UK orders 50million doses of ‘tweaked’ vaccines to stay ahead of mutant strains

THE UK has ordered 50 million doses of new tweaked vaccines that will work to tackle new Covid strains.

Manufacturers are on standby to make the jabs, to be delivered later this year, should they be needed, the Government said.

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It puts the UK in good stead to battle any new and dangerous coronavirus variants that emerge.

Although the vaccines being deployed now work against strains circulating, it's expected they could become less effective in the future.

In total, the UK now has a catalogue of 407 million doses of Covid vaccines, the majority of which were bought last year in the hope at least one vaccine candidate would be proven to work.

The Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “The vaccines we are deploying now are safe and effective, with the latest evidence suggesting they provide protection against new strains of Covid-19.

“But we must be prepared for all eventualities and bolster onshore UK manufacturing capacity to develop vaccines to combat new variants of the disease, taking advantage of our world-leading genomics expertise.

“This will help ensure we can continue to provide everyone with a high level of protection against the virus and save lives.”

The 50 million dose deal – which would cover almost all the UK population – is part of a partnership between the Government and German vaccine maker CureVac.

Scientists in the UK will work with CureVac to adapt its existing vaccine – currently in the late stages of clinical trials – to fight emerging variants.

The process will be similar to that for making the new flu vaccine each year.

Like the Pfizer jab, the next generation vaccines will be based on mRNA technology because it can be altered and manufactured quickly.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said: “While the vaccines currently being deployed in the UK appear to work well against the Covid-19 variants currently dominant in the UK, the virus continues to mutate and it is likely that our vaccines will have to adapt to continue to offer the best possible protection.

What vaccines does the UK have deals for?

  • Oxford/AstraZeneca: 100m doses (currently in use)
  • Pfizer/BioNTech: 40m doses (currently in use)
  • Moderna: 17m doses (approved and arriving in spring)
  • Novavax: 60m doses (finished trials and waiting for approval)
  • Janssen/Johnson & Johnson: 30m doses (finished trials and waiting for approval)
  • GlaxoSmithKline: 60m doses (early trials)
  • Valneva: 60m doses (early trials)
  • CureVac: 50m doses (not made)

Total: 407m doses

"Being able to create these new vaccines at speed will allow our scientists to keep ahead of the virus as they do every year with the influenza [flu] vaccine.”

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the partnership "means we can work to swiftly tweak and rollout" new vaccines.

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said "this is exactly the kind of work" that will help to "end this pandemic and return to normality".

Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines – given to more than 10 million Britons – appear to work well against the Covid-19 variants currently dominant in the UK.

This includes the new "Kent strain", which rampaged across the UK in December.

But there is concern over the South African and Brazilian strains, which have a certain worrisome mutation called E484K that is thought to weaken the vaccine's efficacy.

There are 4,000 coronavirus variants in circulation in the world, according to Mr Zahawi.

He told Sky News on February 4: "We have the largest genome sequencing industry – we have about 50 per cent of the world's genome sequencing industry.

"And we are keeping a library of all the variants so that we are ready to be able to respond – whether in the autumn or beyond – to any challenge the virus may present, and produce the next vaccine so we can always protect the United Kingdom and of course the rest of the world as well."

While thousands of variants have arisen as the virus mutates on replication, only a very small minority are likely to be important and to change the virus in an appreciable way, according to experts.

The mutations scientists are most concerned about are those with a change in the spike protein, particularly E484K.

One in five adults have now had their first dose of a Covid vaccine.

The NHS is now well on course to vaccinate 15million of the highest-risk Brits by mid-February.

Ministers are ecstatic that their gamble to delay giving the elderly a second jab for three months — so more people get their first — appears to have paid off.

 

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