Australia at risk of coronavirus vaccine supply issues, scientists warn

Australia has been urged to increase its onshore vaccine manufacturing capability. Picture: Karleen Minney
Australia has been urged to increase its onshore vaccine manufacturing capability. Picture: Karleen Minney

Australia will be more at risk of global vaccination shortages unless onshore vaccine manufacturing capabilities are increased, the nation's leading scientists have warned.

In a pre-budget submission made to the federal government, the Australian Academy of Science said Australia and the surrounding region was susceptible to vaccine supply.

The submission said funding was needed to produce more mRNA vaccines, as the COVID-19 rollout progresses across the country.

"Despite our 100-year-old investment in CSL, there are developing gaps in our ability to produce vaccines onshore," the submission said.

"Without the ability to produce new vaccines onshore, Australia and the region remain vulnerable to supply shocks.

"Investing in nucleic acid-based technology platforms offers a way to mitigate this risk."

The calls from the academy come as the first vaccines for COVID-19 were administered in Australia earlier this week.

The rollout, which began on Sunday, saw essential healthcare workers, hotel quarantine staff along with aged and disability care residents and staff get the vaccine.

While Australia has the capability to produce standard protein-based vaccines, it does not have the technology to produce the newer mRNA vaccines, which are being made overseas, such as the Pfizer vaccine.

Instead of traditional vaccines, which primarily uses an inactivated or weakened germ to trigger an immune response against a virus, an mRNA vaccine instead teaches the cells in the body to make a protein that produces the antibodies.

The mRNA vaccines were among some of the first vaccines approved for use in the US.

Australia is currently importing doses of the Pfizer vaccine, while Australian-based firm CSL will help to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, but has yet to be administered to patients.

The government has said most Australians will be given the AstraZeneca vaccine when the majority of the population will be eligible to be vaccinated.

The Australian Academy of Science said Australia had the capacity to manufacture its own mRNA vaccines.

"Nucleic acid technology shows enough promise to commit to developing a large-scale RNA production capability," the submission said.

"Australia needs a strategy for developing additional manufacturing platforms for the years ahead.

"Developing this capability will allow us to build resilience to future pandemics and potential biosecurity situations that may require us to have the onshore capacity to mass produce vaccines."

The second shipment of the Pfizer vaccine arrived in Australia early on Tuesday morning.

Between the first two shipments arriving this week, there will be 280,000 doses of the vaccine.

It's expected 1000 people in the ACT will have received the COVID-19 jab by the end of the week.

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This story Australia at risk of COVID vaccine shortages, leading scientists warn first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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