Australia

Australia tipped to join global coronavirus vaccine body

Australia is expected to imminently join a global body to ensure citizens get access to any coronavirus vaccine developed around the world.

At the moment, Australia has only given an in-principle commitment to join the World Health Organisation-led COVAX body, with no money attached to the pledge.

But a government source said a full-blown commitment to the group could come as early as next week.

Health department boss Brendan Murphy says the government is actively considering the scale of its membership at the moment.

Department of Health secretary Brendan Murphy insists the government is serious about gaining access to any coronavirus vaccine.

Department of Health secretary Brendan Murphy insists the government is serious about gaining access to any coronavirus vaccine.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

"This is a serious issue and government is very committed to making substantial further contributions," he told a Senate committee examining the COVID-19 response.

"We have expressed our strong desire to be part of COVAX and this is all they wanted initially."

But pressed for further details, he couldn't give any more, saying only that decisions and announcements were a matter for government.

"Minister [Greg] Hunt has said that we’re a leading contributor and you can’t even tell me whether we’re a formal member of the vehicle that is designed to ensure that there’s access to a vaccine once its developed?" Greens senator Richard Di Natale asked.

Professor Murphy said the senator was putting him "in a very difficult position" with the line of questioning.

COVAX promises to deliver member countries vaccines as soon as they are available, with enough doses for at least a fifth of their population.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week that Australia was positioning itself to make sure it was able to manufacture and supply vaccines to combat the virus.

He urged all countries to make any vaccine they developed available without restraint, saying they would be "judged terribly by history" if not.

There are more than 160 coronavirus vaccine candidates in development around the world, including a joint initiative between global biotech firm CSL and the University of Queensland that is considered a frontrunner.

The government has given $15 million to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, an international foundation led by former senior public servant Jane Halton.

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