Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine is third approved in UK

The UK has approved the Moderna coronavirus vaccine, hard on the heels of its go-ahead in Europe, although supplies are not expected to arrive for several weeks.

Moderna’s mRNA-1273 is the third COVID-19 vaccine to be approved for use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and is the second mRNA vaccine after Pfizer/BioNTech’s Comirnaty, which got the nod in December.

The UK government has ordered 17 million doses of the new vaccine, but none will be available before March, when Moderna is able to bring new production capacity online.

That means for now, the country’s immunisation programme will continue to rely on Comirnaty and the AstraZeneca/University of Oxford shot approved just before the New Year.

Around 1.5 million people in the UK have received at least one dose of either Pfizer/BioNTech or AZ vaccines, and that includes around a quarter of the over-80s age bracket who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

The government’s target is to vaccinate 15 million people – around 22% of the total population – by the middle of next month.

The UK is facing a marked escalation in cases however, with the attest daily figures showing 68,000 new cases and 1,325 coronavirus-related deaths, and with a more transmissible strain of SARS-CoV-2 threatening to overwhelm the NHS.

The latest vaccine approval was welcomed by NHS Confederation chief executive Danny Mortimer, but he also stressed that “it does not mean the COVID-19 crisis today is over, especially as a major incident is declared in London, hospitalisations for coronavirus continue to rocket, and as many as one in 50 people are now infected.”

He went on: “It will…be weeks and months until the NHS feels the benefit of the vaccination programme.”

Moderna’s shot claimed conditional EU approval earlier this week, and the first supplies will start to arrive in Europe next week, according to Moderna. The European Commission has ordered 160 million doses, but Brexit means the UK will not benefit from the EU’s allocation and rollout plans.

Meanwhile, mRNA-1273 was also granted emergency use authorisation by the FDA on 18 December, with the US scheduled to receive 20 million doses by the end of 2020. Moderna has also said it aims to make 100 and 125 million more doses available in the first quarter of 2021, of which 85 to 100 million have been claimed by the US

The approval is based on trials showing mRNA-1273 had 94% efficacy in preventing disease, including in the elderly, roughly the same as the Pfizer/BioNTech shot and a little better than the 70% protection rate seen with AZ’s candidate.

The Oxfam charity welcomed that the UK now has more than enough vaccine on order to protect the entire population during 2021, but called for vaccine developers to share the science and technology behind them worldwide so less well-off countries don’t miss out.

“Nine in 10 people in the poorest countries are set to miss out on a vaccine unless the UK government and companies like Moderna urgently shift position,” said Oxfam’s health policy manager Anna Marriott.

“A failure to act is not just wrong but self-defeating and short-sighted – as long as the virus is allowed to spread in other parts of the world, public health and economic recovery in the UK will continue to be under threat,” she added.

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