Australia’s prime minister plans to make a coronavirus vaccine mandatory, after the country struck a deal with a pharmaceutical firm to ensure its citizens would get doses for free.
On Wednesday, the government announced it had signed an agreement with U.K. pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca for 25 million doses of a vaccine being developed at the University of Oxford.
In a statement, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: “There is no guarantee that this, or any other, vaccine will be successful, which is why we are continuing our discussions with many parties around the world while backing our own researchers at the same time to find a vaccine.”
Speaking on the 3AW radio station Tuesday, he said a potential vaccine would be “as mandatory as you can possibly make it” and that every Australian would be eligible.
Morrison said he hoped to get 95 percent coverage, but that “there are always exemptions for any vaccine on medical grounds, but that should be the only basis.”
He said: “We’re talking about a pandemic that has destroyed the global economy and taken the lives of hundreds of thousands all around the world.”
Asked whether he expected resistance to the plan, he said that issue would be taken as and when it presented itself.
Morrison said he did not know how much a vaccine program would cost, but did not anticipate it to be billions of dollars.
Over half a year into the pandemic, there are currently no proven vaccines against the virus, which has infected over 22.1 million people, and killed more than 781,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. Australia has reported almost 24,000 cases and 450 deaths. That is in contrast to the U.S., which leads the world for both diagnoses and fatalities at more than 5.4 million and 171,000, respectively.
It remained unclear who would get vaccinated first, Morrison told 3AW, but said obvious candidates included healthcare workers and the vulnerable.
Health Minister Greg Hunt told Sky News the government chose AstraZeneca‘s vaccine because it is the leading candidate in terms of how quickly it can come to market, as well as for safety and effectiveness. He said discussions regarding other vaccines are also underway.
A vaccine gives Australians a pathway to “progressively returning our lives to normal” according to Hunt. He said the country was aiming for it to be available in the first half of 2021, but this would be dependent on the progress of trials.
Asked what would happen if a booster shot is needed when the deal includes 25 million doses, Hunt said the government would make sure there are enough for the country’s needs.
“We’ll just keep going until we’ve got the Australian population protected,” he said.
Hunt agreed that 70 percent of the population would need to be vaccinated to “eradicate the virus.”
Meanwhile, in the U.S., Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and White House coronavirus task force member, said he did not envision vaccination being mandated in the U.S.
“I don’t think you’ll ever see a mandating of the vaccine particularly for the general public,” Fauci said during a Healthline town hall on Tuesday. He said it may be possible that those in the medical sector will be required to have it in order to have contact with patients.