Amid a promising ramp up in COVID-19 vaccination figures, the Prime Minister has moved to lower expectations of a possible quick fix from a proposed shift to making life-saving mRNA vaccines in Australia.
The federal government has released on Friday an "approach to market" for the development of onshore or "sovereign" manufacturing of mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccines, such as the ones made by Pfizer and Moderna. Different from vaccine vector type vaccines, which uses double stranded DNA, like AstraZeneca, mRNA vaccines are a relatively new type of vaccine used in the fight against coronavirus.
The mRNA move comes amid significant vaccine complacency or hesitancy in Australia and calls to combat this with a strengthened public awareness campaign which encourages Australians to get vaccinated.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is already seeing a positive shift, as Australia recorded its first day when more than 100,000 doses were administered.
"This week we are likely to see our first half-a-million week on vaccinations," he told reporters on Friday.
"By early next week we will have vaccinated more than half the over 70s population in Australia. And very soon we will have fully completed the vaccination of all those in residential aged care facilities."
While Australia recorded 101,146 doses administered over the past 24 hours it is still at around 3.4 million total doses administered so far. It is a national figure that makes the task of vaccinating 20 million adult Australians in a successful population-wide vaccination program - a government pre-condition for opening the international border - difficult by the end of the year.
An established link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and a very rare but serious side blood clotting effect called thrombosis has increased vaccine hesitancy in Australia. Vaccination centres are reporting slow booking rates for vaccinations and a stockpiling of vaccine doses.
And so, the federal government has announced it is negotiating with existing manufacturers to make what is basically the opposition vaccine to AstraZeneca while approaching the market for others "to find solutions" over an eight-week process from Friday.
Mr Morrison said the mRNA vaccine model was very promising and he wanted to move quickly to establish it in Australia.
"The purpose of this is not just to address the challenges that we have ... because the COVID-19 pandemic is raging and it will continue to rage, not just now but it could be for years to come," he told reporters on Friday.
"This is not to address any immediate vaccination issues, it is to create a capability, not just for producing vaccines to deal with COVID."
"Now 18 months ago, apart from some trial treatments in HIV, this was largely science fiction. And so this is a very new, a very new science."
The approach to market invites manufacturers to make submissions for an onshore mRNA manufacturing capability to establish end-to-end sustainable capability for onshore mRNA manufacturing.
The move to sovereign capability with mRNA vaccines follows the government's decision earlier on in the pandemic to sign a deal with AstraZeneca to locally produce its vaccine.
Deputy Labor Leader Richard Marles says the government should have moved to onshore mRNA production last year.
"I mean, 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 told Channel Nine.
"They bet the house on AstraZeneca being able to do the job here. And now what you see is really the - in the messaging that the government's giving an almost undermining of people having confidence in AstraZeneca."
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