Some experts are calling for New Zealand to full explore its potential to manufacture vaccines.
The calls come as the Government refuses to say whether the country's first Covid-19 vaccines will arrive on schedule in the coming weeks amid a soaring global demand.
Some of New Zealand's top health and biotech experts say Aotearoa’s expertise on the farm could be used as another weapon in the fight against Covid-19.
“We're world leaders in vaccine manufacture for farm animals in particular, and that’s against viruses, against parasites and against bacteria,” biotech company South Pacific Sera founder Dr William Rolleston said.
He says that knowledge that can be easily applied to the manufacture of human vaccines, such as the Covid-19 vaccines.
“It's very feasible, we have very good biological capability in New Zealand,” Rolleston said. “We've got good science capability and we've got the manufacturing capability as well.”
While the possibility is on the Government’s radar, it would be a potentially long-term project requiring careful consideration and substantial investment.
Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins says we “don’t have the scale to be able to do that at this point,” but added that it was “something we are looking at as to whether we should be developing the capacity to do that in the future in New Zealand”.
College of GP’s Dr Bryan Betty says talks for the potential undertaking has been ongoing for many years.
“I think the present situation really brings that to the fore, that we may need to think about how we secure our vaccine supply going forward,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Government is now appearing less certain about when the first Pfizer vaccines will arrive.
“We're talking to them about the delivery schedules all of the time, Pfizer in particular. Those conversations happen on an almost daily basis,” Hipkins said.
Recent export controls by the European Union and manufacture and supply issues have only added to the uncertainty.
“It is subject to change and I'm not going to say that we're expecting vaccines to arrive at x quantity on x date until I'm absolutely certain that that's when they're going to arrive,” Hipkins said.
But the handling of future pandemics is increasingly on the minds of our biotech experts.
“What happens next time if it's a virus that is more infective, more deadly and the crisis is harder and faster?” Rolleston said.