Victoria, a state in south-east Australia, will become the first place in the southern hemisphere to manufacture mRNA vaccines after the Victorian Government secured a deal with the Australian Government and pharmaceutical and biotechnology company Moderna on Tuesday.
The new manufacturing facility is expected to be able to produce 100 million mRNA vaccine doses per year by 2024.
Under the deal, Australians will be given priority access to any vaccines made in the new facility, a move the Australian Government says will give vaccine security to the 25 million-strong population in the face of future pandemics and other illnesses like the seasonal flu.
"Developing mRNA manufacturing capability in Victoria will provide vaccine security, ensuring manufacturing can be contracted locally to avoid global supply chain issues and creating a more robust defence against future pandemics,” a Victorian Government press release wrote.
The facility is also expected to produce Moderna’s mRNA COVID-19 vaccine from 2024.
Victoria’s world class medical research expertise secures @moderna_tx base to manufacture mRNA vaccines and treatments locally. Huge boost for vaccine security in 🇦🇺 and our region. @JaalaPulford@GregHuntMP@AAMRI_Aus@RealOzSAGE@KnowC19_Burnetpic.twitter.com/NqHObugHto— Burnet Institute (@BurnetInstitute) December 13, 2021
Acting Victorian Premier James Merlino said the new vaccine hub would also be excellent for Australia’s closest neighbours.
"This is a huge announcement not just for Victoria, but the whole country — being able to manufacture mRNA vaccines and treatments locally will lock in vaccine security both on our shores and across our region,” Merlino said in a statement.
Global Citizen has long called for Australia to work toward becoming a regional vaccine hub because diversifying the portfolio of vaccine production centres, currently held by just a handful of pharmaceutical companies, is critical to limiting global supply chain issues and ensuring everyone, everywhere has access to equitable, timely and affordable vaccines.
Over the past year, calls have been made for Moderna to do more for global vaccines equity.
In October, it was revealed that of the 442 million vaccine doses produced and delivered by Moderna, 97% went to high-income countries, more than any other vaccine manufacturer. Just 6 million went to upper-middle-income countries, 5.5 million to lower-middle-income countries and zero to low-income countries.
According to the New York Times, 1 million Moderna doses have been sent to low-income nations, but they were all bought and donated by the United States.
mRNA technology works by teaching human cells how to form a protein that triggers a response in the body’s immune system.
The technology, built upon research decades in the making, was used by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech to develop COVID-19 vaccines in record time. Alongside using the technology for manufacturing vaccines for other respiratory illnesses, scientists hope to use the technique to tackle other diseases, like cancers, previously thought incompatible with vaccines.
Australia will also invest $25 million between 2022 and 2023 for mRNA clinical trials to support further research.