Stepping up New Zealand's programme to develop a Covid-19 vaccine could enable the country to relax border restrictions sooner and the University of Otago would be at the heart of achieving that, the director of the university's Webster Centre for Infectious Diseases says.
Associate Professor James Ussher has called for up to $10 million to be pumped into building a national effort to neutralise the virus.
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He believes that could help New Zealand get access to a suitable vaccine faster, and strengthening local capacity in vaccine production would have longer-term benefits in helping to meet future challenges.
The university has been central to New Zealand's response to the global pandemic and infectious diseases physician Ayesha Verrall and public health expert Emeritus Professor David Skegg have been prominent figures.
Ussher believed the high-security laboratory in Dunedin was the only one in the country growing the virus.
"Having the virus enables us to test the nature of the immune response."
The work there could be crucial to help New Zealand return to a more normal setting.
With so little of the country's population exposed to Covid-19, it would be some time before border restrictions could be lifted, he said.
"We have an economic imperative to get a vaccine early."
New Zealand had the potential to both develop and manufacture a vaccine.
"We've got the scientists, the research facilities and the manufacturing facilities.
''There is the capacity necessary to produce a protein-based vaccine at a scale required to vaccinate populations."
The centre is working with partners internationally and Ussher suggested AgResearch and ESR could help with pre-clinical trials.