Northland GP Lance O'Sullivan has found himself in the middle of China's coronavirus outbreak while on a business trip to the country and says a "white label vaccine" that can be quickly adapted to fight disease outbreaks needs to be developed.
Coronavirus has infected hundreds and killed at least 25 people in China and cases have been reported in Thailand, the United States, Japan and South Korea.
O'Sullivan is in China with a Kiwi delegation - including Te Ropu Poa, general manager of Te Hau Ora O Ngapuhi - in Shenzhen, a city less than 1100km from Wuhan, where the virus emerged.
Wuhan and seven other cities have now been closed off by the Chinese Government to halt the spread of the deadly disease.
O'Sullivan, who is now based in Auckland, said the Wuhan strain of the coronavirus can cause pneumonia and has a 2.25 per cent mortality (death) rate. Most of those who have died are elderly and/or with pre-existing health problems.
''There are queues of people lining up outside drug stores here in Shenzhen to get the latest and greatest masks to protect themselves and their families,'' he said in a Facebook post.
''What we know is that protecting people in advance of being infected is the most effective strategy in the fight against virus menaces like this. The problem is it would take over a year to develop a customised vaccine to each strain that appears.
''What we should do is engineer a white label vaccine that has all the components of the different viruses that allows us to customise it quickly when virulent pathogens like the Wuhan virus appears.
"We should have the infrastructure to support rapid modification and deployment of these bespoke vaccines particularly to the countries of the world that are most at risk. These are countries like Samoa that have limited infrastructure and underdeveloped health systems.''
He said the biggest problem he had noticed in China is that people can buy some of the most potent antibiotics over the counter in pharmacies.
''This will be causing significant problems with antibiotic resistance which will be contributing to people having bacterial infections on top of viral infections (which we have limited weapons in the arsenal to treat). Also, antibiotic-resistant bacteria will be weakening people's immune system in advance of coming into contact with viruses,'' he said.
''Essentially, we need a global regulatory body that manages the development, distribution and use of antibiotics. This is something all the drug companies would hate. We can start by doing something in New Zealand that limits the use of antibiotics in our own health system – but that's another drama for another day.''