Up to 60 million doses of the Novavax Covid-19 vaccine is to be manufactured at Barnard Castle in the North East of England, the Prime Minister has announced.
The vaccine, which has still yet to be approved, will undergo its “fill and finish” manufacturing stage at the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) facility, beginning as early as May.
The “fill and finish” is the completion stage of vaccine manufacturing, which involves preparing vials of the final vaccine and packaging it for distribution and use.
Why is the vaccine being manufactured at Barnard Castle?
The protein antigen component of the Novavax vaccine is already being produced in the North East, at a Fujifilm site in Billingham, Stockton-on-Tees, and is awaiting approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) before it can be rolled out.
The plan initially was for the “fill and finish” stage to be done in Europe once the vaccine product was manufactured by plants in the North East. However, a deal has now been struck with pharmaceutical firm GSK to do this in the UK.
The government has said it is part of its investment in the British life science industry, but it comes amid fears over potential restrictions on exports of vaccines from Europe and India.
The deal with GSK will mean that the vaccine will now not have to leave the UK, as the original plan was for it to be transported to Europe for finishing. The change will mean it will be harder for the European Commission to order vaccines to be kept in the EU.
Boris Johnson said the deal between GSK, Novavax and the UK Government vaccines taskforce will “further boost our vaccine rollout”.
He said: “I’m delighted by GSK’s investment, which shows the strength of UK manufacturing, and will further boost our vaccine rollout.
“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 April 15, 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.”
The GSK site at Barnard Castle is a specialised facility in the company’s global manufacturing network, which supports the production of GSK pharmaceutical and vaccine products.
The facility is in the same town in County Durham which was visited last year by the Prime Minister’s former chief aide, Dominic Cummings.
The visit to Barnard Castle saw Mr Cummings accused of breaching lockdown rules, but he claimed he made the journey as a means of testing his eyesight.
Roger Connor, president of GSK vaccines, added: “GSK is delighted to support Novavax and the UK vaccines taskforce with this manufacturing arrangement for the UK and our Barnard Castle facility is now undertaking the rapid preparation work required to manufacture up to 60 million doses of this vaccine.
“We have ensured that we can deliver these volumes without impacting supply of our other vital medicines and vaccines, and without disruption to the other Covid-19 collaborations GSK is engaged in globally.”
How effective is the Novavax vaccine?
Results of a phase three trial in the UK, announced in March, found that the vaccine offers 100 per cent protection against severe disease, including all hospital admissions and death.
The jab is 86 per cent effective against the Kent variant of Covid-19 and 96 per cent effective in preventing cases caused by the original strain of coronavirus.
The UK study involved more than 15,000 participants aged between 18 and 84, including 27 per cent over the age of 65.
Results released by Novavax in January from its South Africa Covid-19 trial found that the vaccine offered 60 per cent protection against mild, moderate or severe disease, where most cases were the South African variant of the virus.
When will the UK get the vaccine?
The UK government has signed an agreement for up to 60 million doses of the vaccine to be produced in the UK under an advance purchase agreement with Novavax.
The vaccine is still pending approval by the MHRA, which is currently conducting a rolling review.