Govt ‘moving’ on vaccine research: scientist

The Wellington scientist working on a Covid-19 vaccine believes Government health officials are finally getting on board.

Last week, the Otago Daily Times reported Malaghan Institute director Graham Le Gros had given his team the go-ahead to start work despite not having Government permission or funding.

Yesterday, Prof Le Gros said he understood health officials were now "moving", although "glacially".

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods did not have any comment yesterday.

However, in a statement several days ago she said New Zealand had a lot of expertise in vaccine research "which could be used in the race to find a Covid-19 vaccine".

"The Government is currently investigating how to ensure research efforts here connect to global research, so there is a co-ordinated strategy on finding a Covid-19 vaccine.

"We’ll have more to say on this in the near future."

Prof Le Gros said he needed the Government to produce systems for delivering a vaccine safely.

He believed a collaborative New Zealand effort had every chance of succeeding ahead of overseas efforts, despite a late start.

Oxford University has been reported as leading the race, predicting the first few million doses of vaccine could be ready by September.

Prof Le Gros said he was "beavering away" and "not listening" to those who said it could not be done in New Zealand.

"Everybody’s rushed in, but the ones that have held back a bit and learned ... and prepared their vaccine properly will be ahead."

Prof Le Gros said he would not be feeling "quite so bullish" were it not for the "two guys" at the University of Otago — Prof Miguel Quinones-Mateu and Associate Prof James Ussher.

Prof Quinones-Mateu had already grown seven different versions of the virus, he said.

"Not many people can do that.

"He’s making nice little pots of it so I can test it on the vaccine.

"We’ve got a really good group of people."

Prof Le Gros described himself as "an experienced old drug developer".

"It’s not the shiniest, loudest ones that get there; it’s the ones that just know how to work together very carefully and soberly and truthfully with each other."

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