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The UK has ordered 40 million extra doses of Valneva’s COVID-19 vaccine, bringing its total order to 100 million. If this jab is approved, the first 60 million doses will be delivered in the second half of 2021.
Valneva is a small, multinational biotech company, headquartered in France. Its factory in Livingston, Scotland will be the main site for producing the drug substance – the liquid that goes into the vials.
“Backed with major investment from the UK Government, Valneva’s site in Scotland will be a vaccine production powerhouse,” says Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng.
The Valneva jab is currently undergoing phase 1 and phase 2 clinical trials across the UK. The company’s chief financial officer, David Lawrence, said today that he will be sitting down with the MHRA – the UK medicines regulator – this week to discuss phase 3 trials set to commence in April.
Manufacturing of the jab began in Scotland on 28 January. “We will have a running start at rolling [the vaccines] out as quickly as possible to protect the British public,” says Kwarteng. To begin manufacturing even before late-stage trials have started may seem risky, but Lawrence is confident that the vaccine will work because they are “following a tried and tested process”.
Unlike Pfizer and Moderna’s experimental mRNA vaccines, the technology used in the Valneva jab has been around for decades – and has previously been used in seasonal flu, hepatitis A, polio and rabies jabs. Known as “inactivated whole virus vaccines”, they contain viruses whose genetic material has been destroyed by heat, chemicals or radiation, meaning the virus is unable to infect cells and replicate, but can still trigger an immune response. And like the AstraZeneca vaccine, the Valneva jab can be stored at regular fridge temperature, making it easy to deploy.
It’s hoped that by establishing a permanent UK site to manufacture inactivated viral vaccines, the UK will boost resilience against current and future pandemics. And, as Scottish Secretary Alister Jack points out, the Valneva factory “is supporting hundreds of highly skilled jobs in Scotland”.
The Prime Minister, who visited the West Lothian site on his day-trip to Scotland last week, is using the project to extol the virtues of the union in tackling the pandemic. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has echoed this sentiment, claiming the manufacturing site “puts Scottish expertise right at the heart of the UK vaccine programme,” and “demonstrates what the UK can achieve when it works together.”
Aside from helping to tackle Covid-19 in the UK, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has stressed that, if approved, the Valneva jab “will aid our mission to ensure there is a fair supply of vaccines across the globe.” The Livingston facility will have the capacity to produce up to 250 million doses annually.