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Race for a 'safe and effective' coronavirus vaccine underway, expert explains

The race to prepare and test a coronavirus vaccine is already well underway, but there are conflicting reports as to how long it could take.

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Dr Helen Petousis-Harris told TVNZ'1 Q+A about the race for a Covid-19 vaccine. Source: Q+A

Doctor Helen Petousis-Harris is the director of the WHO's Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety, as well as an Associate Professor at Auckland University.

Appearing on TVNZ 1's Q+A this morning, Dr Petousis-Harris outlined how a Covid-19 vaccine can be found, and produced.

"The first thing you needed to know was what's causing the disease, which we know," Dr Petousis-Harris says.

"You needed the genome. Once you have that, the approaches can be so diverse.

"We've got approaches we currently use for the vaccines we already have. But we're probably going to see what emerges, the most likely candidates are going to be some of the new approaches, for a whole number of reasons, which is essentially dialling a vaccine."

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Data from the tests will potential help with international efforts to find a vaccine. Source: 1 NEWS

Multiple different methods are currently being undertaken around the world in the hunt to try and create a vaccine, Dr Petousis-Harris saying that a number of options are already being taken, with more on the way.

"Right now, there's about 35 candidates, and quite a number of those are ready to go into humans.

"One already has, and several others are imminent.”

However, it’s also important to understand that simply having a candidate is in no way a definitive cure, merely that the process towards a viable vaccination can go ahead.

"People can get confused between actually having a candidate, we had a candidate in 45 days to go into a human, but that candidate has to be tested. To make sure it's safe and make sure it's effective.

"Normally these things get staggered over a period of several years, but you can bring that forward. You can overlap some of the phases that you're doing.

"You can potentially begin getting the next one underway while you're still completing. You can use things like human challenge studies, where you actually challenge people with a coronavirus."

A timeframe of 12 to 18 months has been widely accepted as the required time to create, and mass produce a coronavirus vaccine, Dr Petousis-Harris concurring.

"We're hearing 12 to 18 months, that seems to be fairly consistent. Say you've got something slightly before that, it doesn't mean we're suddenly going to be able to start deploying it widely.

Doctor Petousis-Harris also assures that cost won't be a factor in determining who will or won't be able to receive any prospective vaccine.

"There will be agreements built in to make sure that it doesn't matter what your ability to pay, that you will have access to this vaccine."

As with most viruses, anyone to contract and then recover from Covid-19 should then be immune afterwards, Doctor Petousis-Harris believes.

"The general consensus is that you're most likely immune. That's the way it usually goes with these types of infections."