Some areas in Victoria have had to pause vaccination bookings and walk-ins due to heavy demand. Image by James Ross/AAP PHOTOS

virus diseases

Minister calm on mRNA jab facility timing

2021-06-15 16:00:56

Australia could take up to four years to start manufacturing cutting-edge coronavirus vaccines like the Pfizer and Moderna jabs.

But Industry Minister Christian Porter is confident the nation can establish an mRNA capability within 12 to 18 months.

Industry officials earlier in the month told Senate estimates building a site from scratch could take between three and four years.

Mr Porter said four years would be an “absolute outside” time frame with information he has received suggesting one year to 18 months was reasonable.

He criticised Labor after being asked to confirm officials’ timelines on Tuesday.

“You would race to failure as you have done in the past without proper preparation. But that’s not something this government would intend to do,” he told parliament.

The government last month gave companies eight weeks to lodge applications to manufacture mRNA vaccines in Australia.

Mr Porter said the proposed time frame would be an important part of determining the successful bid.

Pfizer is being imported as one of two coronavirus vaccines being used in Australia, while Moderna supplies are expected to join the rollout later this year.

The mRNA vaccines teach cells how to make a protein to trigger an immune response.

Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack swatted away questions about building more quarantine centres with a defence of using hotels.

Mr McCormack said submissions from state governments needed to be detailed, with locations close to an international airport and a major hospital.

“The federal government stands ready to take any detailed submissions from state governments to build quarantine facilities,” he said in Question Time.

Doctors have raised concerns that extending the coronavirus vaccine rollout to pharmacists may not allay pockets of jab hesitancy in Australia.

The pharmacy network and a further 800 GPs will be given the Moderna vaccine for delivery in the final quarter of the year.

Australian Medical Association vice president Chris Moy said hesitancy had been a significant issue after extremely rare blood clots linked to the AstraZeneca jab.

“Patients really have needed that guiding hand of the general practitioner to be able to talk them through this that I’m not sure pharmacists do,” he told ABC radio on Tuesday.

Health Minister Greg Hunt welcomed “very heartening” late-stage clinical trial results showing the Novavax coronavirus shot is more than 90 per cent effective.

The federal government has ordered 51 million doses from the company which is also planning to manufacture the protein-based jab in Australia.

But in the short term, the federal government is working with Victoria, which in some areas has had to pause bookings and walk-in appointments due to heavy public demand.

Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten said it appeared there were not enough doses, a problem which he blames on the federal government.

“This is more of a stroll out vaccine than a rollout vaccine. I mean, come on, let’s just fire up and get it done,” he told the Nine Network.

Dr Moy said the situation showed it couldn’t be a free-for-all with a balance needed between opening to more age groups and protecting second-dose supply.