State injects $50m to develop local mRNA vaccines

April 29, 2021 BY

Geelong's Specialist Family Violence Court would be built here, at the Geelong Law Courts building. Photo: MAGISTRATES COURT OF VICTORIA

The state government is injecting $50 million into supporting Melbourne-based efforts to create and manufacture a mRNA vaccine like the Pfizer jabs being used against COVID-19.

Last week, Acting Premier James Merlino said his government would work closely with the federal government and experts from Monash University, the University of Melbourne, The Doherty Institute and other leading research institutes to develop the first mRNA manufacturing capability in the Southern Hemisphere.

The state government says mRNA vaccines are a promising alternative to traditional vaccines because of their high efficacy, capacity for rapid development, low-cost manufacture, and safe administration.

The mRNA COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are a recent successful example, but both of these are manufactured in Europe and the United States and must (in Pfizer’s case) be imported into Australia.

Developing mRNA manufacturing capability locally in Victoria would provide vaccine security, ensuring manufacturing can be contracted locally to avoid global supply chain issues and creating a more robust defence against future pandemics.

“It’s vital that we can develop and manufacture mRNA vaccines and treatments locally to ensure we have vaccine security here in Australia and across our region,” Mr Merlino said.

Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy Jaala Pulford said Victoria already had the strongest mRNA capability in the country, with funding committed to help establish the Australian Institutes for Infectious Diseases, and the only cell-based influenza vaccine manufacturing facility in the Southern Hemisphere.

“This investment will give our researchers the support they need to expand that capability,” Ms Pulford said.

Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout is also changing again.

Earlier this month, the Victorian Government opened the mass-vaccination hubs (including in at the old Ford Factory site in North Geelong) to anyone over the age of 70 and removed the pause on giving the AstraZeneca vaccine to people under 50.

Last week, National Cabinet endorsed a plan to expand population groups eligible for the vaccine.

As a result, Victorians aged over 50 will be able to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine at Victoria’s high-volume sites from Monday, May 3, or from their local GP from May 17.

The Victorian Government also announced it would open three more high-volume hubs: the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital and Sunshine Hospital on Friday last week; the Mercure Ballarat on Monday this week; and a third that is yet to be revealed.

“We had strong numbers yesterday (April 21) and we look forward to seeing a steady build-up of appointments over the coming days and weeks for those Victorians who are eligible, including those aged over 50 in the coming weeks,” Victorian Minister for Health Martin Foley said.

“While there are more options for the public to get vaccinated, we still encourage Victorians to get vaccinated locally at their GP if that is where they feel most comfortable.”

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