27 May 2020

Covid-19 research: 'I'm confident a vaccine will be found'

5:15 pm on 27 May 2020

Scientists in New Zealand are already making good progress in Covid-19 vaccine research, University of Otago associate professor James Ussher says.

Dr. Rhonda Flores labels protein samples at Novavax labs in Gaithersburg, Maryland, United States, on March 20, 2020, one of the labs developing a vaccine for Covid-19.

A scientist in a US laboratory working on a potential vaccine for the coronavirus. Photo: AFP

The government yesterday announced a $37 million Covid-19 vaccine strategy aimed at helping national and global efforts to create and distribute a vaccine to fight the coronavirus.

"We have a couple of potential [vaccine] candidates that will be ready in a few weeks, hopefully, for testing in some animal models," Ussher said.

"We're already making some good progress, we have a strong team across a number of institutions."

Of the government funding, $10m goes to research in New Zealand, $5m is set aside to invest in the production of an eventual vaccine, and more than $20m will be for research projects overseas.

Ussher said the said the commitment would allow not only the development of a local vaccine programme, but also tools to assess vaccines developed overseas.

"I'm confident a vaccine will be found by the global scientific community for Covid-19.

"This is a global effort - there are over 100 vaccine candidates that are in various stages of development."

Contributing money to overseas research was an important component of the government's initiative, as was the commitment to equitable distribution, he said.

Malaghan Institute director Professor Graham Le Gros said a Covid-19 vaccine that was properly tested and available was about two years away, however supporting homegrown vaccines and investing in production might end up being the best solution for the country.

Le Gros told Checkpoint that New Zealand had the talent to develop a vaccine. "We've got a great team of people in Otago, at Victoria, ESR, AgResearch. How can we lose when we've got such a group of people all working together here in New Zealand?"

Minister for Research, Science and Innovation Megan Woods said funding overseas research was, in part, to ensure that New Zealand had access to whatever is developed in other countries.