- The federal government has announced it is calling for proposals for the mRNA vaccine to be manufactured in Australia.
- Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that while the move would not solve the country’s immediate vaccination problems, it would help protect Australians against future crises.
- The announcement comes amid reports millions of available doses of the vaccines are going unused.
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As reports emerge that up to 1.5 million vaccines in the country sit unused, the federal government has called for proposals for mRNA vaccine manufacturing in Australia.
Defence minister Peter Dutton told Channel Nine this morning it was a “prudent approach” that would prepare Australia for the future.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison added in a public statement the government is “moving quickly” to establish mRNA production capability in Australia, but admitted this would not address any immediate issues with supplies or the vaccine rollout.
The mRNA technology has the potential to treat diseases other than COVID-19, including cancer and cardiovascular disease.
However new reporting from Guardian Australia suggests such plans are presumptuous given that there’s more than enough existing vaccines currently sitting unused in clinics across Australia.
Not sure why commentators keep saying the vaccine rollout is dogged by “supply issues”. The Commonwealth is receiving 1.4 million vaccines per week but they’re only administering 450k. Blaming “supply” is just more spin from a PM who has lost control of the vaccine rollout.
— Mark Butler MP (@Mark_Butler_MP) May 20, 2021
It found that there were more than 1.5 million vaccines sitting unused in clinics across Australia.
The Sydney Morning Herald on Friday reported that thousands of AstraZeneca doses have not been used due to lack of demand in federal government-run clinic refrigerators across Sydney and regional New South Wales.
It reported that as a result of this lack of demand, some vaccination sites are currently operating at less than a quarter capacity.
In New South Wales specifically, one clinic in south-west Sydney has around 3,000 AstraZeneca doses piled up and unused, as it struggles to fill bookings and only administered 25 shots on Thursday, down from 100 a day ago at the start of the rollout.
However while supply outstrips demand at federally-run clinics, Sydney GPs have said they are still waiting on their supplies of AstraZeneca vaccines to be able to inoculate more of their patients.
Bruce Willett, a doctor and vice-president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners told the Sydney Morning Herald that vaccine supplies for GPs are “patchy around the country” and “most GPs are saying they could be doing more”.
New South Wales has thus far administered one-tenth of the doses needed to fully vaccinate the 5 million people Premier Gladys Berejiklian has stated was her goal.
On Wednesday a separate poll revealed that one in three Australians said it was unlikely they will be vaccinated against COVID-19, suggesting the delays could be contributing to growing vaccine hesitancy.
Amid continued delays to the rollout, and despite Morrison’s announcement in late April he would begin bi-weekly cabinet meetings in a bid to get the country’s vaccine program back on track, Australia’s vaccination program is still failing to meet its targets.
In response to the government’s suggestion that vaccines could begin being manufactured on home soil, deputy opposition leader Richard Marles told the AAP that the Morrison government should have made this decision last year.
“In the midst of its self-congratulation last year they were complacent in the failure to put Australia properly in the queues of the various vaccine projects around the world,” he said.
As part of its announcement, the government said it had asked interested parties to submit fully costed proposals to establish mRNA capability, with submissions open for the next eight weeks.
mRNA vaccine protection against ‘future crises’
Applicants will need to demonstrate access to the necessary intellectual property for manufacturing processes and make products available to the Australian government as required and in priority over other markets.
Any operation would need to be sustained over 10 years with an undertaking to maintain the capability onshore on an ongoing basis.
Morrison said the mRNA facility would eventually help fight the COVID-19 pandemic but that it was an important way to protect Australia against future crises.
“This is not to address any immediate vaccination issues. This is to create a capability not just for producing vaccines to deal with COVID, but what we’ve seen with the mRNA vaccines, they are the new technology,” he said. “They are the new way of doing vaccines around the world.”
“Now 18 months ago, apart from some trial treatments in HIV this was largely science fiction, so this is a very new science. We’re moving quickly to establish that.”