Moderna Inc. reached a tentative agreement with Canada’s government to build a messenger RNA vaccine factory in the country, a move that could boost domestic supplies of shots for COVID-19 and other viruses while expanding the shot maker’s footprint.

Moderna established a memorandum of understanding with the government to collaborate on the plant, according to statements from the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company and the government. The facility may also make shots that are in development to fight influenza, respiratory syncytial virus and other diseases, Moderna said.

In the event of a new outbreak of disease, the plant would provide Canada with “direct access to rapid pandemic response capabilities,” Moderna said. No financial details were included.

The announcement comes at a crucial time for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who’s expected to call an election within days and will need to defend his handling of the pandemic. Canada’s dearth of vaccine-making facilities made the country reliant on imports during the crisis, slowing the start of its vaccine campaign.

More than 60 per cent of its population has now received two shots, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

“We didn’t choose the time of the pandemic, and it’s obvious we won’t choose the time of the next one, but there’s one thing we can choose, that’s being better prepared and more resilient,” Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said during a news conference in Montreal on Tuesday.

Built and operated by Moderna, the plant will be roughly the same size as the company’s factory in Norwood, Massachusetts, that has produced most of the U.S. supply of the company’s COVID-19 vaccine so far, Chief Executive Officer Stephane Bancel said in an interview. Construction will begin within a few months after the site is finalized, Bancel said, and the plant could open in 2023 or 2024.​

​While the primary goal of the factory will be supplying the Canadian market, Moderna would be able to export doses not needed for that country, Bancel said. However, in the event of a new pandemic, the Canadian government would have rights to direct Moderna to divert plant capacity toward making vaccines for the country, Bancel said.

Champagne said Moderna will spend “hundreds of millions of dollars” on the facility and a research and development hub. In exchange, the government committed to buying “a number of vaccines” produced at the facility, he said.

The company chose Canada for the quality of its education system, its swiftness in trying to clinch a deal and its openness to the rest of the world, Bancel said at the news conference.

“I was shocked during this pandemic by the number of countries that limited exports,” he said.

Moderna expects to produce 800 million to 1 billion COVID shots this year, and as many as 3 billion doses in 2022. Besides its plant in Norwood, it has relied on contractors including Lonza Group AG to produce vaccine substance in Switzerland and elsewhere.