Is our access to vaccines influenced by major foreign pharmaceutical manufacturers?
As at 26 March 2021 Minister Chris Hipkins announced New Zealand has 200,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine with nearly 10,000 immunised. But he warned supply issues will always be a factor for vaccines. (1)
The Lancet in February 2021 shows Sputnik V is 91.6 per cent effective after two doses and 73.1 per cent effective after one dose. (2)
Hipkins said New Zealand will not be buying the Sputnik V vaccine as it had already booked which vaccines it is purchasing but the vaccine could be sold privately if it passes Medsafe scrutiny. (3)
“As long as they follow all the rules,” he said. “They will have to apply to Medsafe and if they wanted to do that independent of the government and, if they approve it, it can be used. Some need Environmental Protection Agency approval as well.” (4)
- Encouraging comments from the minister, you may consider?
Auckland University’s Dr Helen Petousis-Harris previously said Sputnik V vaccine would “never in a million years” enter New Zealand but concluded the latest test data is positive. She “would roll up her sleeve” if the vaccine passed Medsafe scrutiny. (5)
Media have recently exposed shortage of vaccine for New Zealand
“Government is scrambling for ways to keep up the pace of the vaccine roll-out that has seen people racing to get jabs after the arrival of the Delta variant and the level 4 lockdown.
“In the absence of securing more supplies, by the start of next week the Government could face a tough choice of deliberately slowing down its vaccine programme in the middle of a Covid-19 outbreak to ensure that the programme continues without running out of vaccine.
“While there are more than 4 million doses of the vaccine expected in October, there is a potential lean period of a fortnight or so from mid-September. The Government is understood to be keen to take advantage of the surge in demand for vaccines and ramp up the roll-out further by getting extra supply, but it needs to secure it first. (6)
One solution seems to be Janssen vaccine? Provisionally approved by Medsafe, it is now promoted with the following level of – enthusiasm:
“The advisory centre’s director, Nikki Turner, told Morning Report the vaccine’s advantage was that it only required a single dose, although it was not known how long its effects would last.
“It’s acting very similar to other high-performing vaccines internationally, particularly probably more so against severe disease, which is the major output.”
“The Janssen vaccine could also “prevent transmission to some degree”, she said.
“However, Turner said the country is not likely to access the vaccine any time soon due to a world shortage, and also considering there was already supply available of another vaccine.
“There’s a world shortage of this vaccine, we can’t just go and get it immediately.
“My understanding from the international supply, the chance of getting it in before the end of the year is very slim. (7)
Meanwhile, Sputnik has been approved in 71 countries with a 91.6 per cent effective after two doses and 73.1 per cent effective after one dose.
A question which may begin to form in the minds of some readers is; “Why wont NZ Medsafe approve Sputnik?”
Be mindful also, that the process in NZ for government funding, also requires approval of Pharmac.
From my days as an MP listening to colleagues whose responsibilities included health (my 9 years were committed to Primary Industries and SOE’s) I do recall heated exchanges about the influence one particular foreign country was having on the importation, approval and funding of pharmaceuticals. The contentious point was, to what extent was commercial gain being elevated over best medicines and humanitarian considerations?
This conundrum seems to be an enduring issue:
“Pfizer raised the price of its Covid-19 vaccine by more than a quarter and Moderna by more than a tenth in the latest EU supply contracts as Europe battled supply disruption.” (8)
“New analysis by the Alliance shows that the firms Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are charging governments as much as USD$41 billion (NZD$58 billion) above the estimated cost of production.” (9)
Questions which do need to be answered include:
- When New Zealand signs up to buy a vaccine, is it required to absolve the manufacturer of liability for – adverse events?
- When New Zealand signs up to buy a vaccine, is it required to agree not to purchase vaccines from specified providers?
Answers to these questions may well assist readers to draw conclusions that matters I was privy to being discussed in caucus between 1987 – 1996, remain as contentious.
Ross Meurant, graduate in politics both at university and as a Member of Parliament; formerly police inspector in charge of Auckland spies; currently Honorary Consul for an African state Trustee and CEO of Russian owned commercial assets in New Zealand and has international business interests.