The UK has struck a deal with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline to manufacture tens of millions of doses of Novavax’s Covid-19 vaccine in Britain.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said up to 60 million doses would be bottled at a factory at Barnard Castle, a town in north-eastern England.
GSK said it hoped the “fill and finish” process could begin as early as May.
In August, Britain struck a deal to buy 60 million doses of Novavax’s vaccine.
The vaccine is being assessed by Britain’s medicines regulator for approval.
If approved, it would bring the number of Covid-19 vaccines authorised for use in the UK to four, joining products made by AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
The agreement comes as the UK is involved in a public spat with the European Union, where the vaccination programme has been much slower, over the supply of doses.
The EU has threatened to restrict vaccine vials being exported from the bloc based on vaccination rates in the destination country.
Prof Paul Heath, chief investigator of the Novavax trials, said the doses announced as part of the deal should first be administered in the UK.
“That is what we’d really like to see because this has been tested in the UK population,” he told Sky News on Tuesday.
“There will be doses we can send to other countries, and as soon as we have done priority groups in the UK we should be contemplating sending spare doses to countries not in the same position we are in.”
Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng said the UK would focus on vaccinating the whole of its adult population before it can provide any surplus shots to other countries, such as its close neighbour Ireland.
“I think our focus has to be to try and keep Britain safe. We want to work co-operatively as well with other countries but the main priority is to get the vaccine roll-out,” he said.
“Today we’ve got a crisis upon us, and it’s absolutely right that we should be focused on trying to deal with that in our own country and keeping our people safe, so that we can get back to a normal way of life.
The Novavax vaccine was shown this month to be 96 per cent effective against the original strain of the virus, and 86 per cent effective in protecting against the variant first identified in south-east England.
Novavax will manufacture some of the vaccine using Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies factories in Stockton-on-Tees, northern England.
Mr Johnson said production there had already started in anticipation of the vaccine’s approval.
“I’m delighted by GSK’s investment, which shows the strength of UK manufacturing, and will further boost our vaccine roll-out,” he said.
“The Vaccines Taskforce has worked hand in glove with business to successfully deliver vaccines to the whole of the UK, and this agreement will continue to support our approach.
“We remain on track to offer a first jab to all over-50s by 15 April, and all adults by the end of July, and I want to once again encourage everyone to come forward for a vaccine when you’re called.”