A third Covid vaccine is likely to be approved for use in Britain next week but it will not be available until April because the UK is no longer part of the EU.
Britain has ordered 7m doses of the Moderna vaccine, which has been approved by regulators in the EU and US. But UK authorisation will not help the government towards its goal of vaccinating the most vulnerable by mid-February.
The Moderna vaccine is similar to the Pfizer/BioNTech version and has produced equally strong results in late-stage clinical trials, with efficacy of 94%. However, it was not part of the portfolio of vaccines bought by the UK until those results were released.
The government then put in an order for 5m doses, which was later increased to 7m, but deliveries will not begin until the beginning of April.
The European commission, meanwhile, has ordered 160m doses for member states. The European Medicines Agency has just given conditional approval to the vaccine, as it has to the Pfizer vaccine, which means that deliveries will soon begin. Hungary said it was expecting its first shipment of 1.7m doses next week under the EU’s purchase agreement.
It comes as analysis carried out for the Guardian reveals that first-dose Covid vaccinations would need to double each week within the next fortnight to achieve the government’s target of offering the vaccine to 13.9 million people by mid-February.
Almost 1.1 million people in England have received their first vaccine dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, and almost 20,000 have received their second, according to data released by NHS England on Thursday.
The regime needs to reach at least 2 million people weekly across the UK in the coming weeks in order to vaccinate the 13.9 million people in the most vulnerable groups including all over-70s, according to a simulation carried out by 7bridges, a company which provides an AI-powered logistics platform to industry, including healthcare providers.
Some 326,866 vaccinations, including 20,000 second doses, were carried out in England in the week to 3 January, one-sixth of that figure.
The Moderna vaccine was developed in the US by a company based in Massachusetts, which has had substantial funding from America’s Operation Warp Speed, with the majority of production committed to the US.
The next vaccine candidate to announce its phase 3 trial results, paving the way for emergency authorisation, may be Janssen, which is part of the multinational Johnson & Johnson. “We expect data at the end of the month,” said a spokesperson.
The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has initiated a rolling review of the vaccine given as a single shot. Most of the others require a booster dose so more vaccine is needed. Janssen’s vaccine is similar to the one made by Oxford University/AstraZeneca in that it uses a weakened adenovirus to deliver a coronavirus protein and trigger a response by the immune system.
There is optimism that the vaccine will be effective and useful for the UK, which has bought 30m doses with an option to secure 22m more.
“My prediction is that it’ll work well, although we need to wait for the trial results,” Sir John Bell, the government’s life sciences champion, told the Daily Telegraph. “I think they will have supplies available for the UK in a timeframe that would allow it just to catch the mid-February target of getting the numbers up. I think it may well have a material impact on what we can do in the UK to get more people vaccinated.”
Janssen say they have established a good supply chain on many continents. Major manufacturing sites are in the Netherlands, the US, South Africa and India.