Jane Halton AO is leading on an international coalition to create and fairly distribute a COVID-19 vaccine

Jane Halton AO is leading on an international coalition to create and fairly distribute a COVID-19 vaccine

Jane Halton

As the world races for a COVID-19 vaccine with a number of labs developing and testing varying options, former Australian bureaucrat Jane Halton AO is leading a global push to make it happen and get it fairly distributed.

Halton is the former head of the health department in Australia and in 2018 became the inaugural chair of the Bill Gates-backed Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). In March, she also became one of just two women appointed to the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission,

The CEPI wants to ensure that any successful vaccine is fairly distributed across the world’s population. Anything else would be “unacceptable,” Halton told The Guardian this week.

On Monday, the CEPI announced a vaccine development partnership with Clover Biopharmaceuticals Australia, a subsidiary of Sichuan Clover Biopharmaceuticals, Inc (China), to support the preparation and initiation of a phase 1 trial of its protein-based COVID-19 vaccine in Australia. It’s CEPI’s ninth global COVID-19 vaccine development project signed since January 23, and will see Clover receiving US$3.5 million in support. If successful, CEPI says Clover will have the capacity to rapidly scale up the production of the vaccine.

The race to develop the vaccine has been in motion since the outbreak which has now claimed more than 207,000 lives worldwide. 

Some commentators are saying a vaccine might be ready within 18 months, others acknowledge that this is an extremely optimistic forecast. Manufacturers will be unlikely to be able to mass-produce and distribute a vaccine until 2021. Most experts believe the usual timeframe is at least five years and we’re reminded that vaccines have still never been found for some viruses.

Halton studied psychology at the National University of Australia in Canberra after emigrating to Australia from the U.K. She was first appointed Secretary of the new Department of Health and Ageing in 2002 by then Prime Minister John Howard. She was Head of the Department of Health for 12 years, making her one of the longest serving secretaries in the one department, and Head of the Department of Finance for two years.

When in 2016, Halton stepped down from her role as head of the Department of Finance, then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said her “distinguished career at the highest levels of the Australian Public Service made an enormous contribution in public life both nationally and internationally and has been a leader for women in the public sector.”

As the second-ever female departmental head, Helen Williams was the first, 15 years prior, Halton has been a role model for women in senior levels across all industries. In 2014, she told The Mandarin, “If you want it, you can do it. You’ve got to work — it’s not going to be handed to you on a plate — but if you want to get there, you can.” In the same year, she was named one of the top ten on The Australian Women’s Weekly Power List of Australia’s 50 most powerful women.

In 2017, Halton was interviewed by the Sydney Morning Herald about the shortage of women on the Boards of Australian listed companies and rallied for “structural protections for people” to speak out about inequality. 

“You have to be absolutely clear about what is unacceptable,” she said. “There are other ways of doing this that don’t impede your competitiveness,” Halton said. “You need to look at the [pay] package … and how you’ve explained it and how it aligns with your performance.”

Last Week, ANZ Chairman David Gonski spoke of his colleague’s “ colossal appetite for digesting the subtleties of a sector and then coming out with a very reasonable way through.”

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