Vaccines to protect against the coronavirus were designed, tested and manufactured in record time, and several have been approved for use in the UK vaccination programme, with a number of others under consideration.
The vaccines taskforce secured 40m doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the first coronavirus shot to be approved by the medicines regulator. The NHS vaccine rollout began on 8 December 2020 when 90-year-old Margaret Keenan became the first person in the world to receive the jab as part of a mass vaccination programme. This is one of the cutting-edge mRNA vaccines that smuggles the genetic instructions for making the coronavirus spike protein into muscle cells. Coronavirus is covered in spike proteins, so making human cells manufacture it primes the immune system to attack the virus should it invade.
With 100m doses on order, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is a major pillar of the national immunisation programme. The first shot outside trials was given on 4 January 2021. The vaccine is based on a virus that causes common colds in chimps. The virus is engineered to ensure it cannot replicate in humans and modified further to include the genetic instructions to make the coronavirus spike protein.
The second mRNA vaccine to reach the market joined the country’s vaccination programme less than three weeks ago, on 7 April. The government has ordered 17m doses of the Moderna jab. In response to the very rare blood clots seen in some people who receive the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, people under 30 in the UK are offered Moderna or Pfizer shots instead.
The UK medicines regulator is expected to approve the Novavax vaccine imminently. It is known as a protein subunit vaccine and incorporates a lab-made coronavirus spike protein and an ingredient called an adjuvant that makes the body’s immune response stronger. The UK has ordered 60m doses. While Novavax is a US company, supplies for the mass vaccination programme will be made in Stockton-on-Tees with the final “fill and finish” step at GlaxoSmithKline’s plant in Barnard Castle, County Durham.
Janssen/Johnson & Johnson
The UK medicines regulator is conducting a rolling review of the Janssen vaccine, which is based on similar “viral vector” technology to the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot. US health officials lifted a short pause in administering the Janssen vaccine on Saturday after deciding that the benefits outweighed the low risk of blood clots that resemble those seen in small numbers of people who received the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot. A major advantage of the Janssen vaccine is that it requires only one dose while the others need two. The UK vaccines taskforce has ordered 30m doses.
If it performs well in final stage trials, Valneva’s vaccine, which uses an inactivated whole virus and an adjuvant to strengthen the immune response, could be approved for use as a booster this autumn. The government has secured up to 100m doses. Further orders are in for 60m doses of a GSK/Sanofi vaccine and 50m doses of another mRNA vaccine from the German company CureVac. Both are still in trials.