COVID-19: Govt looking at a portfolio of vaccines

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone.

The COVID-19 Response Minister says New Zealand is in talks with several companies that are working to make a vaccine for COVID-19.

But he will not confirm if work is underway to secure the latest one proven to be effective.

Moderna announced overnight its vaccine has been found to be 94.5 percent effective in preventing COVID-19.

Chris Hipkins told Morning Report there are "about 230 vaccine candidates under development ... we're monitoring them all and we're in conversation with as many of them as we can be".

He would not confirm if New Zealand is in talks with Moderna because there are "different degrees of commercial sensitivity" around those vaccine candidates.

But Hipkins is confident that "when vaccines come to the market, we will be at the front of the queue for those".

Last week, it was revealed that the government had purchased several bulk freezers for storing a coronavirus vaccine after news one could be ready next year.

Pfizer and German partner BioNTech SE are the first drugmakers to release successful data from a large-scale clinical trial of a vaccine.

The Pfizer product is not a done deal but is the strongest contender so far.

"Our strategy here is we are looking at a portfolio of vaccines, so there won't be a single vaccine for New Zealanders."

Hipkins says it's likely the country would receive different vaccines over different timetables, and it was necessary to set up the technology to be able to distribute them.

"The Pfizer vaccine requires a very very low temperature, -80C, in order to store it and to transport it.

"Whereas this latest one [Moderna], you're talking at a more regular vaccine temperature for storage and transport.

"We're making sure we've got the trucks and the refrigerators and all the gear ready to go for all the different potential vaccines, so ... when they start arriving, we can start getting them out quickly."

Hipkins did not give a set budget for the vaccines and the infrastructure to store and transport them, instead says: "Whatever we need to".

He says logistics are still being worked through.

Masks in Auckland taxis

Auckland taxi drivers are upset Thursday's incoming mask mandate applies to everyone on buses, trains and planes - as well as taxi drivers - but not taxi passengers.

"We did look at taxis ... enforcement becomes a potential issue."

Hipkins says the government also factored in the distance inside taxis.

"You're in a much smaller group of people, the taxi driver themselves will be wearing a mask ... most people sit it the back seat which means they're distanced from the driver.

"Maintaining good hygiene in their cab is one of the best things they can do to protect themselves and protect their passengers."

Public health expert Michael Baker, who has repeatedly called for the use of masks, believes it will help dampen down the threat of community transmission and avoid another lockdown.

According to the Public Health Response Act, a person might be liable for a fine of up to $1000 for not complying with the mask rules.

CovidCard and user privacy

Hipkins says the CovidCard trial is due to wrap up in the next few days and its results should be out in a week or two.

The government is also looking at different technologies that could be incorporated, but there were "concerns around ... protecting people's privacy".

An NZ Covid Tracer app user owned all the data they fed into it, he said, and the government did not "pull that data away from you".

"So anything that we did in that GPS, Bluetooth technology space we would be working on the same principle."


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