Hundreds of millions of dollars set aside to secure COVID-19 vaccine for New Zealand

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been set aside by the Government to secure a COVID-19 vaccine for New Zealand when it becomes available - but the specific amount cannot be disclosed due to commercial sensitivity. 

The funding is in addition to the $37 million COVID-19 vaccine strategy announced in May, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been talking to her counterparts in Germany, Canada and Australia to ensure New Zealand gets a good deal. 

"I've been talking to a range of world leaders about global vaccine development, including Angela Merkel, Justin Trudeau and Scott Morrison," Ardern said on Thursday.  

"We are working particularly closely with Australia to ensure we are connected to all parts of vaccine development, distribution and use, as well as our Pacific neighbours to elevate their voices."

The hundreds of millions of dollars will come from the $50 billion COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, but it is not part of the $14 billion kept in reserve for a rainy day

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently signed a deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars with UK drug manufacturer AstraZeneca to secure a potential vaccine. 

He said there are plans to have it manufactured in Australia and distributed free to 25 million Australians, and the country's Health Minister Greg Hunt said it could be rolled out in New Zealand and across the Pacific. 

Ardern looks to be following in Australia's footsteps. 

"As the World Health Organisation says, vaccine nationalism only helps the virus. Collaboration is our strength and when we find a vaccine, it must be available to everyone," Ardern said. 

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods said nations around the world are using purchasing arrangements to secure supply, and this will be a "key mechanism" for helping New Zealand to gain access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Dr Woods said the Government's taskforce is "well-connected" with the Australians, and is "actively working together" with them to secure a vaccine for Australia, New Zealand and our Pacific neighbours. 

"Global cooperation is crucial because as long as one country or community is at risk, we are all at risk."

How is New Zealand contributing? 

The Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, University of Otago and Victoria University of Wellington have aligned to lead efforts to secure a vaccine as part of the newly established Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand. 

The group will receive $10 million to support the development of potential domestic and international COVID-19 vaccines by evaluating potential vaccines. 

Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand director Professor Graham Le Gros, of the Malaghan Institute, said on Thursday progress is being made in New Zealand. 

A pan-coronavirus vaccine is being explored by Avalia Immunotherapies with international collaborators, while an inactivated virus vaccine is in progress in Professor Miguel Quiñones-Mateu's lab at the University of Otago. 

"We're excited by the potential of these candidates, but we'll be putting them through the same rigorous screening process as we will other home-grown and international vaccine options," said Prof Le Gros.

He said across the globe COVID-19 vaccines are being developed rapidly for an emergency response, while others are being designed with the increasing knowledge of immunity to COVID-19. 

"These are ones, for example, that will provide lasting immunity, protect older and more vulnerable people, and can be scaled up and distributed easily and cheaply," Prof Le Gros said. "At this stage, the more vaccines being researched and developed the better - it gives us choices."

The potential vaccine by AstraZeneca, developed by an Oxford University group, is seen as a frontrunner in the global race to deliver an effective inoculation against the coronavirus, which has so far claimed the lives of more than 700,000 people.  

Human trials of the potential vaccine began in April and researchers reported in mid-July that it had produced a promising immune response in an early study of more than 500 adults. The final third phase of trials is currently underway.