Victoria to make cutting edge mRNA vax

The Victorian government will spend $50 million to develop and manufacture cutting-edge mRNA vaccines.

The mRNA vaccine technology can be manufactured quickly, cheaply, and safely, and forms the basis of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccinations.

“Twelve months ago would have been the best time to have done this, but the next best time is right now,” Acting Premier James Merlino told reporters on Wednesday.

Mr Merlino said he is well aware of the challenges of securing supplies of vaccines internationally and he expects onshore development to take at least a year.

“We know the benefits of onshore manufacturing, and we know the benefits of this technology,” he said.

The money will be spent in partnerships with universities and medical manufacturers over the next two years, and it’s hoped mRNA manufacturing capabilities will be established in Melbourne.

Professor Peter Doherty told ABC Radio Melbourne the money is good news.

“I think its really important to do this because this virus is changing, we’re going to need further vaccinations, I think that’s pretty obvious,” he said.

“If we could make those vaccines that would be an enormous advantage.”

He said while the state has the experts to do the job, setting up facilities and getting government approvals would take time, and described the government’s one-year time frame as “ambitious but realistic”.

The federal government has recently identified the onshore production of mRNA vaccines as a national priority.

Also on Wednesday, three Victorian mass vaccination hubs opened to people over 70 as Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton prepared for his vaccination. 

The Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre and Geelong’s former Ford factory will provide shots for anyone over 70 with or without bookings as part of phase 1a and 1b of the rollout.

They will only be offered the AstraZeneca jab, with Pfizer doses still prioritised for healthcare workers under 50 at hospital vaccination clinics.

Victoria is also resuming its rollout of the AstraZeneca shot to eligible people under 50 after it was paused on April 9, as Australian health officials confirmed a link between the vaccine and rare but potentially deadly blood clots.

Those under 50 will be required to sign a consent form, which outlines the risks of taking the vaccine.

Professor Sutton will receive his first vaccination on Wednesday at the Royal Exhibition Building, and he praised the hard work of authorities to deliver the AstraZeneca vaccine to the highest safety standards.

“The risk of really serious adverse events is rare, which is why I’m getting my vaccination. The best vaccine to get is the one available right now,” he tweeted.

The state is receiving about 14,000 Pfizer doses per week. It is hoped a further 10,000 doses will soon be made available by the federal government each week.

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