Coronavirus: Scientists say New Zealand can't afford to wait for overseas vaccine

Kiwi scientists say New Zealand can't afford to sit back and wait for a coronavirus vaccine to be developed overseas.

They want funding for local research to ensure we don't end up at the bottom of someone else's list when the breakthrough is made.

It's hands-on research requiring extreme care. The Otago University laboratory is a maximum-security facility, where scientists are growing and studying the virus responsible for COVID-19 in the hope of developing a vaccine.

"We have the capability, we have the expertise, not only here at the University of Otago Malaghan Institute, University of Auckland - you name it," says Otago University microbiology department Professor Miguel Quiñones-Mateu.

He believes waiting out the pandemic and relying on a vaccine or drugs from overseas is the wrong approach.

"There's going to be a long waiting list to have access to those antivirals and to those vaccine approaches. So we cannot wait," he says.

"We need to be part of this game and start fighting this virus with everything that we can."

The Malaghan Institute wants the Government to invest in a national programme supporting scientists here in developing a vaccine.

"Every day we bring it closer, we save $70 million. So how much for a $350 billion a year economy would you be prepared to put money for a vaccine? The more there is, the faster and more likely it's going to be," says Malaghan Institute director Professor Graham Le Gros.

Developing a vaccine can take years.

Researchers at Oxford University are preparing to give volunteers an experimental coronavirus vaccine based on an existing one already proved safe and effective against other diseases.

There's also a worldwide effort to find medications that target the virus and treat the symptoms.

Researchers are testing drugs already on the market like remdesivir, originally designed for ebola, and hydroxychloroquine, approved to treat malaria.

More than 160 groups are working together with the shared goal of ending this global pandemic.