Siouxsie Wiles warns new COVID-19 vaccines may arrive too late for latest 'Pirola' variant


Microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles is warning that new vaccines against the latest variant of Covid-19 might not be available in New Zealand until next year.

The highly mutated BA.2.86 variant, named Pirola, was first discovered in Denmark and Israel in late July.

In New Zealand, it was detected in wastewater this month.

University of Auckland microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles said the virus mutated quickly, and the government should be vaccinating people against BA.2.86 as soon as possible.

Wiles said vaccines that were effective against the new variant would not be available in New Zealand for some time.

"Countries overseas that are moving into the winter are starting to look at vaccinating again," she said.

"My understanding here is that Pharmac are asking for data from the vaccine manufacturers, but not until later this year, and it won't be looked at until sometime next year."

But she said the updated vaccines may no longer be fit for purpose by the time they arrived in the country.

"I imagine that they're probably just thinking about vaccine updates in time for our next winter," she said.

"We know the virus is changing and I guess the question is, what is the virus going to be like by the time we get vaccinated here in New Zealand, because it's going to be months.

In a statement, Pharmac chief executive Sarah Fitt said it was seeking advice from its Immunisation Advisory Committee in November and working with health system partners within the new immunisation governance structure before making a decision about the Covid-19 vaccine for 2024.

"We'll consider international recommendations on the antigen composition of Covid-19 vaccines and the vaccines that have Medsafe approval. We understand that Medsafe expects applications from Pfizer and other suppliers for updated variant vaccines soon.

"Recently we published a call for funding applications for vaccines that protect against Covid-19 to inform our future approach to procurement and supply. This would not be for supply in the 2024 season, but for later years.

"We continue to encourage people to get vaccinated to protect against Covid-19.The current vaccines continue to be available."