Scientists all over the world are attempting to develop a vaccine for SARS-Cov2, the virus that causes Covid-19, which, at the time of writing, has infected just over 22,638,000 people and killed 792,106 of them1. One of the most promising vaccines, apparently, is being developed at Oxford University, and the Covid-19 vaccine trial is being run by the Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group. The team, who started work on developing a vaccine for the virus on 20th January 2020 is led by Professors Sarah Gilbert, Andrew Pollard, Teresa Lambe, Catherine Green, Adrian Hill and Dr Sandy Douglas2.
AstraZeneca PLC is a British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical company headquartered in Cambridge, England. The company was founded in 1999 by the merger of the Swedish Astra AB and the British Zeneca Group3. AstraZeneca are collaborating with the University of Oxford to accelerate the development and global distribution of this possible new vaccine4. The company has reached an agreement with Europe’s Inclusive Vaccines Alliance (IVA), led by Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands, to supply up to 400 million doses of the possible vaccine. The IVA aims to accelerate the supply of the vaccine, if and when it proves effective and safe, to make it available to other European countries that wish to participate. AstraZeneca is attempting to expand manufacturing capacity further and aims to collaborate with other companies in order to meet its stated commitment to provide access to the vaccine at no profit during the pandemic5.
On the 19th of August, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that “Australians will be among the first in the world to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, if it proves successful, through an agreement between the Australian Government and UK-based drug company AstraZeneca. Under the deal, every single Australian will be able to receive the University of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine for free, should trials prove successful, safe and effective”. However, it is only later in this announcement that you find that this is solely a ‘letter of intent’ which is hardly any sort of ‘agreement’6. This overstatement by Morrison prompted AstraZeneca to come out on the same day to clarify that no such ‘deal’ actually exists, and that it was only a ‘letter of intent’ which had been signed by the two parties. The discrepancy between the two is more than just semantics. While Morrison’s initial language suggested there was a formal agreement in place, a letter of intent is more a non-binding indication of interest. An AstraZeneca spokesperson has said the letter of intent “doesn’t go into any detail about costs or numbers or anything”7. So, Morrison’s ‘25 million doses’ is spin at best; and equine ordure at worst.
In Morrison’s original announcement of the vaccine for Australia he said that taking the vaccine would be “as mandatory as you can possibly make it”. And that “there are always exemptions for any vaccine on medical grounds, but that should be the only basis”. However, not long after that, he backtracked8. Why would he backtrack? Because he, or someone in his office, realised that so many of his fruitcake QAnon supporters are also antivaxxers9,10, and enforcing any sort of vaccination would send them berserk, because these QAnon antivaxxers believe that Bill Gates wants to include a tiny computer chip in the vaccine which they believe is there to control their minds11 (yes, seriously).
As with many of Morrison’s announcements, there is little substance behind them. However, on the lighter side, this announcement is not as late as Morrison’s usually are. The agreement has actually been announced before the agreement exists. The government are usually late in their responses, being, reactive rather than ‘proactive’, and are usually concerned more with image management, partisan messaging12 or using the announcements as a distraction for something else which has come back to bite them, such as the current murderous aged care debacle.