COVID-19: Victoria moves to make domestic mRNA vaccine

Acting Victorian Premier James Merlino. Picture: Getty Images
Acting Victorian Premier James Merlino. Picture: Getty Images

The Prime Minister Scott Morrison has welcomed the Victorian government's pledge to commit $50 million to locally produce the Pfizer and Moderna type mRNA type coronavirus vaccines and has flagged Commonwealth support.

With continuing confidence problems with the AstraZeneca vaccine and global vaccine supply problems, Victoria has staked a claim in establishing domestic mRNA vaccine manufacturing capability in Melbourne.

The acting Victorian Premier James Merlino told reporters,"12 months ago would have been the best time to have done this, but the next best time is right now."

"This is a significant announcement, not just for Victoria but for the rest of the nation," he said.

Such a facility would ultimately cost several $100 million and need federal government support and funding.

The Prime Minister has quickly indicated he is on board.

"I think it is great," Mr Morrison told reporters on Wednesday.

"I welcome states and territories as well as the Commonwealth also will be moving in this area."

But the Prime Minister warned that domestic manufacture of mRNA, at best, was more than a year away.

"mRNA, no one's going to be in a position to be able to manufacture through mRNA to deal with the needs we have this year," Mr Morrison said.

"A year ago, mRNA vaccines, with were a theory, largely around the world, but COVID and the vaccine of mRNA production has made that a reality now."

"And mRNA vaccines will be important for vaccine development into the future. And Australia is going to be part that. And my government are going to part of that. State governments are going to be part of that."

When established, the Melbourne mRNA facility would be the first in the southern hemisphere. The acting Victorian Premier also warned it would take time, perhaps 12 months, to get it up and running.

Australia produces the AstraZeneca viral vector type vaccine through an agreement with CSL, but is reliant on imports of the Pfizer vaccines and there have been significant delays. Australia does not currently have a deal to import the Moderna vaccine.

"It is going to be a collaborative project with our leading universities," Mr Merlino said.

"Melbourne University, Monash University, with institutes such as the Doherty Institute and other research institutes and of course with the Commonwealth government."

A small number of adverse blood clotting reactions to the AstraZeneca vaccine has lead to the official recommendation that people under the age of 50 get a different dose. But there are supply problems with the Pfizer vaccine.

"Right now we need to do this. We have seen the challenges of global supply. We know the benefits of onshore manufacturing and we know the benefits of this technology," Mr Merlino said.

Labor's health spokesman Mark Butler said the Victorian move shows the Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been too slow to act.

"The Australian Academy of Science and many other experts have been calling for months now for Australia to build an mRNA manufacturing capability here in Australia," he told reporters in Sydney.

"All we have seen in this government is millions of dollars handed over to private consultants to prepare a business case that they won't release to the Australian public but no real action."

Victoria's announcement comes after ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr used Monday's national cabinet meeting to urge the federal government to begin work on locally producing mRNA coronavirus vaccines.

Late last year, the federal government identified onshore production of mRNA vaccines as a national priority and the then Science Minister Karen Andrews said it would take a year at least.

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Andrew Barr on Tuesday said: "We could have been halfway there by now." The acting Victorian Premier agrees.

"12 months ago would have been the best time to have done this, but the next best time is right now," Mr Merlino said

The plan for a Melbourne based mRNA facility is certain to be presented to national cabinet which will meet on Thursday for the second time this week.

The nation's leaders on Monday agreed in principle to bring forward the vaccine rollout for Australians over the age of 50.

National cabinet is also backing the use of mass vaccination centres to speed up the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, after the federal government abandoned earlier targets for its completion.

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This story mRNA all the way: PM flags support for domestic vaccine production first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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