A man receives a Covid-19 vaccine at a drive-thru vaccination centre at Batchwood Hall, amid the outbreak of coronavirus in St Albans, Britain on February 5, 2021 (Photo: REUTERS/Paul Childs)

The government and vaccine manufacturer CureVac have tied up to rapidly develop new vaccines in response to new Covid-19 variants, if needed.

“The new agreement will utilise UK expertise on genomics and virus sequencing to allow new varieties of vaccines based on messenger RNA technology to be developed quickly against new strains of Covid-19 if they are needed,” the government has said on Friday (Feb 5).

“The government is establishing an expert advisory group to identify the variants that the UK could need vaccines against. Through the agreement announced today, the UK has placed an initial order for 50 million doses of new vaccines to be delivered later this year if they are required.”

The new number of doses is in addition to the broader portfolio of 407 million doses already secured by the government to date.

Almost all vaccines developed through this partnership against new Covid-19 strains will be variants of an existing jab by CureVac which is currently undergoing phase three clinical trials, meaning it should be possible to accelerate clinical trials ahead of submission to the regulator for approval.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “The vaccines we are deploying now are safe and effective, with the latest evidence suggesting they provide protection against new strains of Covid-19.

“But we must be prepared for all eventualities and bolster onshore UK manufacturing capacity to develop vaccines to combat new variants of the disease, taking advantage of our world-leading genomics expertise.

“This will help ensure we can continue to provide everyone with a high level of protection against the virus and save lives.”

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “This is exactly the kind of work that will stand us in good stead as we continue our monumental national effort to end this pandemic and return to normality.

“Of course we urge people to continue to take up the chance to have a vaccine when they are invited to – all of which are safe and have been proven to be effective against the virus.”

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