Siouxsie Wiles: New Zealand’s Covid-19 Vaccine Purchase Agreement Explained

Siouxsie Wiles: New Zealand’s Covid-19 Vaccine Purchase Agreement Explained
Siouxsie Wiles: New Zealand’s Covid-19 Vaccine Purchase Agreement Explained
The government has signed its first binding agreement to secure a Covid-19 vaccine. But what exactly is the vaccine, who is likely to get it and when? Siouxsie Wiles speaks through us.

This week, the New Zealand government announced that it had signed its first binding agreement to secure a Covid-19 vaccine. If everything goes according to plan, 750,000 people will be given vaccines. Here’s what this announcement means.

It’s only been 10 months since we first heard of a new virus in China. Since then, our worlds have been turned upside down and attempts have been made to develop a vaccine. More than 170 research teams are working on it globally, and 11 vaccine candidates are currently in phase 3 human trials, according to the Guardian’s Covid vaccine tracker. These studies test both safety and whether the vaccines could actually work, at least in the short term. Check out the handy guide that Toby Morris and I have put together to show the different types of vaccines that are currently being developed.

Here in New Zealand, our Covid-19 Vaccine Strategy Task Force has worked hard to ensure that we and our Pacific neighbors have access to safe and effective vaccines as soon as possible. They have already signed us to Covax, a global collaboration that aims to produce two billion doses of vaccine and distribute them fairly to all participating countries worldwide over the next year. Covax is pooling money from various countries to help develop a portfolio of vaccines and buy them on a large scale. Some of the money is also used to invest in manufacturing upfront so that all vaccines can be distributed immediately after they are licensed. With Covax, both the risks and benefits of developing and manufacturing vaccines in different countries will be shared, and we will have access to the nine vaccine candidates in their portfolio, three of which are currently in phase 3 trials.

Pfizer’s BNT162 vaccine

The task force not only supports Covax, but also negotiates with individual pharmaceutical companies about access to vaccines that are not part of Covax’s portfolio. And this announcement is the first to be signed with Pfizer and BioNTech. Under the agreement, we may receive doses of the BNT162 vaccine from Pfizer early next year. This would make it one of the earliest vaccines available if It completes all clinical trials within the deadlines suggested by the companies and is then approved by Medsafe.

BNT162 belongs in the candidate basket for genetic vaccines. The idea behind this approach to making a vaccine is to use only the genetic material that codes for the parts of the microbe that trigger our immune system. By introducing the genetic material into our bodies, our cells read the code and make the protein that our immune system can see. There are two strategies for developing a genetic vaccine: the first is using DNA and the second is using RNA. When DNA is used, the cell makes RNA from that DNA and then protein from the RNA. If using RNA, the DNA-to-RNA step is skipped. BNT162 is an RNA vaccine.

The advantages of genetic vaccines are that they are very quick to develop and easy to scale and manufacture. The main disadvantage is that vaccines developed using this technology have not yet been approved for use in humans. However, some have been approved for veterinary use.

Who will get the vaccine?

When a vaccine becomes available early next year, the next big question is who will get it. The Ministry of Health has announced that it is working on a strategy for decision and the current government has made it clear that the vaccine is not mandatory.


I recently re-watched the movie Contagion. If you haven’t seen it and can put up with a movie about a pandemic that frighteningly resembles Covid-19, I highly recommend it. It is interesting to see what they got right (conspiracy theorists selling wrong cures) and what they did wrong (some countries welcome the virus with open arms). Since this is a movie, it ends with the development of a vaccine. As soon as it becomes available, it will be allocated by the USA via a lottery. When making batches, authorities randomly choose a day and month, and anyone born on that date will be given the vaccine.

It’s an interesting strategy and certainly fair, if not particularly fair. Another strategy would be to vaccinate those who are more likely to get serious infection or who will die. For Covid-19, this would mean people over the age of 60, men, smokers and people with underlying diseases such as diabetes, diabetes, high blood pressure, COPD, coronary artery diseases and chronic kidney disease. Whether it is possible to vaccinate these groups depends on the vaccination trials that show that it is safe to do so.

Perhaps, if we want to keep catching the virus at our border, a better strategy would be to make sure everyone working on our borders and in managed isolation and quarantine is vaccinated. We could complement this with anyone who works in our health system, in our geriatric care facilities, and other key workers. If we still had doses, we could vaccinate those who have to travel overseas to work to make sure they don’t bring the virus with them. An available vaccine could also mean a change in our border policy. For example, those visitors who could prove they were vaccinated and had an immune response could be allowed into New Zealand without going through controlled isolation.

Whatever it decides, the government has allocated over $ 66 million to ensure it can start a vaccination program as soon as a vaccine becomes available. Now we just have to keep our fingers crossed and wait for the test results.

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