Delta, Omicron… this is just the beginning of COVID-19 variants to hit New Zealand

24 January 2022

Auckland: COVID-19 Vaccine Corporation (CVC), made up of New Zealand’s most experienced group of vaccine producers, is warning people not to take Omicron lightly.

There have been numerous media reports suggesting the latest strain of the COVID-19 virus to arrive on New Zealand shores is less virulent, therefore possibly less dangerous.

However, Chief Executive and lifelong biotech researcher, Dr Robert Feldman says that is not necessarily the case.

“Let’s be clear. Omicron is by no means an innocent viral infection. People are dying of Omicron. There are reports around the world of hospitals beyond breaking point, cancelled travel due to lack of staff and businesses unable to operate effectively,” he says.

“Just across the Tasman, where Omicron in rampant in Australia, deaths have shot up from zero to a near all-time high of 50 per day. It’s difficult to predict exactly what will happen when Omicron spreads in New Zealand but it’s clearly going to be a very challenging time,” Dr Feldman adds.

The company, which has been developing a unique mRNA vaccine enhancer using New Zealand technology since April 2020, warned of mutations from the outset. As a result, its entire research programme was predicated on different variants of the SARS-CoV-2 arising with time.

CVC’s vaccine is designed to work differently to currently marketed COVID-19 vaccines and had it been available currently, it is predicted to provide close to 100% coverage against Delta and Omicron variants.

“Back in April 2020, we at CVC saw this coming. With our knowledge of infectious diseases and vaccines, we predicted that the then new COVID-19 virus would mutate and circumvent immunity. As the Omicron variant now spreads across the globe causing havoc, it seems we were right,” says Dr Robert Feldman.

“Inevitably, Omicron’s spread has begun in New Zealand. It’s so infectious that it could not be kept within MIQ facilities indefinitely, which was known to us. If our vaccine had been more advanced and available, New Zealand and the world may not have been in the Omicron predicament it is now grappling with. It is clear that COVID-19 is here to stay in one form or another and part of learning to live with the virus is having an effective vaccine,” he adds.

The company recently raised an additional $2 million from a private investor, making a total of $6.3 million invested privately. It has received less than $1 million in government grants.

With the funds it has received, the biotech company has progressed its programme significantly, via showing proof of concept in pre-clinical models and advancing approaches to manufacture at scale.

To progress more quickly, CVC will need around $20 million to perform a first human trial in New Zealand by end of 2022.