Moderna to produce millions of mRNA vaccines in Australia

Credit: REUTERS/Mike Segar

Recasts and updates throughout with more detail on deal, Australia case numbers

Dec 13 (Reuters) - U.S. drugmaker Moderna Inc MRNA.O will produce millions of mRNA vaccines a year in Australia after agreeing to set up one of its largest manufacturing facilities outside the United States and Europe.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the plant in Victoria state was expected to produce up to 100 million mRNA vaccine doses every year when it begins operations in 2024.

"By advancing with this new partnership, we are building ... our sovereign capability to manufacture these vaccines here in Australia," Morrison told reporters in Melbourne.

Morrison did not specify the financial details of the agreement but Australian media reported the deal could be worth about A$2 billion ($1.43 billion).

Moderna said in October it planned to invest up to $500 million to build a factory in Africa to make up to 500 million doses of mRNA vaccines each year, including its COVID-19 shot. However, the company said it had not begun the process of deciding the country and location.

COVID-19 vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer PFE.N use mRNA - messenger ribonucleic acid - technology but it can also be used to manufacture vaccines for other respiratory illnesses and seasonal flu.

The new Australian facility will create a more robust defence against future pandemics and ensure manufacturing can be contracted locally to avoid global supply chain issues, Victoria state Acting Premier James Merlino said.

The announcement was made as neighbouring New South Wales state, home to Sydney, reported its biggest daily rise in COVID-19 cases since a nearly four-month lockdown ended in early October. The Delta variant was responsible for most of the 804 cases reported on Tuesday, although the number of Omicron cases has been creeping up.

Despite the surge in new infections, officials said a planned easing of restrictions in Sydney from Wednesday will proceed as they urged people to get their booster shots to ward off the Omicron threat.

Australia has inoculated nearly 90% of its population above 16 with two doses and shortened the wait time for a booster shot after the emergence of the Omicron cases.

The country has recorded about 232,700 cases and 2,113 deaths since the pandemic began.

($1 = 1.4027 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney and Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Ramakrishnan M. and Jane Wardell)

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