeks of the pandemic as other countries combined to direct over US$12 billion in accelerating the development of a vaccine. 

The country's best chance to secure timely access to a vaccine could be for the government to fund CSL to license and manufacture one of the leading overseas candidates.

CSL is working with the University of Queensland and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations on the development of a recombinant vaccine. The vaccine is in early clinical trials but is behind some of the candidates in development overseas.

CSL has said it is "exploring ways" to produce another vaccine. It could manufacture the adenovirus viral vector vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and The University of Oxford, or another similar vaccine, but it has effectively ruled out repurposing one of its facilities to produce an mRNA vaccine.

The Australian plan also includes manufacturing agreements and the potential to expand domestic capability and capacity.