Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced hundreds of millions of dollars to help secure access to a Covid-19 vaccine as soon as one becomes available.

The specific amount, from the Government's Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund, cannot be disclosed due to commercial sensitivity - but it is not part of the $14 billion still in reserve.

But a vaccine might be as long as two years away, according to Professor Graham Le Gros, programme director of funding recipient Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand – Ohu Kaupare Huaketo, a partnership between the Malaghan Institute, Otago University and Victoria University.

Le Gros said he didn't want to give people false hope about when a vaccine might be ready.

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"The brutal truth is we don't know a lot about this virus and how to make an effective vaccine against it," he said.

"I don't want to depress anyone, but it is going to take time. We have to be patient. My guess is two years."

Professor James Ussher, who is the alliance's science director said some vaccine candidates might be shown to be "efficacious" early next year "at the earliest".

But getting a vaccine through trials was only the first step, and then making and distributing it was a challenge, he added.

"We're not necessarily going to get all the vaccine we need in one go because of the massive global demand. It may be some vaccine comes in initially for those at the most risk.

"That's something that needs to be worked out."

Where in the vaccine queue is NZ?

Ardern visited the Malaghan Institute in Wellington this morning with Minister of Research, Science and Innovation Megan Woods.

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Woods said some of the funding was to ensure New Zealand wasn't at the back of the vaccine queue, including enabling manufacturing in New Zealand on a large scale.

"Otherwise we simply would be left out."

Part of the Government funding - $3 million - is for Biocell to upgrade its facilities so it could make one hundred million doses.

Ardern said the strategy was about making sure not only New Zealand but also Pacific countries wouldn't miss out.

"Assessments will be made around with those countries with high needs, and relative to others New Zealand has performed incredibly well in protecting its population from Covid-19.

"We don't want that to be a reason where we're not able to access vaccination in a timely way.

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"The hundreds of millions we've put into this strategy I think means we can be optimistic around where New Zealand is positioned."

Research Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wearing masks during their visit to the Malaghan Institute of Medical Reasearch. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Research Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wearing masks during their visit to the Malaghan Institute of Medical Reasearch. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Le Gros said there would be a lot of vaccines, and NZ had a privilege where we didn't need to rush in and get the first vaccine - it was important to get "the right one" for New Zealand.

Some that were being worked on "stimulate the immune response like bloody hell" to drive a long-term immune response.

He said other countries were politicising the vaccine race, which could see a vaccine rushed out and end up hurting people.

"We don't want to do that. You'll see an international resistance to rushing in, and you see it already in the US."

Asked to elaborate on the US, he said:"I don't want to get into that sort of stuff."

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Ussher said so far there wasn't evidence of Covid-19 mutation that showed the current vaccine candidates wouldn't last long.

Previous Govt spending

The funding announced today is in addition to the $37 million vaccine strategy released in May to support domestic and international work.

Some of that money included:

• $15m is for New Zealand to join CEPI (the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) Investors' Council for global research efforts.

• $5m is for New Zealand manufacturing capability.

• $7m for the vaccine alliance, Gavi, which distributes vaccines to developing countries.

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• $10m is for Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand – Ohu Kaupare Huaketo

Le Gros said the alliance will evaluate vaccine candidates in pre-clinical models and human trials.

He said the alliance's funding pot has been boosted by donations, which as well as supporting the platform was accelerating the alliance's own vaccine research and development efforts.

This includes a recombinant spike protein vaccine being developed out of Dr Davide Comoletti's lab at Victoria University of Wellington, an inactivated virus vaccine in progress in Professor Miguel Quiñones-Mateu's lab at the University of Otago and a pan-coronavirus vaccine being explored by Avalia Immunotherapies with international collaborators.

"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."

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WHO - 29 potential vaccines

A recent World Health Organisation report said 29 potential vaccines have reached clinical evaluation - including seven which have reached the crunch stage of phase III.

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University of Auckland vaccinologist Associate Professor Helen Petousis-Harris said one of those could even be cleared to begin rolling out by the end of the year.

One potential was the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca's viral vector vaccine, called ChAdOx1-S, which has already been observed to provoke a T-cell response within 14 days of vaccination - and an antibody response within 28 days.

Australia was now looking to get its hands on the vaccine, having just signed an agreement to manufacture it.

Two other vaccine candidates, also in phase III, are from a revolutionary new class called RNA vaccines, are designed to induce neutralising antibodies directed at a portion of the coronavirus "spike" protein, which the virus uses to bind to and enter human cells.

The LNP-encapsulated mRNA vaccine, developed by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Massachusetts-based Moderna in the US, and the 3 LNP-mRNAs vaccine, created by BioNTech, Fosun Pharma and Pfizer, are both showing promise.

Meanwhile Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed off a mass roll-out of the Sputnik V vaccine, but immunologists have seriously questioned its efficacy.

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