Australians could receive a free coronavirus jab by early next year, under a hypothetical plan to be put forward as a result of two deals struck by the federal government.
On Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to make announcements about a possible progressive roll-out of British and Queensland-designed COVID-19 vaccines.
But we should not get hopes up just yet. There is still no guarantee the vaccines actually work.
The Oxford vaccine is slated to be available from early 2021 while the University of Queensland version is on track for midyear – if current trials underway are successful.
It follows the government’s initial “letter of intent” signed with the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca, and talks with the University of Queensland and CSL.
Labor was critical of the earlier promises by the government, saying they did not amount to a fully fledged agreement that Australians could rely on.
More than 84.8 million vaccine doses would be manufactured, primarily in Melbourne.
“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,” Mr Morrison said.
“There are no guarantees that these vaccines will prove successful. However, the agreement puts Australia at the top of the queue, if our medical experts give the vaccines the green light.”
The first stage of the agreement would see 3.8 million doses of the University of Oxford vaccine delivered in January and February 2021.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said it would not be mandatory but the government wanted to see as broad coverage of the population as possible.
Both agreements will also allow for doses to be provided to Australia’s partner countries in the Pacific and Southeast Asia.
The University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is in the third phase of trials and is considered one of the best hopes in the world, with regulatory approval expected to be sought shortly.
UQ has recently announced that pre-clinical testing showed the vaccine is promising and already effective in animal models.
Experts believe the vaccination of at least two-thirds of the population will be required to have a chance of halting the spread of COVID-19.
Clusters further north stemmed from Victoria
The national death toll from the coronavirus stands at 753 after Victoria reported an additional five deaths.
There were 75 new cases on Sunday in Australia – 63 in Victoria, 10 in NSW and two in Queensland.
In Queensland, more than 200 Queensland hospital staff remain in COVID-19 isolation as virus clusters linked to two quarantine dodging teens continue to grow.
Outbreaks in two Corrective Services facilities near Brisbane have now infected 83 people.
A nurse working with infected patients at Ipswich Hospital was one two people diagnosed on Sunday. The other is the sister of a student at Staines Memorial College, who was already in quarantine.
“We (also) have 222 staff at the Ipswich hospital in quarantine,” Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young says told reporters.
She said both new cases were part of the outbreaks at the Brisbane Youth Detention Centre and Queensland Corrective Services training centre.
Testing previously found it was likely the clusters were linked to three women who lied on their border declarations after returning from Victoria in July.
“All of our cases are most likely – I don’t have proof – linked to one of three young women who went down to Melbourne,” Dr Young said.
Two Sydney schools close after virus cases
A prestigious Sydney Catholic school is one of two schools forced to close temporarily after students tested positive to COVID-19.
Two year 7 students at Kincoppal-Rose Bay School are among 10 new cases reported in NSW on Sunday, bringing the state’s total to 3925.
NSW Health said cleaning and contact tracing would also take place at Lidcombe Public School in western Sydney after a new case was linked to the school.
Of the new cases, two are under investigation – a man in his 40s from northern Sydney and a child from western Sydney.
Three have been linked to the City Tattersalls Club gym cluster, bringing its total to 64, and one is a contact of a previously reported case.
The other four are returned overseas travellers in hotel quarantine.
Assault charge laid after anti-lockdown rally
A further six people have been charged after small anti-lockdown protests took place on Saturday in the Sydney CBD, western Sydney’s Olympic Park and Byron Bay in northern NSW.
A total of nine people have now been charged over the protests, including a 45-year-old man who allegedly assaulted an officer and a 34-year-old man who allegedly failed to comply with a police direction at Olympic Park.
Four men have been charged in Byron Bay, including a 34-year-old who allegedly assaulted an officer.
Police also handed out 81 fines worth $1000 each for alleged breaches of public health orders at the protests.
Meanwhile, Victoria Police has charged a protester with assault after an officer suffered cuts to the head during an anti-lockdown rally in Melbourne.
A day after police arrested 17 people and dispensing at least 180 fines, another eight people were charged with breaching COVID-19 directions by failing to provide their name and address after about 200 gathered at the Shrine of Remembrance and Albert Park on Saturday.
A 27-year-old Bulleen man was charged with intentionally causing injury and assaulting a police officer. He was bailed to face Melbourne Magistrates Court on March 3.
Seven people who agreed to provide police with their name and address were fined, while a 55-year-old man was charged with breaching a violence intervention order.