The Director-General of Health says securing potential COVID-19 vaccines for New Zealand is "a bit like being in the stock market" as you don't want to put all your eggs in one basket.
Minister of Research, Science and Innovation Megan Woods announced on Thursday that the Government has an in-principle agreement to purchase up to 5 million COVID-19 vaccines from Janssen Pharmaceutica, subject to successful clinical trials and regulatory approval.
It's not the first potential vaccine New Zealand has an agreement to buy. We have a deal to purchase 1.5 million doses - enough for 750,000 people - of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. On Thursday, it was revealed that that vaccine has a 95 percent success rate.
"The COVID-19 Vaccine Strategy Taskforce is working to ensure that additional agreements are in place to complete the vaccine portfolio. Our main priority is to make sure New Zealand and our Pacific neighbours have access to safe and effective vaccines," Woods said on Thursday.
Having options is important, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield told The AM Show.
"We have had a group working on this for some months now. It is a taskforce from across Government as well as some leading scientists in this area," he said.
"I think New Zealanders can have a high level of confidence that we are in the game here and a bit like being in the stock market, you want to have a number of options, you want to spread your risk.
"There are further negotiations underway for other options and I am sure there will be more information on those."
Dr Bloomfield said the taskforce would ensure that any vaccine being sought was "likely to be effective" and "safe to use".
"I think New Zealanders can take heart from that."
Under the in-principle agreement, up to 2 million doses of the Janssen vaccine would be delivered from the third quarter of 2021, with the option to purchase 3 million more in 2022. That would be enough to vaccinate the entire population of New Zealand.
"A key point of difference for the Janssen vaccine is that it’s likely to be a single-dose vaccine and is compatible with standard vaccine distribution channels, so it may potentially be more efficient to administer," Woods said.
Securing a vaccine is important, Dr Bloomfield said, as COVID-19 is likely to be with humans for a long time.
"The vaccine will be a really important part of us being able to return to normal life and particularly, to travel internationally.
"What we don't know is what the ongoing pattern of this disease is going to be in the years ahead and so, having good access to vaccines and ongoing access to vaccines and the ability to vaccinate people is going to be really important for us to be able to go about our normal lives."
It could be the case that COVID-19 is never eradicated globally.
"We don't know what the future is for COVID-19 and whether it is going to be a seasonal disease, a bit like influenza. It is a very infectious respiratory virus and so we can expect it will be around and that is why we need a range of vaccines and other measures to keep it at bay."
In terms of who would get a vaccine first, the Ministry of health is looking at a range of scenarios and sequences. There are three "broad considerations" being explored - those at risk of contracting COVID-19, those at risk of spreading COVID-19, and those at risk of increased morbidity and mortality associated with COVID-19.