The UK government has entered commercial negotiations with AstraZeneca to obtain a “variant of the vaccine” adapted to the variant first identified in South Africa, Matt Hancock announced.
This will ensure the UK’s vaccination program is one step ahead of the virus, the Health Secretary said.
Speaking at the Jenner Institute in Oxford, he said: “There is more to be done, the work is ongoing – we are still sourcing all the time and planning what we need to protect this country, including new vaccines, that are specifically geared towards worrisome variants.
“I can inform you today that we have entered into commercial negotiations with AstraZeneca to secure a vaccine variant – future supplies of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine that have been adapted to combat the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa.
“We are once again leading and supporting projects with potential so that we are one step ahead of the virus with our vaccination program and can protect the progress that we have all made.”
Mr Hancock also announced that half a billion doses of the Oxford / AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine have now been released for global supply.
Speaking at the Jenner Institute in Oxford, he said, “The Oxford vaccine, developed by brilliant science here in Oxford, coupled with the industrial might of AstraZeneca, backed by the support of the UK government, collectively makes it available at cost in my opinion the largest Gift this nation could give to the world during this pandemic.
“A vaccine that is chargeable – free but intellectual property – and because it can be stored, it simply offers hope for developing countries.
“So in addition to the money we donated – half a billion pounds to Covax (the global vaccine sharing facility) – we gave the world the vaccine that makes up 96% of those Covax doses.
“To date, I can confirm that over half a billion doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine have now been released for global distribution, most of them in low- and middle-income countries.”
Mr Hancock also said that the British “love to stand in line” and that there is “nothing more exciting than people standing in line”.
“I know a couple of eyebrows raised when I said the movie Contagion shaped my thinking about our vaccine program – I should assure Sir John Bell that it was not my main source of advice – but when I did this Film saw, a penny pen fell for me: not only that the vaccine would be our way out of the pandemic, but that the power of the vaccine would be so great that we would have to think very carefully about whom to protect and in what order.
“I knew that some of the toughest moments in the pandemic would not be before the vaccine was approved, but afterwards, when the vaccine battle began.”
He added: “We Brits love to stand in line and there is nothing more exciting than when someone jumps in line.
“So we started planning again early to make sure this was fair, and we took the time to prepare to organize the rollout as much as possible.
“The clinically recommended prioritization for the provision of vaccines in weapons was, in my opinion, critical to building confidence in the program as a whole, as it has helped show that the system is fair.
“So we took early action to reassure people that, in the best tradition of NHS values, vaccines are given on demand, not on solvency – whether you are Prime Minister, Premier League footballer or future king.” Of England. You have to wait your turn, just like everyone else. “