Viral immunologist says a vaccine in NZ will be “late, limited and last”

Media Release

16 August 2020

A University of Guelph viral immunologist, commissioned by the Government of Ontario to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, says New Zealand could be in isolation for years if it sticks to its suppression strategy and waits for a vaccine.

“The race to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus is certainly on, but the timelines being reported by media, and hopeful virologists, have been greatly overstated,” said Dr Byram Bridle.

“The world record for a vaccine is four years from the start of a phase 1 clinical trial to safety-tested availability. This does not include the several years that are needed for the preceding discovery phase. Further, timelines for manufacturing, quality control-testing and distributing a vaccine could be very protracted. The promises being made of a vaccine within a year are very, very unlikely.”

Dr Bridle noted that it is troubling to see world governments re-define a successful COVID-19 vaccine as one that merely reduces the severity of Covid19 in an individual as opposed to preventing the spread of the disease.

“The quickest solutions, using a killed virus or parts of the virus as the base, probably won’t trigger the body’s proper immune response.”

The other challenges for New Zealand were getting access to any version of a vaccine ahead of rich or very poor countries ravaged by the disease, and public take-up.

Other countries have more money, and greater need, than New Zealand. All countries will be faced with the long time it takes to roll out a vaccine, and the large part of their population which will be reticent about the vaccine’s efficacy.

“New Zealand would be unwise to rely on elimination of the virus until a vaccine appears – because a vaccine will be late, and its availability will be limited. It’s arguable that by being free of the disease, New Zealand will be last in the queue for a vaccine,” he said.

Dr Bridle explained that given the challenges facing a vaccine, his team had decided to focus not on a specific vaccine for Covid19, but to adapt their existing work in cancer therapies to create a “plug and play” format for future coronaviruses.

“We can use live vectors to deliver the vaccine directly into cells to ensure an appropriate immune response. We’re trying to prove the viability of this approach so, unlike other “one-off” approaches, our platforms can be adapted to develop vaccines for future versions of a coronavirus. That means future vaccines might be made more quickly and cheaply.”

Dr Bridle is one of the international speakers at the COVID-19 Science and Science Symposium Webinar on Monday.

Joining the webinar, Dr Bridle will present on what a realistic vaccine development timeline looks like and briefly on his current research project to develop a versatile vaccine strategy that can be rapidly mobilised for the next major coronavirus outbreak.