27 Aug 2020

Covid-19: Government allocates 'significant extra funding' towards vaccine

4:24 pm on 27 August 2020

The government is allocating "significant extra funding" to secure access to Covid-19 vaccine candidates when they become available.

Researchers test waste water samples from managed isolation facilities.

Researchers test waste water samples from managed isolation facilities. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The funding from the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund will be in the order of hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a statement from the prime minister and minister of research, science and innovation.

However, the government says it will not disclose details of the funding due to commercial sensitivity which could prevent a potential deal.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the government had been working in many ways to secure a vaccine as soon as it was available.

"I've been talking to a range of world leaders about global vaccine development, including Angela Merkel, Justin Trudeau and Scott Morrison," Ardern said.

"We are working particularly closely with Australia to ensure we are connected to all parts of vaccine development, distribution and use, as well as our Pacific neighbours to elevate their voices," she said.

"New Zealanders should rest assured that we are focused on safety, on effectiveness, and access, as well as cost."

It comes in addition to the $37 million vaccine strategy from May, "which includes contributing to the global effort, actively working with our Australian neighbours, domestic research, and investing in our own manufacturing capability."

Minister of research, science and innovation Megan Woods said the new fund would enable New Zealand to join initiatives such as the COVAX Facility - a global collaboration aimed at accelerating the development, production, and equitable access to Covid-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.

"Our approach to obtaining a Covid-19 vaccine is different to how we'd usually operate, but these are extraordinary times that warrant new and innovative approaches being used."

Part of the international commitments was to manufacture large amounts, and not just "for the team of five million", she said.

"If we were going to secure international licensing agreements ... we needed to be able to manufacture commercial volumes, so depending on the vaccine, BioCell will be able to manufacture up to 100 million doses."

Woods said they were already in conversation with a number of vaccine providers.

"Governments around the world are using purchasing arrangements to secure supply, and this will be a key mechanism for helping New Zealand to gain access to Covid-19 vaccines.

"The Task Force is well-connected with our Australian neighbours, and we are actively working together to get access to a vaccine for our two countries and our Pacific neighbours."

She said New Zealand could not run the risk of missing out and "unless we had a proactive approach to this, New Zealand potentially using traditional purchase agreements could end up at the end of the queue, globally".

Although, Malaghan Institute director Graham Le Gros said it could be up to two years before a safe vaccine was available.

"The brutal truth is that we don't know a lot about the virus and how to make an effective vaccine against it ... we must be patient, we must believe in what we're trying to do here."

Associate professor James Ussher, science leader of Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand, said at the moment Covid-19 had shown "very little mutation".

"Unlike some other viruses like influenza this virus has genetic mechanisms that do reduce the amount of mutation, we will just need to wait and see whether the vaccines require updating."

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