Covid-19

NZ to join search for Covid-19 vaccine

New Zealand will put $37 million towards the global pursuit for a Covid-19 vaccine, including $15 million for domestic research and potential manufacturing, Marc Daalder reports

New Zealand has thrown its hat into the vaccine R&D ring.

On Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters, Minister of Research, Science and Innovation Megan Woods, and Health Minister David Clark announced the country would put $37 million towards the global quest for a vaccine for Covid-19.

Of this, $10 million will go to domestic research and $5 million has been set aside to spend on manufacturing the vaccine, if such a possibility arises.

Another $15 million is earmarked for international research efforts, including but not limited to projects funded by the Gates Foundation-backed Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation. The remaining $7 million in the package will be put towards GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, a public-private partnership founded by the Gates Foundation which distributes vaccines to developing countries.

"The Covid-19 vaccine strategy outlines how New Zealand will contribute to global efforts by ramping up our own capability, working with the international community and supporting our Pacific neighbours in the deployment of a vaccine once it becomes available," Peters said.

Woods touted New Zealand's "quality researchers and a high performing research, science and innovation sector with a long history of working with colleagues across the globe to tackle complex global problems".

"It's vital that we contribute to international research efforts as well as ramp up our own research and manufacturing capability," she said.

"The development of a safe and effective vaccine is a crucial tool in the control of Covid-19 worldwide and a global effort is well under way to develop and test various vaccine candidates," Clark said.

"The money that's being announced today, both for our on-shore efforts and to support global efforts, I think is a significant contribution. And it will support both basic research here but also create the opportunity to look at how we might scale up actual production of a vaccine, if required," Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Bloomfield said there were two crucial issues to sort in order to manufacture a vaccine domestically: production capability and a license to do so.

"If we were to manufacture here in New Zealand, obviously we would need to have the technical and production capability to do that. But it would be done under a licensing arrangements and would require the core components of the vaccine to be provided from off-shore, that we would then be able to combine and put into the doses required here," he said.

Woods said there were a number of potential roadblocks to manufacturing a vaccine within New Zealand.

"One is regulatory: Making sure we have the facilities that have the right health accreditations to be able to manufacture human vaccine," she said.

"It's also about making sure we have a good supply chain of the chemicals that might be required, in terms of the manufacture of those. It could be about capacity - we have a strong biotech sector in New Zealand, but they're not producing in large quantities, so there might be some requirement for scale-up."

Officials from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, the Ministry of Health, Medsafe, Pharmac and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade will be involved in the vaccine task force, alongside independent science and technical advisors.

There are dozens of potential vaccines for the virus currently in production and at least nine are already in human trials. 

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