British officials have ordered another 90million doses of experimental coronavirus vaccines in support of efforts by pharmaceutical companies Johnson & Johnson and Novavax.
If all the vaccines pre-ordered by the UK are successful and go into production the country will have a massive stockpile of 340million jabs – enough to give every person in the country five each.
Britain’s ‘buy first, test later’ approach may be its best chance of getting a working jab, said the Vaccine Taskforce chief, who admitted most of the Covid-19 jabs won’t work.
As part of the new deals with the US-based drug companies, officials will fund clinical trials of the jabs in Britain.
If they are proven to work they could be given to members of the public as soon as the middle of next year. It is not clear how much money the UK has spent on the deals.
The global race for a vaccine – seen as the only viable way to stop the coronavirus – has received promising boosts in recent weeks as early trial results have emerged.
The first clinical trial of one of the UK’s biggest hopes, a jab made by Oxford University, showed signs that it produces an immune response and is safe.
News of Britain’s latest deal comes after Russia this week announced that it has approved its own vaccine after trials on just three dozen people, provoking concern from scientists that it is rushing into experiments without data to prove it is safe.
The deals with Janssen Pharmaceuticals – which is owned by Johnson & Johnson – and Novavax are the latest in a string of agreements the British Government has made to get its hands on a vaccine.
Companies including GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Valneva have all also received orders for their jabs.
Officials are taking a spread-betting approach ordering stacks of numerous types of jab in the hope that at least one of them will work.
Deals for a total 340million doses have so far been announced for the nation, which has a population of around 67million people.
Until clinical trial results appear, it is unclear whether people are likely to be given just the best-performing jab or a combination of different types.
Kate Bingham, a biotech investory and the chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce, said it is unlikely that all the vaccines being developed will work.
She told Good Morning Britain: ‘The issue is we don’t know which, if any of these, may work, because there have been no vaccines against any human coronavirus.
‘What we’re doing is we’ve chosen six of the most promising vaccines across four different vaccine types and we’re hoping that one of those will work. It would be a nice position if they all work but that’s not likely.
‘The reality is that most will fail. And we want to be sure that if any one is shown to be effective and safe, that we have rights to it.
‘I’m an optimistic person… I would be confident that we will find something that will work.
‘I’m not sure it will be a sterilising vaccine, which means it will prevent all infection, but I’m reasonably confident that we will find a vaccine that will reduce the severity of symptoms and reduce death so that we can actually turn this into a flu-like disease as opposed to a much more severe, potentially lethal disease.’
Janssen’s vaccine is currently going through its first in-human trials on a group of 1,045 adults over the age of 18 in the US and Belgium.
The jab is named Ad26.COV2-S, recombinant, and is a type of jab called a viral vector recombinant vaccine. It works in a similar way to the one being made by the University of Oxford.
Proteins that appear on the outside of the coronavirus are reproduced in a lab and then injected into the body to stimulate an immune reaction.
The ‘Ad’ part of the vaccine’s name means it works using an adenovirus – a virus best known for causing the common cold – as a vehicle to transport the coronavirus genetics into the body.
In this way the jab can create the illusion of the body being infected by Covid-19 – forcing the immune system to react – but not actually cause an illness.
Novavax’s jab, named NVX-CoV2373, has already progressed through early human trials.
In tests on 131 adults between the age of 18 and 59, the vaccine appeared to be safe and to provoke an immune reaction in 100 per cent of people who received it.
People were given two doses of the jab three weeks apart and the immune response appeared to get stronger after the second dose, the trial found.
Novavax’s candidate is also a recombinant vaccine and transports the spike proteins found on the outside of the coronavirus into the body in order to provoke the immune system.
The company said the immune response it produced was ‘robust’ and four times stronger than the one in people who had actually had Covid-19.
Ms Bingham said the speed at which vaccines are being created to try and beat the coronavirus is like nothing the world has ever seen.
She told GMB: ‘If you think this is a virus we only learnt about in January and I’m now talking to you about a portfolio of vaccines, three of which have already got substantial clinical data which could be ready by the end of the year.
‘That is an astonishing, unprecedented development speed. The people who are responsible for that should go down in the history books.’
Global efforts to create a vaccine took an unexpected turn this week when the Russian government announced it had approved a jab made in the country.
President Vladimir Putin said his own daughter had been injected with the vaccine, such was his confidence in the jab.
But scientists were sceptical and it later emerged that there have not been proper safety tests or experiments to see if the vaccine works.
The jab was waved through after tests on only 38 people and causes side-effects including pain and swelling, according to official paperwork.
The much-trumpeted drug was registered after just 42 days of research, Fontanka news agency says – and its effectiveness is said to be ‘unknown’.
One of the documents submitted for registration says that ‘no clinical studies have been conducted to study the epidemiological effectiveness,’ despite Putin’s claims that the vaccine has passed ‘all the necessary tests’.
There are also questions about the vaccine’s ability to create sufficient antibodies, after Putin said his own daughter had already developed them after being injected.
Scientists criticised Putin for the ‘reckless and foolish’ move which they said could make the pandemic worse if the vaccine proves dangerous or ineffective.
While Putin said his daughter had suffered no side effects worse than a high temperature, Russian news agency Fontanka claimed there were a long list of ‘adverse events’ (AEs) which occurred ‘frequently and very often’.