Transport Secretary Grant Shapps warns virus mutation first recorded in South Africa is a ‘very big concern’.
The United Kingdom has approved Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for use, the third to be given the green light by the country’s medicines regulators.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said in a statement the Moderna vaccine met the “strict standards of safety, efficacy and quality” set by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
The UK now has 17 million doses of the Moderna vaccine on order, and supplies will begin to be delivered later in the year once Moderna, a US company, expands its production capability.
Pfizer-BioNTech’s shot and one developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca have already been rolled out across Britain as part of a mass immunisation programme.
“We have already vaccinated nearly 1.5 million people across the UK and Moderna’s vaccine will allow us to accelerate our vaccination programme even further once doses become available from the spring,” health minister Matt Hancock said.
“This is further great news and another weapon in our arsenal to tame this awful disease.”
The UK is recording virus-related deaths on par with some of the worst days early on in the pandemic. On Thursday, government figures showed that another 1,162 people were reported to have died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus.
The UK’s total virus-related death toll is now 78,508. According to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University, the UK has the most COVID-related deaths in Europe and the fifth most in the world.
UK officials aim to have given one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to some 15 million people judged most at risk from the virus by mid-February – including everyone in the country older than 70.
This, the government says, could ease a new strict lockdown imposed after a spike in cases to daily records.
Although Moderna’s vaccine will not help meet that target, it will help ease supply constraints that Hancock has cited as being a limiting factor in the roll-out.
“This is excellent news and a further crumb of comfort amid the huge levels of COVID-19 currently circulating around the UK,” said Michael Head, senior research fellow in Global Health at the University of Southampton.
“When these Moderna vaccines arrive, they will help to ease any bottlenecks or delays in the administration programme.”
The UK was the first country to approve Pfizer and AstraZeneca’s vaccines but was behind some others in giving the go-ahead to the Moderna shot.
The Moderna vaccine has already been given regulatory approval for use in the United States, Canada, the European Union and Israel.
It proved 94 percent effective in preventing severe COVID infection in late-stage clinical trials.
Both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech’s shots are mRNA vaccines, made with groundbreaking new technology.
They do not contain any coronavirus – meaning they cannot cause infection. Instead, they use a piece of genetic code that trains the immune system to recognise the spike protein on the surface of the virus, ready to attack if the real thing comes along.