Hope Consortium: UK looks to inactivated Valneva vaccine to tackle Covid-19 variants

British vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi tells Abu Dhabi event about potential booster shot roll-out this autumn

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The UK could pin its hopes on a new inactivated vaccine to help guard against variants of the coronavirus.

Nadhim Zahawi, the UK’s vaccine minister, said Valneva's shot could provide more varied protection against new strains.

French drug maker Valneva has the vaccine in development at its lab in Scotland. It expects results from its Phase I and II trials within weeks.

Speaking at the World Immunisation & Logistics Summit, a virtual event organised by the Hope Consortium in Abu Dhabi, Mr Zahawi said the country was working on “future proofing” its successful vaccination campaign, which has seen more than 30 million people receive their first shot.

We are future-proofing by working on the possibility of an autumn jab, a booster jab. And then probably an annual vaccination

Two vaccines will be important in what happens next, he said.

“We have announced a very important collaboration with CureVac, which is another messenger RNA technology company that will be manufactured in the UK at scale,” he said.

“And then we have the Valneva vaccine, which is from a French company and [is] being manufactured in Scotland for the end of the year, which will probably form our annual vaccination programme.

“It’s a whole inactivated virus vaccine, which the scientists have great hope for in terms of dealing with any variants.

“So we are looking to future-proof our vaccination programme against any virus variants that may emerge and share it with the world. So we have put 548 million through Covax,” he added.

Mr Zahawi said his government was working with drug makers "on the possibility of an autumn jab, a booster jab. Certainly for the most vulnerable communities. And then probably an annual vaccination".

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) observes quality control technician Kerri Symington (L) as he visits the French biotechnology laboratory Valneva in Livingston, west Scotland, on January 28, 2021 where they are set to start large-scale manufacturing of a Covid-19 candidate vaccine. - Johnson visited Scotland on January 28 where he rejected calls for a second referendum on independence in Scotland, stating the case for a continued United Kingdom by the joint effort to combat the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo by Wattie Cheung / POOL / AFP)
Boris Johnson watches a technician work at Valneva's vaccine lab in Livingston, Scotland. Wattie Cheung AFP

Vaccine 'suitable for children'

The British government has already pre-purchased 60 million doses from Valneva for this year alone.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited the company's lab in Livingston, Scotland, when commercial production began last month.

It is produced using a dead version of the virus, like Sinopharm, the most widely available vaccine in the UAE.

The vaccine is unlikely to be approved until the end of 2021, but it is seen as an ideal annual booster shot.

Valvena has suggested it may be suitable for children.

Some experts believe inactivated vaccines may be more effective against new mutations because they are made using the whole virus, offering protection against multiple areas.

The majority of the current crop of vaccines are designed to generate antibodies against the spike only, which the Sars-CoV-2 virus uses to enter cells.

Many of the most concerning mutations to have emerged in the virus in recent months have appeared in the spike, which has rendered the vaccines less effective.

Initial tests using antibodies produced by the Pfizer vaccine showed the South African variant did not substantially affect its efficacy.

But a more recent study predicted greater problems, finding the strain was "markedly more resistant" to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, with a 10 to 12-fold reduction in neutralising antibodies.

By contrast, tests using antibodies generated against the Sinopharm vaccine showed they were still able to neutralise the variant, although the effect was slightly weaker than against the original virus.

The reduction in antibodies using the blood of someone vaccinated with the Sinopharm shot were around 1.6 fold less effective against the South African variant, according to the early research. The neutralisation of the virus was "largely preserved," it said.

The UK is currently using Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine; the latter was found to offer just 10 per cent protection against developing mild to moderate symptoms from the South African variant.