Thursday, 24 June 2021
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Prime Minister. The department of industry has said mRNA vaccines might not be produced in Australia until four years from now. Premiers have said the vaccine rollout is urgent. Is the government really saying it might be four years before an mRNA vaccine is produced in Australia?
[by video link] I'll ask the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology to add to this answer. This time last year, the prospect of there even being an mRNA vaccine was very remote, and, in the course of a very short period of time, the world has responded technologically through medical science to the COVID-19 pandemic in a way that has been absolutely unprecedented. The IP around the production of mRNA vaccines, which were of themselves very remote prospects when it came to the production of vaccines, has proved to be enormously successful. The government is taking steps to establish mRNA vaccine production capabilities in Australia, like many countries will be seeking to do, but the ability to manufacture those vaccines currently is limited to only a few countries, and, as a result, we know that mRNA vaccines will be an important part of vaccines more broadly in the future. So it's not just about the pandemic; the capability we're seeking to establish will create a capability for Australia for the long term. I'll ask the minister to add further to the answer.
I thank the member for the question and the Prime Minister for the referral of the question. The question is in very similar terms to a question that was asked, I think, last week. In essence, the answer is that there are some time frames. There's an inside time range—that's been put in the media on a number of occasions—which puts the potential of a scale-up manufacture of an mRNA vaccine at a three- to six-month time frame. And there's an outside time frame, which was noted by departmental officers at three to four years. The best estimates, I think, are in the middle of those two time ranges. I would say that those middle time ranges are the more likely.
But I think to get some sense of the complications in all of this, you could have a look at the efforts that are being made inside Victoria with the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences to manufacture doses of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine for trials. That's being done with moneys that have been allocated by the Victorian government and also moneys that were allocated by the Commonwealth government. They've noted that there are 150 people that will be involved in clinical trials that are due to begin in October, with preliminary results expected to be available in the first half of 2022.
There are two great pieces of the jigsaw puzzle here. One part is, of course, the IP, which Pfizer clearly has—which is a very valuable piece of intellectual property at the moment. We very much hope that that IP can be duplicated in Australia—and all power to Monash and the MIPS vaccine trials that are going on. That's a complicated process. Manufacturing at scale is the other part of the jigsaw puzzle. The reason that we have gone through this in a cautious and careful way is that those two things in combination are what we need for a longevous 10-year program. We are doing that carefully and cautiously, but it will be successful. (Time expired)