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Third vaccine could be authorized for U.K. within weeks, boosting mass immunization drive, top scientist says

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The COVID-19 vaccine candidate being developed by Johnson & Johnson
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subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceutica could be granted emergency authorization by U.K. regulators within weeks, boosting the country’s mass immunization program amid a surge of coronavirus cases.

John Bell, regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford and an adviser to the U.K.’s Vaccine Taskforce, told the Daily Telegraph: “My prediction is that it’ll work well, although we need to wait for the trial results.”

He added: “I think they will have supplies available for the U.K. in a time frame that would allow it just to catch the mid-February target of getting the numbers up. I think it may well have a material impact on what we can do in the U.K. to get more people vaccinated.”

Opinion: There is only a slim chance that the vaccine will stop the COVID pandemic this year

A spokesperson for Janssen said it would be premature for the company to comment on its vaccine production until it has received the results from its continuing Phase 3 clinical study, which are anticipated later this month.

“Janssen will continue to work in close collaboration with the MHRA [Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency] to complete the rolling review process for a national Marketing Authorization Application in the U.K. and is committed to bringing an affordable COVID-19 vaccine to the public on a not-for-profit basis for emergency pandemic use,” the spokesperson added.

If the data indicate the vaccine is safe and effective, J&J expects to submit an Emergency Use Authorization application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in February.

The U.K. government has ordered 30 million doses of the Janssen vaccine, with the option of buying 22 million more. The vaccine candidate is a single-dose shot, unlike those developed by biotech Moderna
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and U.S. drug company Pfizer
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and its German partner BioNTech
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It can also be safely stored and transported at standard refrigerator temperatures, whereas the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine requires storage at minus 70C.

If Janssen’s vaccine candidate is approved by U.K. regulators, it would become the third vaccine to be rolled out at scale in the country after the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine and the one developed by drug company AstraZeneca
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with the University of Oxford, and would help accelerate the drive to mass vaccinate the public.

More than 1.3 million people in the U.K. have already received one shot of either the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine, or the AstraZeneca–Oxford vaccine, according to the government. It wants to have 13 million of the most vulnerable people in the U.K. vaccinated by mid February, a goal that England’s chief medical officer Prof. Chris Whitty has called “realistic, but not easy.”

Read: U.K. becomes first country to roll out AstraZeneca–Oxford vaccine as tighter lockdowns imminent

Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Wednesday that that there was now a race “to vaccinate the vulnerable faster than the virus can reach them.”

“Every needle in every arm makes a difference,” Johnson told lawmakers.

Another 1,041 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus as of Wednesday, according to government figures.

In a further attempt to boost the mass immunization drive, some general practice surgeries will be allowed to administer the AstraZeneca–Oxford vaccine from Thursday, the National Health Service said.

Seven vaccination centers will be among many more sites coming online next week, along with more hospitals, GP-led services and a number of pilot pharmacy vaccine services, the NHS added.

Read: Fauci reportedly says U.S. won’t extend interval between vaccine doses

Last week, the MHRA, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization and four U.K. chief medical officers agreed to delay the gap between the first and second doses of vaccines, in a bid to protect the greatest number of people in the shortest amount of time.

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