Australia says it has gained access to a promising coronavirus vaccine and will be able to offer free doses to its entire population of 25 million.
The vaccine is being developed by the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.
If the clinical trials are successful, the deal with AstraZeneca would ensure “early access for every Australian,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
Mr Morrison said vaccinations were likely to be mandatory.
Australia has recorded 450 coronavirus deaths, most of them from an outbreak in the state of Victoria.
Earlier this month, Victoria declared a state of disaster and imposed strict lockdown measures after a surge in infections.
It still has more than 7,000 active cases, but the number of new infections has declined over the past week.
Commitment to manufacture in Australia
The Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine is one of five promising candidates to reach advanced clinical trials, with countries around the world seeking to secure supplies for their own populations.
“If this vaccine proves to be effective, we will make and deliver vaccines immediately on our own and make them free for 25 million Australians,” said Mr Morrison.
The cost of providing the vaccine to the entire population has not yet been determined. Separately, Australia also signed an A $ 25million (£ 13.5million; $ 18million) deal with Becton Dickinson, an American pharmaceutical company, to provide $ 100million needles and syringes.
The deal with AstraZeneca is the first such deal in Australia.
If the trials were successful, Mr Morrison said he hoped the vaccine would be available early next year. Its manufacture would require a few additional months.
Would it be mandatory?
Mr Morrison said he expected an effective vaccine to be “as mandatory as possible,” although his government was still forming its policy.
“There are always exemptions for any vaccine for medical reasons, but that should be the only basis,” he told radio station 3AW.
“We are talking about a pandemic that has destroyed the global economy and killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world, and over 430 Australians here. ”
The country would aim for 95% of the population to be vaccinated, he added.