Australia on Friday canceled a roughly $750 million plan for a large order of a locally developed coronavirus vaccine after the inoculation produced false positive test results for H.I.V. in some volunteers participating in a trial study.
Of the dozens of coronavirus vaccines being tested worldwide, the Australian one was the first to be abandoned. While its developers said the experimental vaccine had appeared to be safe and effective, the false positives risked undermining trust in the effort to vaccinate the public.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday said that his government would compensate for the loss of 51 million doses it had planned to buy from the Australian consortium in part by increasing orders of vaccines made by AstraZeneca and Novavax. The government has said it plans to begin inoculating citizens by March.
“We can’t have any issues with confidence,” he told reporters, “and we are as a nation now, with a good portfolio of vaccines, able to make these decisions to best protect the Australian people.”
Australia’s health minister, Greg Hunt, told reporters that the country still had access to 140 million units of coronavirus vaccines — more than enough to cover its population of about 25 million people.
The Australian setback showed the missteps that can inevitably occur when scientists, during a pandemic that has killed more than 1.5 million people, rush to condense the usual yearslong process to develop vaccines into a matter of months.
The mistake, said John P. Moore, an immunologist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, was an “honest error” that cost money, not human lives.
“I’m sure a lot of people are very embarrassed by it,” Professor Moore said. “It’s not great to be associated with a mistake like this. But when you’re running at 90 miles an hour, sometimes you trip.”