UK in 'advanced discussions' to buy Moderna Covid vaccine

The UK has not acquired the Moderna vaccine but is in “advanced discussions” to ensure British access, officials have said, while cautioning that no one in the UK would be able to be given it until spring next year.

A government spokesman said the company was scaling up its European supply chain but that it would be around four to six months before the vaccine might be available in the UK, a far longer timeframe than the Pfizer-BionTech vaccine, which the chief scientific officer has said could be available by Christmas.

The US biotech firm Moderna has become the latest to reveal significant results from phase 3 trials of its jab, revealing an interim analysis showing its vaccine has an efficacy of 94.5%.

The company said it planned to apply to the US regulator, the Food and Drug Administration, for emergency-use authorisation in the coming weeks.

Moderna has agreed to provide the US with 100m doses, with an option to buy 400m more, and the European commission has a “potential purchase agreement” for 80m-160m doses.

However, the UK chose not to participate in the EU vaccine purchase scheme, with the health secretary, Matt Hancock, arguing in July that the government could source vaccine faster on its own.

A Downing Street spokesman said the UK had prioritised securing vaccines to give the highest chance of successful and swift access. “What we’ve done is prioritised agreements with vaccine developers who offer different types of vaccines, can provide early supply to the UK and have advanced manufacturing supply chains in place,” he said.

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One government source with knowledge of the procurement process said it had been ultimately the decision of vaccine taskforce chair, Kate Bingham, not to acquire the Mordern vaccine.

A government spokesperson welcomed the results from Moderna but said the UK still had access to significant numbers of other vaccines. “The news from Moderna appears to be good and represents another significant step towards finding an effective Covid-19 vaccine,” the spokesman said.

“As part of the ongoing work of the vaccine taskforce, the government is in advanced discussions with Moderna to ensure UK access to their vaccine as part of the wider UK portfolio.

“Moderna are currently scaling up their European supply chain which means these doses would become available in spring 2021 in the UK at the earliest.”

The government spokesman said that the UK would still have early access to 350m vaccines doses through agreements with six separate vaccine developers, including three currently in phase 3 clinical trials.

Those include:

  • 100m doses of the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine

  • 40m doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, reported last week to have 90% effectiveness

  • 60m doses of Novavax vaccine

The spokesman said the Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine “is based on the same platform as Moderna’s vaccine and if approved by the medicines regulator, is expected to begin delivery as early as December 2020.”

One key advantage of the Moderna vaccine is that it can be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures, rather than the Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored in extremely low temperatures of -70C to remain stable.

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