UK to fast-track modified coronavirus vaccines to fight new variants

A man talks with a staff member at an NHS COVID-19 vaccination center in London, Britain, on March 4, 2021. Future vaccines that have been tweaked to deal with new coronavirus variants will be fast-tracked for authorization, Britain’s medicines and health care regulator announced Thursday. (Xinhua/Han Yan)

Britain’s medicines and health care regulator announced plans to fast-track development of future COVID-19 vaccines that have been tweaked to deal with new coronavirus variants.

“We have a clear goal that future vaccine modifications that respond to new variants of coronavirus can be made in the shortest possible time without compromising safety, quality or effectiveness,” June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said in a statement.

According to the new guidance, the three-phase safety trials required for the original coronavirus vaccines won’t be needed but manufacturers must provide robust evidence that the modified vaccine triggers an immune response.

This means developers will be required to carry out small-scale trials on a few hundred people, rather than the trials in tens of thousands of individuals that were required for initial approval, said Dr. Christian Schneider, the MHRA’s chief scientific officer.

The new guidance is based on the model already used to modify the seasonal flu vaccine to keep up with annual changes in the virus and was issued jointly by regulators in the U.K., Australia, Canada, Singapore and Switzerland. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and European Medicines Agency have issued similar guidance.

Currently, both the Oxford-AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines have reportedly shown to be effective against the variant that first emerged in Britain late last year.

However, experts have raised concerns over the efficacy of current vaccines in the variants first found in South Africa and Brazil, which have both been detected in Britain.

Six cases of P1 variant related to Brazil have been found in Britain, including three in England and three in Scotland.

More than 20.7 million people in Britain have been given the first jab of the coronavirus vaccine, according to the latest official figures.

At present, England is under the third national lockdown since the outbreak of the pandemic in the country. Similar restriction measures are also in place in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.


Story compiled with assistance from wire reports

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