Australians, along with the rest of humanity, owe a debt of gratitude to the scientific community for its response to the coronavirus pandemic.
When COVID-19 first began to spread just under a year ago there were fears it might not be possible to come up with a vaccine and that the disease, like the Spanish flu epidemic, would have to run its course. Few would have thought that by the end of the year there would be four vaccines on the table. The challenge for world leaders is to ensure this abundance of riches is not wasted and that the whole world, not just the wealthy countries, benefit.
That is what the WHO director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, was getting at on Tuesday after news broke that the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine was performing well.
"The significance of the scientific achievement cannot be overstated," he said. "No vaccines in history have been developed as rapidly as these... the urgency with which the vaccines have been developed must be matched by the same urgency to distribute them fairly".
Dr Ghebreyesus, who has repeatedly said "nobody is safe until everybody is safe", believes the pandemic could be stopped in its tracks in 2021. "There is real hope that vaccines, in combination with other tried and true public health measures, will help end the pandemic".
The need to ensure vaccines were distributed swiftly and equitably was discussed at length during the G20 summit. Nineteen of the 20 world leaders who took part pledged to help poorer countries gain access to vaccines as soon as they became available and issued a communique to that effect.
Donald Trump, despite signing the communique, insisted he would vaccinate Americans first and did not commit to expanding the availability of US vaccines which are expected to be released in December.
That may prove to be a moot point given the Oxford vaccine, which is going to be made available at cost price for the life of the pandemic, seems likely to be rolled out on the largest scale. Unlike the Moderna and PfizerBioNTech vaccines it can be stored and transported at normal refrigerator temperature. It will also be significantly cheaper.
The only fly in the ointment could be pushback from anti-vaxxers, with one recent study suggesting while up to 60 per cent of Australians would definitely get the vaccine, as many as 13 per cent probably wouldn't.
The implications of the Oxford AstraZeneca announcement for Australia are enormous given this country has already managed to spare itself the catastrophic exposure to the virus that has caused havoc in Europe, America and around the world.
With CSL already gearing up to manufacture doses of the vaccine in anticipation of its approval, the elderly, the vulnerable, and emergency workers are expected to start getting jabs as early as March.
Once this, and the other vaccines Australia has signed up for, are rolled out life will start to look a lot more like the "old normal". The only fly in the ointment could be pushback from anti-vaxxers, with one recent study suggesting while up to 60 per cent of Australians would definitely get the vaccine, as many as 13 per cent probably wouldn't. The survey found women, people living in disadvantaged areas, and those with more populist views and stronger religious beliefs were more likely to be hesitant.
Given the vaccination take-up rates for ordinary childhood diseases is much higher than this at 92 per cent, bolstered by the government adopting a carrot and stick approach around child support payments being tied to vaccination compliance, it remains to be seen if these figures hold up once the question ceases to be a hypothetical.
While the government has said it won't make COVID-19 vaccination compulsory, it has a wide range of tools at its disposal to incentivise the process.