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Novavax — another British-produced vaccine arrow in its quiver of jabs

Vaccine will be produced in the UK, giving the country more security in its rollout

By Ricky Browne

Novavax is set to be the fourth vaccine in the UK’s quiver of jabs to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

The first two to be used in the UK are Pfizer and Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines, both of whch the public are familiar with. The third hasn’t been introduced yet, but it is likely to be the Moderna vaccine, which the public is also quite aware of as it launched onto the world stage just after Pfizer.

But Novavax, which is likely to be the fourth vaccine to get approval in the UK,  is not as well known.

Novavax is an American vaccine, Novavax, Inc. is an American based vaccine development company headquartered in Maryland in the USA

The vaccine is stored at temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius, and so can use existing vaccine supply chain channels for its distribution. The vaccine is estimated to be priced at about US$16 per dose, or about £11.66. That is a lot more costly than the AstraZeneca vaccine, which the UK bought at about US$3 (£2.17) per shot – but in line with the estimated £15 cost for the Pfizer vaccine and likely to be significantly less than the Moderna vaccine, which is estimated to cost the UK between £24 and £28 per dose.

The UK has ordered some 60 million doses of the vaccine – which is currently undergoing the approval process of the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says that GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) will bottle the drug at its fill-to-finish site in Barnard Castle in the county of Durham.  Production could start as early as May.

UK Prime Minister Boris johnson gives the thumbs up after getting his vaccine last week

GSK is a British multinational pharmaceutical company, which has its headquarters in London. It is listed on the London and New York stock exchanges.

Meanwhile, a major component of the drug itself is being produced 30 minutes away by Fujifilm Diosynth Technologies in Billingham, in the north of England.

“I’m delighted by GSK’s investment, which shows the strength of UK manufacturing, and will further boost our vaccine rollout,” Johnson said.

“The Vaccines Taskforce has worked hand in glove with business to successfully deliver vaccines to the whole of the UK, and this agreement will continue to support our approach.

“We remain on track to offer a first jab to all over 50s by 15 April, and all adults by the end of July, and I want to once again encourage everyone to come forward for a vaccine when you’re called.”

Novavax to the rescue

Biotech company Novavax announced that its Novavax vaccine is 96 percent effective against the original Coronavirus strain from Wuhan, China – making it apparently even more effective than both Pfizer and Moderna. It says that the vaccine is also 86 percent effective against the strain that was first discovered in Kent, England. Its effectiveness against the South African strain is less certain.

The production of the Novavax vaccine in the UK, will give the country another layer of support, especially important now that it an no longer rely on getting AstraZeneca doses from India, and with uncertainty over getting vaccines out of the European Union.

VACCINE DIPLOMACY

So while the rollout of the vaccination programme in the United Kingdom looks secure, other countries are floundering.

The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is in high demand at low cost. Photo: AP/Jakub Porzycki

The UK has probably done more than any other country in ensuring that developing countries can access a vaccine at an affordable price. Oxford AstraZeneca is selling at cost price of less than US$5 per dose, compared to more than US$20 for US vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna which are driven by profit.

Other vaccines also cost more than AstraZeneca – including Russia’s Sputnik V selling at an estimated cost of about US$10 per shot.

Sputnik V is not as affordable as Oxford AstraZeneca

But demand for the vaccine is far greater than supply – even among European countries which have been running hot and cold on the Oxford AstraZeneca, questioning its effectiveness on one hand and stalling its roll out, to only begrudgingly endorse it on the other, and then threaten to allow its export to Britain and other countries.

A country like Jamaica, with 2.8 million people, has only received about 64,500 vaccines so far – 50,000 as a donation from India, and the remainder coming from the Covax facility. But all these vaccines have been Oxford AstraZeneca.

With more than 50 percent of its adult population vaccinated, including the most-at risk groups, the UK can now think about how it can leverage the AstraZeneca vaccine to boost its diplomatic power. Other countries are doing this, including India, Russia and China.

Right now the UK looks like it is only looking out for itself – but the fact is that with its AstraZeneca vaccine it is arguably doing more than any other country to tackle Covid-19 on a global front. It should soon take a more visible role in how it is doing that.

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