Free COVID vaccine for Aussies ‘next year’
All Australians will be able to access any COVID-19 vaccine free-of-charge under a national rollout, Health Minister Greg Hunt revealed as he said it was increasingly likely not one but several vaccines will be developed.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said it remained unlikely a vaccine would be developed this year, but there is now a "ray of hope" that one can be produced.
"For the first-time I'm cautiously, but realistically optimistic about the search for and ability to distribute a vaccine," he said.
"It's unlikely that it will be just one, it's likely that it will be many."
But Labor criticised the government for being too slow to act, saying 20 other countries had already secured deals with vaccine suppliers.
It follows The Sunday Mail revealing Australia is days away from securing a deal to produce one in Australia.
Mr Hunt said Australia had signed two nondisclosure agreements with companies and was "in one of the best positions of any country in the world".
He said his renewed optimism came from advice from the acting chief medical officer, as well as other health experts, about the data coming out of the research around the world.
"We are now far more likely than not to have genuine vaccines that are available," he said.
There remain questions on whether it will be a full-vaccine, like those which eradicated smallpox, or a partial-vaccine like flu shots.
But the Health Minister confirmed that should a vaccine be found, it would be federally funded so all Australians could access it without being out-of-pocket.
"Our goal is really simple. A nationally-funded, whole-of-population vaccine," he said.
"That's fundamental in everything that's being done."
He said next year was the most likely time frame for a successful vaccine to be available.
"All our advice has been 2021 is the most likely, if anything occurs before the end (of 2020) then that would be an outstanding result, not just for Australia, but for the world," Mr Hunt said.
Opposition Health spokesman Chris Bowen questioned claims Australia was "in one of the best positions" to secure a vaccine early.
"There are 20 such agreements around the world already in place which have accounted for approximately 3 billion doses of the vaccine. So Australia comes to this very late," he said.
"A vaccine does not save lives. Vaccinations save lives and we need, when the vaccine is proven and available, Australians to have access to that vaccine.
"We need at least 60 per cent of the population to be vaccinated as soon as possible and
of course in due course, every Australian to be vaccinated for COVID-19 when that vaccine is available."
Originally published as Free COVID vaccine for Aussies 'next year'