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Philippines adds Australia's CSL as potential vaccine source

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines plans to hold talks with Australian biotech giant CSL Ltd and partner University of Queensland, a senior health official said on Monday, as it looks to diversify possible sources for COVID-19 vaccines.

The Philippines, which has the most coronavirus infections and second largest number of COVID-19 deaths in Southeast Asia, has a population of 107 million people, making it a potentially large market for vaccine suppliers.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said government officials would meet representatives of CSL and the University of Queensland, but did not give a timeframe.

CSL, Australia’s largest biotech firm, plans to manufacture two different COVID-19 vaccine candidates, one of which is in partnership with the University of Queensland. The first doses are targeted to reach the market in early 2021.

CSL was not immediately available for comment.

The Philippines is also in talks with the World Health Organization, Russia, China, Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc as it looks to secure a supply of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has promised his country, which has had one of the world’s longest and strictest coronavirus lockdowns, would be “back to normal” by December. He hopes to secure affordable vaccines particularly through his good ties with Russia and China. The Southeast Asian nation, which has more than 237,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, plans to buy 40 million doses worth $400 million for 20 million people.

Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Martin Petty