Growing calls for New Zealand to make our own COVID vaccines

As the Government gears up for Group 4 mass vaccinations this week there are growing calls for New Zealand to make our own COVID vaccines.

We're currently reliant on overseas suppliers to deliver millions of doses of Pfizer, but scientists say we can do it here.

But is it possible, how long will it take - and does the Government want it?

In the medieval town of Marburg, Germany, one of the few labs in the world making the Pfizer COVID vaccine is producing a billion doses a year to ship around the world to countries like New Zealand.

Now scientists here at the Malaghan Institute in Wellington are working on a Kiwi-made solution.

"A lot of things can make it trip over but we've got the ambition, we've got the know-how, we've got the technology, it is possible," says Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa NZ director Professor Graham Le Gros.

Prof Le Gros says we could make the Pfizer vaccine here, or come up with our own.

"We need to make better vaccines for inducing longer-term immunity and getting the variants of this COVID-19 virus," he says. "We need to make vaccines for the future."

The Government has already invested $10 million into the research. It would need to invest another $50m to make it a reality.

Which might sound a lot but, as Prof Le Gros points out, it's "miniscule" compared to the cost of closing the borders every day.

But Minister for COVID-19 Response Chris Hipkins says there are no plans "at this point".

"There is a huge global and increasing global capacity to manufacture and we've had no problems with our supply chain," adds Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

The Royal College of GPs says we need to reconsider this.

"It's possible we're going to be in cycles of boosters or the need to produce new vaccines. We need to consider how New Zealand becomes vaccine-resilient going forward," says the College's medical director, Dr Bryan Betty.

"There will be future pandemics, the COVID-19 virus will mutate. We cannot rely on overseas to fulfil all our needs, we need to look after ourselves and the Pacific," adds Prof Le Gros.

So does New Zealand have the ability?

Dr William Rolleston makes vaccines for animals in Timaru and says they could make vaccines for humans too.

"All indications are that we do have the capacity to do New Zealand and the Pacific, which would be vaccines for seven million people a year," he says.

Prof Le Gros says we're close - a year from trialling one of our own vaccines.

"New Zealand should be able to do this and play our role in the world for both ourselves and overseas," he says.

New Zealand, playing its part in the fight against COVID-19.