The Australian government has agreed to buy two more Covid-19 vaccines in development, strengthening to 135 million doses the prospective arsenal of the country against the pandemic as it aims to complete a mass inoculation program within months.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government would purchase 40 million Novavax doses of vaccine and 10 million from Pfizer and BioNTech.
That adds to the 85 million doses Australia has already committed to buying from AstraZeneca, and if trials prove successful, CSL Ltd should be successful, bringing the total expected outlay of the country to A$ 3.2 billion ($2.3 billion).
"We don't put all our eggs in one basket," Morrison told Sydney reporters.
The Novavax and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, which will be manufactured in the United States and Europe, will complement the AstraZeneca and CSL products that will be manufactured in Australia, Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
"With a portfolio of four different vaccines, two proteins, one viral vector, and one MRMA, which is the Pfizer vaccine, we are now in a very strong position, and that's the innovative-the world hasn't had an MRMA vaccine before," Hunt told TV broadcaster Nine Network.
In the global race for regulatory approval, the Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, and Novavax vaccines are considered to be among the leading candidates.
Australia expects to receive the first batches of the AstraZeneca vaccine in early 2021 and start a mass rollout in March to be completed by the end of the year if studies prove successful.
If all four vaccines are marketed, Australia and its population of 26 million people will encounter excess doses, even allowing for the need for two doses to be effective for many of the candidates in development.
Australia has said it plans to donate any excess doses to countries on the Pacific Island and has committed to spending around A$ 525 million to ensure full immunization coverage for Pacific nations and East Timor.
Australia is the largest donor of aid to the Pacific islands and has sought to step up its engagement in recent months, out of concern that Chinese aid and financial support may overshadow it.
ZERO LOCAL TRANSMISSION
The announcement of the new planned purchases of vaccines came as Australia recorded no instances of locally transmitted Covid-19 for the second time in a week over the past 24 hours. The country recorded the first day without any local cases since the beginning of June on Sunday.
Thanks to extensive testing, contact tracing, and lockdowns, Australia has reported just over 27,600 coronavirus cases and 907 deaths, far less than most other developed countries.
On Thursday, Qantas Airways said it would increase the number of flights between the states of New South Wales and Victoria after officials on Wednesday announced that border restrictions would be lifted later this month.
From the ten return flights currently operating every week between Sydney and Melbourne, the national carrier will switch to more than 250 weekly flights between the two states. Before the pandemic, the Sydney-Melbourne route was among the busiest in the world.