Patrick Gower: Fund Kiwi scientists to find vaccine for COVID-19

OPINION: I cannot think of anything better to spend taxpayers' money on than a team of elite Kiwi scientists hunting for a vaccine for COVID-19.

Did you know that some of New Zealand's best and brightest are currently ready to unlock the secrets of coronavirus?

They are good to go: they have the people, the ideas and the plan to potentially get the vaccine that would save lives, billions of dollars and save the Kiwi way of life.

But unbelievably these scientists are waiting for funding.

Led by the University of Otago, a consortium of virologists have asked the Government for $10 million to get underway, but their application is sitting on a desk somewhere.

Yes, $10m is all our vaccine-hunters want. But day after day is going by and still they wait for politicians and bureaucrats to make a call.

We need to realise that the vaccine just isn't going to show up at Auckland International Airport in a nice box with a bow on it.

The whole world wants it and we could easily end up at the back of the queue.

These scientists could find a 'NZ Inc' vaccine.

Or their research could link into other international efforts and help get us to the front of the queue.

Or they could be ready to assess vaccines invented elsewhere and have the systems ready so we can produce it here and get it out to millions as soon as possible.

This work is just a no-brainer. I've spoken to some of the team today.

They are led by James Ussher from the University of Otago who works at the highly-respected Webster Institute.

The Webster Institute is named after Robert Webster, the Balcluthas-born "flu-hunter" - an internationally-respected expert on pandemics.

Another key figure is Graham Le Gros from the Malaghan Institute, which is known for the revolutionary work on CAR T-cell therapy.

These people know their stuff.

I can't fathom why this has not been funded. It is time to cut the crap and back our scientists. We need to own our future and that starts with a vaccine.

The value of science is clear now more than ever. This is about spending millions to save billions. It passes every kind of cost-benefit analysis.

It goes without saying that New Zealand split the atom and has had a host of other scientific breakthroughs.

There is no reason why Kiwis can't help discover the coronavirus vaccine.

We just need to give them the money to do it.

Patrick Gower is Newshub's National Correspondent.