Biotechnology company Moderna (Nasdaq: MRNA) has entered into a new supply agreement with the Australian government for 25 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine, serving as the foundation of the nation's booster and variant strategy.
The order includes 10 million doses of the original jab against the ancestral strain (mRNA-1273) to be delivered in 2021, and 15 million doses of Moderna's updated variant booster vaccine candidate to be delivered in 2022.
Purchase of the 25 million doses is subject to Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approval, and Moderna says it will submit an application to the regulator shortly.
The deal comes after the US-based biotech announced plans to scale its commercial network and open a subsidiary in Australia this year where it would manufacture messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines.
"We appreciate the partnership and support from the government of Australia with this first supply agreement for doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and our variant booster candidates," Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said.
"As we seek to protect people around the world with our COVID-19 vaccine and potentially our variant booster candidates, we look forward to continuing discussions with Australia about establishing potential local manufacturing opportunities."
Moderna's COVID-19 jab is an mRNA vaccine co-developed by the biotech and investigators for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases' (NIAID) Vaccine Research Centre.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt says securing the 25 million doses serves two purposes for Australia.
"Firstly, as a reserve supply for this year if other elements of the supply chain were to run into any challenges," says Hunt.
"Secondly, they are our foundation of a booster and variants strategy. Moderna is, on the advice that we have, the most advanced of the vaccine products with relation to the capacity to adapt to booster or variant requirements.
"So today is the next stage of future proofing and preparing for the future."
Department of Health secretary Professor Brendan Murphy says the supply agreement gives Australia additional redundancy.
"Whilst we know we have more than enough vaccine already ordered to cover our primary vaccination program this year this provides some additional redundancy which we've always sought and also provides the capacity now for us to develop a strategy for following years where boosters and varying cover may be required," says Professor Murphy.
"The evidence, as you all well know, is that this virus has shown some variance over the course of the last year, and whilst we think all of the vaccines are likely to be highly effective at preventing severe disease, even with variants, even with the vaccines we're rolling out now, we do need to be prepared and be in a position where if we need boosters against variants or different strains of the virus we're in a position to have those orders in place.
"This is a highly effective vaccine in clinical trials, highly effective in preventing severe disease and likely to be very effective at preventing transmission, so this is an exciting development."
The government remains in discussions with Moderna in relation to establishing a manufacturing facility in Australia for mRNA vaccines, noting onshore manufacturing would ensure a secure and long-term supply of the biotech's inoculations including booster jabs.
The Morderna shot is the second mRNA vaccine to be purchased by the government after the Pfizer jab.
To date, the Moderna vaccine has shown overall efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19 of 94.1 per cent, and 100 per cent efficacy against severe COVID-19. It has also shown strong protection of 90 per cent efficacy against COVID-19 for at least six months after the second dose.
It has been approved by leading regulatory authorities across the world and is being used successfully in the United Kingdom, Canada, the European Union, the United States and Singapore.
A complete course of Moderna's vaccination is likely to be two doses given 28 days apart.
Updated at 9.38am AEST on 13 May 2021.
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