Why Australia just canceled an order for 51 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine


Australia canceled an order for 51 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine being developed by CSL Ltd. and the University of Queensland after trials ran into difficulties.

The government said Friday it’s replacing most of the CSL doses with more purchases of other planned vaccines. Australia has ordered an extra 20 million shots being developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca Plc, and 11 million more Novavax Inc. doses, the government said.

The CSL failure shows that despite the groundbreaking progress by Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. in producing an inoculation, the path to a successful vaccine remains difficult. Australia’s government had already sought to spread that risk by ordering shots from Pfizer and BioNTech SE, Novavax and AstraZeneca.

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Even without CSL’s doses, more than 140 million units of vaccines will be available in Australia, Health Minister Greg Hunt said. The country is home to about 26 million people. “This is one of the highest ratios of vaccine purchases and availability to population in the world,” Hunt said. “So we’re in a strong position.”

CSL said it would not progress to phase 2/3 clinical trials. It said a small component of the vaccine comes from the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, and while that posed no risk of infection, some trial participants had false positive tests for HIV.

The potential for this to happen was anticipated before the trial, and participants had been pre-warned, CSL said.

“It is generally agreed that significant changes would need to be made to well-established HIV testing procedures in the health-care setting to accommodate rollout of this vaccine,” the company said.

CSL shares fell 3.2% to A$291.78 at 12:37 p.m. in Sydney. The stock is up almost 6% this year.

Vaccines are proving key to reopening the world economy nine months into the worst pandemic in a generation. The U.K. and U.S. have approved the Pfizer shot, and other countries are scrambling to secure deals and authorize vaccines for public use.

For Australia, yet to sign off on any shot, a widely distributed inoculation would allow the country to ease some of the most restrictive border curbs in the world.

Professor Paul Young from the University of Queensland said that although it was possible to re-engineer the vaccine, the team didn’t have the luxury of time. “Doing so would set back development by another 12 or so months, and while this is a tough decision to take, the urgent need for a vaccine has to be everyone’s priority.”

More health care and Big Pharma coverage from Fortune:

  • A depleted workforce and no end in sight: An inside look at America’s ailing health care industry
  • Getting to the COVID-19 finish line: A drama in three acts
  • The science behind the leading COVID vaccines will lead to faster manufacturing
  • How China’s COVID-19 vaccines could fill the gaps left by Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca
  • Who gets first dibs on a COVID-19 vaccine? The U.K.’s historic rollout reveals who gets precedence

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