UK vaccine factory aims to combine Covid and flu shots

Epidemiologists believe booster shots will be needed to tackle coronavirus variants

Scientists in England are trying to combine the Covid-19 vaccine and flu shot to accelerate coronavirus booster programmes, it has been revealed.

Matthew Duchars, chief executive of the Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre, said his team would be evaluating the effectiveness of a single injection medicine.

Epidemiologists and vaccine manufacturers believe booster shots will be needed if coronavirus lockdowns are to be avoided.

“It will save a lot of time and it would be a lot more convenient to give just one shot, so it is something that we and vaccine developers and producers will be looking at,” Dr Duchars said.

“Let’s say we do need to give a seasonal vaccine and people need one shot for flu, and one shot for Covid and another for something else. If you can put them all into one, then that’s obviously preferable.”

If the combined vaccine is feasible it would be produced at VMIC, a £215 million ($297.9m) complex being built in Oxfordshire to become the UK’s first dedicated plant for developing and manufacturing vaccines.

VMIC expects to produce 70 million doses of a vaccine within four to five months.

“Our target is reasonable. I feel confident we can do that. Can we do it faster? Possibly. Hopefully. We’ll absolutely be working on trying to do that,” Dr Duchars said.

He said the UK’s vaccine stockpile was so vast that VMIC’s capabilities would not be needed until 2022.

The plan for a vaccine factory was first developed in 2018 and over the past year has centred on the coronavirus vaccine developed in Oxford.

The British government plans to start using VMIC's products next year.

“In our discussions, the [government] plan is to use VMIC for the revaccination campaign in 2022. That’s what we’ve refocused our efforts and attention on,” Dr Duchars said.

The UK is now out of its most recent coronavirus lockdown and almost all of the restrictions imposed have been lifted with most aspects of everyday life returning to near normality.

For several months, vaccine manufacturing companies have said they expect that fully inoculated people would need an extra dose to maintain protection and fend off new coronavirus variants.

A growing list of governments, including those in Chile, Germany and Israel, have decided to offer booster doses to older citizens or people with weak immune systems to curtail the fast-spreading Delta variant.

Updated: August 16th 2021, 11:13 AM