The Australian government has cancelled 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.

According to a report published on Bloomberg, the government said it will be replacing most of the CSL doses with more purchases of other planned vaccines.

The government said it has ordered an extra 20 million shots being developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca Plc, and 11 million more Novavax Inc. doses.

Even without CSL’s doses, more than 140 million units of vaccines will be available in Australia, a country of about 26 million people, Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Friday.

“This is one of the highest ratios of vaccine purchases and availability to population in the world. So we’re in a strong position,” Mr Hunt 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.

Vaccines are proving key to reopening the world economy nine months into the worst pandemic in a generation.

The UK and US have approved the Pfizer shot, and other countries are scrambling to secure deals and authorise vaccines for public use.

Setback

CSL said it would not progress to phase 2/3 clinical trials of its vaccines.

It said a small component of the vaccine comes from the human immunodeficiency virus (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.

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CSL shares fell 3.2 per cent to Australian $291.78 at 12:37 p.m. in Sydney. The stock is up almost six percent this year.

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.

Paul Young, a professor from the University of Queensland, said 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,” he said.


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