Australia has added a new coronavirus vaccine to its trouble-plagued national rollout and is in negotiations to eventually manufacture the jab onshore.
In a surprise announcement overnight, the United States-based pharmaceutical giant Moderna revealed it had struck an agreement with the Morrison government to supply 10 million doses this year and 15 million booster shots in 2022.
Moderna will submit an application for regulatory approval to the Therapeutic Goods Administration “shortly”.Credit:Bloomberg
The Moderna vaccine is being widely used in the US, Canada, Europe, United Kingdom, Israel, Japan and Singapore.
“We appreciate the partnership and support from the government of Australia with this first supply agreement for doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and our variant booster candidates,” Stéphane Bancel, the company’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.
The 15 million booster shots scheduled for 2022 will be tweaked to respond to any new COVID-19 variants that may weaken the impact of existing vaccines.
Bancel revealed for the first time that Moderna was in discussions with the Australian government about “establishing potential local manufacturing opportunities”. It is also working to create an Australian subsidiary, which would pave the way for local production.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt bet heavily on producing AstraZeneca – the bulk of Australia’s vaccine supply – in Melbourne, but those plans were thrown into chaos in early April when experts told the government the product should not be used on most under 50s given the extremely rare risk of developing blood clots.
Australia swiftly boosted its supply of the Pfizer vaccine within days of that decision but has been in negotiations with Moderna for several weeks.
Information accidently published by a European Union official late last year revealed the bloc paid $US18 ($23.22) for each dose of the Moderna vaccine.
Each AstraZeneca dose is thought to cost only $2 to $3 because the drug giant is making the vaccine at cost under an agreement with its creators at the University of Oxford.
Unlike the AstraZeneca vaccine, Pfizer and Moderna use so-called mRNA technology.
mRNA vaccines use genetic code from part of a virus to teach the body to recognise invasive organisms and fight them, whereas adenovirus vaccines like AstraZeneca use a genetically modified animal virus to do the same thing.
There are no concerns over the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine – studies in the UK show it is about as good as protecting from severe disease and death as Pfizer – but authorities do worry about a small number of blood clots found in people in Europe and the United States after receiving their first dose.
It would likely take two years before any Moderna vaccine could roll off the production line in Australia because no local manufacturers have the capacity to handle mRNA technology.
Tuesday’s federal budget contained an extra $1.9 billion for Australia’s vaccine program. Some of this money is expected to help subsidise the cost of setting up onshore mRNA manufacturing.
The vast majority of Moderna’s supply is currently made in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Morrison on Wednesday ducked questions about when Australia’s vaccine rollout would be completed and would not commit to offering two jabs to all citizens by the end of the year.
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