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Australia Reaches Deal to Secure Millions of Doses of Potential COVID-19 Vaccine   

A general view of AstraZeneca's Sydney headquarters, after PM Scott Morrison announced Australians will be among the first to receive a COVID vaccine, if it proves successful, Aug. 19, 2020. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts via Reuters)

The Australian government has reached a deal to secure 25 million doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine from British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca that is currently undergoing late-stage human trials.

The new vaccine, dubbed AZD1222, was developed by Britain’s University of Oxford and licensed to British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.

“The Oxford vaccine is one of the most advanced and promising in the world," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Wednesday in a statement announcing the deal.” Morrison said if the vaccine passes the human trials, it will be offered for free to every Australian, hopefully by early next year.

But the prime minister said the government is also in talks to secure other potential coronavirus vaccines, including one being developed by domestic drugmaker CSL Limited in cooperation with the University of Queensland, warning “there is no guarantee that this, or any other, vaccine will be successful.”

Morrison also said Australia intends to play a role in “supporting our Pacific family” by supplying a safe and effective vaccine to its regional neighbors, including Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

The deal between the Australian government and AstraZeneca comes as authorities in southern Victoria state are dealing with an escalating surge of COVID-19 infections that has forced a strict lockdown of Melbourne, Victoria’s state capital.

In the US, universities go online

In the United States, the University of Notre Dame, one of the nation’s prestigious universities, announced Tuesday it is switching from in-person instruction to online classes for two weeks due to a growing outbreak of COVID-19 cases on its South Bend, Indiana campus. The school reported Tuesday 147 people have tested positive since students began returning on August 3 for the start of fall classes, including 80 who tested positive just on Monday.

The Rev. John I. Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame, warned students that they would be sent home and the campus shut down entirely, as it was earlier this year at the start of the pandemic, if the outbreak continued to spread.

And Michigan State University president Samuel L. Stanley said Tuesday that it would be offering online classes for nearly all of its undergraduate students when the fall semester begins on September 2.

Notre Dame and Michigan State University are the latest in a growing list of colleges and universities in the United States that have shut down in-person classes in favor of virtual learning due to the pandemic.

Officials at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill became the first large school in the nation to shut down on-campus learning after 177 students tested positive for the coronavirus and another 350 were in quarantine in dorms and off-campus housing because of possible exposure.

Some of the college campus outbreaks have been blamed on students who have participated in large off-campus parties or events without observing guidelines such as social distancing or wearing masks.