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Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine could be manufactured in Australia by the middle of the decade, with plans being put together for a new plant in Victoria capable of producing up to 100 million shots a year.

An in-principle agreement has been struck between Moderna, the federal government and the Victorian government, with hopes to have the facility running by 2024.

The federal government is putting funding into the project, but the details of the agreement are commercial in confidence.

It includes priority access to any vaccines made in Australia, to ensure the country is not competing with others abroad in future pandemics or serious outbreaks.

Moderna produces one of three COVID-19 vaccines currently being rolled out in Australia, along with Pfizer and AstraZeneca, and has joined the booster rollout too.

But mRNA vaccines are not currently being manufactured in Australia, meaning every single Pfizer and Moderna shot being administered locally has been flown in from overseas.

The new plant will manufacture Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine and shots tailored for other illnesses like the seasonal flu.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said mRNA technology was likely to play an increasingly important role in Australian healthcare.

“This investment will continue to secure Australia’s future economic prosperity while protecting lives by providing access to world-leading mRNA vaccines made on Australian soil,” he said.

A new technology in a local factory

The mRNA technology has been studied and developed for decades, but was not put into broad use until the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines came along.

It could be applied far more widely than COVID-19.

BioNTech, the German biotechnology company that jointly developed Pfizer’s vaccine, was working on mRNA cancer vaccines before the pandemic.

The prospect of locally producing mRNA vaccines was first seriously raised by the federal government in October last year, with estimates it might take up to 12 months to have production running, but the timeline now stretches years ahead

An approach to market was put out in May this year, seeking a company to work with to manufacture mRNA products locally, and a commitment of more than a decade.

The Prime Minister met Victorian Premier Dan Andrews during a visit to Melbourne last month to discuss the deal.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said having the vaccine made locally would significantly progress Australia’s medical manufacturing capability.

“Ensuring Moderna has a manufacturing presence here will deliver Australia priority access to products manufactured here in Australia, by Australians, for Australians, using the most cutting-edge vaccination science available in the world today,” he said.

“This is another key pillar in Australia’s long-term medical manufacturing future, and we are looking forward to finalising the agreements with Moderna as soon as possible.”

‘I don’t pretend we’ve got everything right’

Separately, Mr Morrison provided a possible glimpse of his pandemic-related election pitch, arguing the Coalition is best placed to confront challenges ahead thanks to experience gained through close to a decade in office.

During a speech to The Sydney Institute, Mr Morrison reflected on lessons from COVID-19.

“I don’t pretend as a government we’ve got everything right, no nation has during this pandemic,” he said.

“There is no guidebook.”

The speech laid out what Mr Morrison said he had learned from the pandemic, and how it would shape his government going forward.

He argued while the “left of politics” would use the pandemic to push for larger, more expansive government, he felt Australians preferred “practical yet limited government”.

While not directly referring to the election looming in the first half of next year, he made the case for another term.

“In the past 20 months, our operational tempo as a government has made us more experienced, more prepared and more resilient for the next set of challenges our nation faces,” he said.

“There will be many more in the years ahead.

“And you don’t want to leave that to those that would be learning on the job.”

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By EDONS