A new coronavirus vaccine was given the regulatory approval by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), bringing the total number of vaccines approved for use in the country to six – Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Janssen, and Novavax, although the last two are not currently available in the UK.
A new vaccine enters the fray
Despite what some may think, we’re still not out of the pandemic yet. In many parts of the world (including the UK and several other European countries), cases are still at a very high level, and in the less developed parts of the world, vaccination levels are still lagging. So having access to a new vaccine — especially a highly effective one — is definitely good news.
The UK’s independent medicines regulator was the first in the world to approve the Valneva vaccine. June Raine, chief executive of the MHRA, said the approval followed “a rigorous review of the safety, quality, and effectiveness of this vaccine”. As with the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines, the Valneva jab is designed to be given in two doses.
Munir Pirmohamed, chair of the independent Commission on Human Medicines, the government’s independent scientific advisory body, said that “the benefit-risk balance of the Valneva vaccine was positive”. It can be used in people 18 to 50 years, with the first and second doses to be taken at least 28 days apart, Pirmohamed explained.
The UK was supposed to receive 100 million doses of the vaccine, after increasing its request by 40 million. But the government canceled the deal in September last year due to a “breach of obligations”. The French company denied the government’s accusation and was confident the MHRA would still give the green light to the jab.
Valneva is now in talks with the Scottish government to supply up to 25,000 doses of the vaccine to the National Health Service (NHS) and frontline workers in Scotland. The French pharmaceutical was given in February research and development funding of up to 20 million pounds by Scotland’s national economic development agency.
How does it work?
The Valneva vaccine for COVID-19 was constructed a bit differently than some of the approved jabs. This is because it’s an inactivated whole-virus vaccine. It sounds a bit technical but it means the live virus was grown in a lab and then deactivated, so that it cannot infect people’s cells, before being injected to trigger an immune response.
It’s made up of the whole SARS-CoV-2 virus and not just the spike protein like other vaccines, meaning it induces antibodies and T-cell cells against many different components of the virus. If you get the shot, when your body meets the real virus, it has already learned how to attack it. This means the chances of getting the virus are lower. Furthermore, it could provide better protection when it encounters virus variants whose spike proteins have mutated.
It’s not a new type of vaccine, as whole-virus vaccines are used to protect against illnesses such as seasonal flu or polio. It can be stored in a regular refrigerator, making it easier to roll out in remote areas and places that lack resilient cold chains. This could make it a valuable asset for areas of Africa, Asia, and Latin America where vaccination rates are low.
A phase three trial of the vaccine in the UK showed it works well at priming the immune system to fight coronavirus, based on blood results from volunteers who received the jab. Results also indicated that the Valneva vaccine produces much higher concentrations of neutralizing antibodies than the AstraZeneca vaccine. But full results haven’t been published yet.