One of the country’s top scientists believes it’s possible New Zealand could be one of the first in the world to find a Covid-19 vaccine.
Malaghan Institute’s professor Graham Le Gros is confident the Government’s $37 million vaccine package will mean a vaccine will be discovered in our own backyard.
“With this strategy, we can do it. And in fact, we don’t just do it, we can do it really well.”
But Dr Le Gros predicted it’ll be at least two years until a vaccine is ready to be rolled out.
“It just takes time to test it on people. Test it to see if it produces long-term, protected immunity. We need to know if it can protect people for a decent amount of time. You can’t actually have people breaking out in boils six months down the track - it’s too late. You’ve vaccinated five million people.”
Dr Le Gros’ comments come despite one laboratory in Oxford, England, saying its confident it’ll have a vaccine ready by September this year.
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield told reporters yesterday that he, too, believes it’ll be quite some time before a vaccine will be fit for purpose.
“I'm sure we would welcome a vaccine if it was able by September. I just don't think that presents enough time to safely develop, test and then manufacture a vaccine. All the best estimates are it's going to be longer than that.”
That two-year time frame could also apply to border controls, both here and internationally.
“For the moment I would say border control for the foreseeable future, until we have a vaccine,” said Dr Le Gros.
The Government’s $37 million Covid-19 Vaccine Strategy package will invest into research both here in New Zealand and collaboratively overseas, as well as supporting the successful vaccine’s distribution to developing countries.
Minister for Research, Science and Innovation, Megan Woods said the strategy will emphasise supporting New Zealand’s Pacific Island partners and make sure they can access a vaccine when it’s needed.
Five million dollars has also been set aside in case a vaccine is manufactured here in New Zealand.
“The best insurance against not having adequate supply is the ability to manufacture in New Zealand,” Ms Woods said.
The majority of the funding will go towards international research collaboration and it’s hoped the sharing of intellectual property will speed up the process.
“If countries combine both technology and brain power, you can make rapid advances so we would all hope that it was within 12-18 months,” said Dr Bloomfield.
Global alliances are already in action. Australia has now begun the southern hemisphere’s first human Covid-19 vaccine trial with the help of scientists from America.
The trial is expected to move swiftly, with initial results earmarked for July this year.