Government pushing for Australian manufacture of vaccine

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The federal government is working on plans that could enable any COVID-19 vaccine to be manufactured in Australia, according to industry minister Karen Andrews.

There are almost 100 potential COVID-19 vaccines currently in development across the world with a small number already in early-stage human trials.

A number of global biopharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, are developing potential vaccines and significantly expanding their manufacturing capacity to meet what will certainly be very high demand for any approved product.

Minister Andrews said a vaccine is critical to any return to "normal" and a lasting exit from social distancing restrictions. However, she said an approved vaccine could be 10-15 months away.

“It’s entirely possible that by the end of this year or early next year we will have a vaccine for COVID-19. That’s particularly important because, quite frankly, until such time as we have a vaccine, life is not going to return to normal,” she said.

"There are now about 100 vaccines being tested globally, and as we're all very well aware, to establish and test a vaccine often takes many, many years. CSIRO is doing all that it can to fast track that development now. They are currently testing two vaccines: one is from the United States and one is from the United Kingdom."

Minister Andrews also said the federal government is working to ensure any vaccine could be manufactured “right here in Australia”.

However, it is unclear whether Australia currently has the capacity or technological capability to manufacture millions of doses of any approved vaccine. There is also the question of intellectual property and the ownership of any vaccine.

Global demand for a vaccine is likely to significantly exceed production, at least initially, and countries may be forced to aggressively compete for supply in the absence of domestic manufacturing capability.

Ultimately, the federal government may need to engage global biopharmaceutical companies in advance of any approved vaccine and provide a financial commitment in return for guaranteed supply.

A conference of the European Union has already pledged 8 billion to the development and manufacture of a vaccine. Australia has committed $352 million to the fund.