Thursday, 4 February 2021
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health in the Senate, Senator Colbeck. The mRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna have yielded strong results in clinical trials and are expected to be much easier to reconfigure to fight the new strains of the COVID-19 virus. It's reported that the government is considering investing in mRNA local production. Is this correct? If so, when is the government going to be making an announcement? How much is the government considering investing in building local capacity for the generation of mRNA vaccines?
Opposition senators interjecting—
I'm very careful not to over promise. The time frame required for us to ramp up production capacity of that is quite a considerable one. Considerations of those things are being undertaken, but, in the interim, what the government has done is ensure that we have adequate doses of available vaccines with a range of different types, so that we can ensure that we have adequate capacity to vaccinate the Australian community and, of course, where possible—I'm aware that Senator Payne and Senator Seselja have been engaged in this—to assist our Pacific neighbours.
At this stage we have 40 million doses, based on the announcement this morning, of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. We have 53.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, 51 million doses of the Novavax and access to 25.6 million doses from the COVAX Facility. So we have access to considerable volumes of vaccine, over 100 million doses of vaccine. We will continue to ensure that we have the capacity required. I acknowledge that there is capacity, with the mRNA vaccines, to tweak the vaccines. I'm aware that the producers of those have indicated they are inclined to do that, but it will take a considerable period of time to— (Time expired)
Through you, Mr President, I ask the minister representing the minister: can you confirm if the government is currently in negotiations with any manufacturers or any experts, as reported, for the development of a facility to manufacture mRNA vaccines in Australia. If so, is it with a view for it to be a publicly owned facility?
Thanks, Senator, for the question. The government has undertaken an audit of the capacity of industry here in Australia to see if there is any capacity that may be able to be developed to produce vaccines using that technology. We have identified some companies in Australia who do have that capacity. We're currently in discussions with them to understand whether or not that capacity can be scaled up in the future so that we do have, onshore, some sovereign capacity. Those conversations are continuing.
I thank Senator Siewert for the question. The Pfizer vaccine, based on current supply projections, will be the first vaccine available to Australians. Therefore, the priority residents under our national strategic plan for the rollout of the vaccine will be the first ones to receive that vaccine. We will be offering the vaccine across the country to all Australians through the hubs that will be managing the Pfizer vaccine, which are obviously those with a low-temperature capacity, and we will be rolling out the AstraZeneca vaccine and Moderna as it becomes available across the country. We are not specifying particular vaccine types to any particular cohort in the community. We are offering vaccine across the community— (Time expired)