BRITAIN has secured early access to 90 million doses of “promising” Covid-19 vaccines – with more on the way.
Key workers will be first in line for the jab, which the Government’s vaccine tsar is “hopeful” will be available by the end of the year.
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The deals include vaccines being developed by pharmaceutical giants BioNtech and Pfizer as well as the firm Valneva.
This is in addition to 100 million doses of a vaccine being developed by Oxford University with AstraZeneca, whose early results are due to be published in The Lancet medical journal today.
Kate Bingham, chairwoman of the UK Vaccine Taskforce, said the goal of the taskforce was “to find vaccines for the UK, but also to ensure that any successful vaccine is distributed across the globe, so that anybody who is at risk of infection is vaccinated”.
She told Sky News: “We’re not pursuing a strategy of vaccine nationalism.
“We are recognising that this is a global pandemic and we need to ensure that the globe – and all those who need it – are vaccinated.”
However, she cast doubt on whether the Oxford vaccine would be ready by the autumn, as previously hoped.
She told BBC Radio 4 she remained “hopeful” but admitted that academics are unlikely to get enough data to prove it works until the end of the year.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson this morning said that Britain’s health care professionals would be the first to receive the vaccine.
The Government is aiming to build a portfolio of potential vaccines, alongside effective treatments for coronavirus.
The latest announcement is for 30 million doses of a vaccine from BioNTech/Pfizer, 60 million doses from Valneva, with an option to acquire a further 40 million doses if needed.
If the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine is shown to work, regulatory review could be sought as early as October 2020, with up to 100 million doses potentially manufactured by the end of the year.
The Government has also signed a deal with AstraZeneca for one million doses in principle of a treatment containing Covid-19 neutralising antibodies.
This could protect those who cannot receive vaccines, such as people with cancer or whose immune system is severely compromised.
A new NHS Covid-19 vaccine research registry has also been established with the aim of recruiting 500,000 volunteers by October to test new vaccines and treatments.
Ms Bingham said: “The Vaccine Taskforce is investing in a diverse portfolio of vaccine candidates to maximise the chances of finding a vaccine quickly that meets the UK’s rigorous regulatory and safety standards.
“The fact that we have so many promising candidates already shows the unprecedented pace at which we are moving.
“But I urge against being complacent or over-optimistic.
“The fact remains we may never get a vaccine and if we do get one, we have to be prepared that it may not be a vaccine which prevents getting the virus, but rather one that reduces symptoms.”
She added that the UK has been at the forefront of the global race to find a vaccine.
Ms Bingham said that trials are being held in the UK as well as in Brazil and South Africa where significant outbreaks have been seen in recent weeks.
“It all depends on how much infection we see, we will need to have sufficient data that shows the vaccine is safe,” she added.
Asked whether or not she was worried about the mutation of the virus she replied: “Not too worried right now as this does not seem to be a vaccine that rapidly mutates.
“This will be a long term concern that we will need to address. There will be some vaccines that are better at changing their design according to the mutation of the virus.”
Speaking on the benefits of vaccination, she said people pushing an anti-vaccination message are “not helping themselves or others”.
“We are living in a world where we don’t have millions of children dying in childhood. Vaccination has had a large benefit to society.
“If large numbers of people do not get vaccinated then the restrictions will have to remain.”
Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “The hunt to find a vaccine is a truly global endeavour and we are doing everything we can to ensure the British public get access to a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine as soon as possible.
We are doing everything we can to ensure the British public get access to a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine as soon as possible
“This new partnership with some of the world’s foremost pharmaceutical and vaccine companies will ensure the UK has the best chance possible of securing a vaccine that protects those most at risk.
“The public can also play their part in vaccine research through the new NHS vaccine research register.
“By signing up and participating in important clinical studies, together we can speed up the search for a vaccine and end the pandemic sooner.”
Meanwhile, the clinical trials carried out by Valneva, which has a factory in Livingston, Scotland, are expected to be partly funded by the UK government.
It has been reported that the funding will also allow the firm’s Scottish facility to expand, allowing production of up to 100 million doses – some of which could be sold around the world.
The Valneva remedy is an “inactivated virus vaccine”, also known as a “killed vaccine”, which means it consists of virus pathogens which have lost their disease-producing capacity.
Other vaccines use live pathogens which are still alive but are weakened.
A separate Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre is currently under construction in Oxfordshire.
Imperial College London is also developing a vaccine with Government backing. Its vaccine started human clinical trials in June.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “A safe and effective vaccine is our best hope of defeating coronavirus and returning to life as normal.
“We have some of our best scientists and researchers working on this, but members of the public have a vital role to play too.
A safe and effective vaccine is our best hope of defeating coronavirus and returning to life as normal
“So I urge everyone who can to back the national effort and sign up to the NHS Covid-19 vaccine research registry to help find a vaccine as soon as possible.
“Every volunteer will be doing their bit towards finding a vaccine for Covid-19 that will have the potential to save millions of lives around the world and bring this pandemic to an end.”
Albert Bourla, chairman of Pfizer, said the new agreement with the UK “is testament to our shared goal to have millions of doses of a vaccine against Covid-19 available before the end of the year”.
He added: “This agreement is part of our commitment to address the pandemic by creating a global supply.
“We are in advanced discussions with multiple other Government bodies and hope to announce additional supply agreements soon.
“Our goal remains to bring a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine to many people around the world, as quickly as we can.”
There is currently no working vaccine against Covid-19 and experts say one will be needed to control the pandemic that has killed over 600,000 around the world.
Her comments come after a survey found that a quarter of Brits may refuse a Covid vaccine.
Shocking figures suggest 27 per cent of people could refuse the vaccine because they believe myths being peddled by “anti-vaxxers”.
Research agency ORB International, which works with London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, last week surveyed 2,065 people across the UK.
Those surveyed were asked if they agreed with the following statement: “I would not want to be vaccinated against the coronavirus if a high-quality vaccine were available.”
Some seven per cent of people “strongly agreed” they would not want to be vaccinated, and seven per cent “agreed”, while 13 per cent said they were “undecided”.
Of those receiving the vaccine senior minister Mr Williamson today said NHS workers would be first in line.
Speaking on Sky News this morning, he said: “There is not a single silver bullet but we do have to recognise that a vaccine is the safest and best route of this crisis.
“It is right that the government is making the investment and placing these orders with these vaccines so we have a range of options.
“The first stage will obviously be those critical workers, and there will be a basis of assessment, but it’s about making sure we have vaccines for the whole population.”
People in the UK have been encouraged to sign up to a new NHS website to make it quicker and easier for potential volunteers to join vital studies that could help save lives.
The is to aim get 500,000 people signed up by October.
To sign up to the registry click here.