A third coronavirus vaccine will start being administered in the UK next month, joining the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs already in use, the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, has confirmed.
Britain has ordered 17m doses of the Moderna vaccine, which has a 94% efficacy rate in trials, and Dowden said the first supplies were expected to arrive in April.
In an interview on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Dowden also insisted the government was confident it would be able to meet its target of getting people over-50 vaccinated by 15 April, and and all remaining adults vaccinated by the end of July.
Earlier this month, ministers confirmed that vaccine supplies would slow down in April because of the hold-up of a consignment from India and the need for 1.7m doses to be re-tested, but Dowden said the government was still certain that people who had had a first dose would be able to get their second dose within 12 weeks.
The UK’s biggest order for vaccines is with AstraZeneca, which is committed to supply 100m doses to the UK. The government has also ordered 40m doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which was the first to be approved for use and the only one to be used in the early stages of the vaccination programme.
The Moderna vaccine, which is made by a US company and which uses the same messenger RNA (or mRNA) technology as the Pfizer jab, was the third to be approved by the UK regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). It was cleared for use for January, but at the time the government said supplies would not become available until the spring.
The government has also ordered supplies from another four vaccine manufacturers: Valneva (60m), Novavax (60m), Sanofi (60m) and Janssen (30m).
Dowden’s comments were echoed by Prof Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), who said the data on the Moderna vaccine was very promising.
When asked on BBC Breakfast on Sunday if the Moderna vaccine could open the door to people under 50 being vaccinated, he said: “We examined the data from Moderna, which looks very promising. It’s a very similar type of vaccine to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which everybody’s become familiar with, a messenger RNA vaccine, and I think we’ll start deploying that towards the end of April.
“If we’ve caught up with all those over-50s we want to reach out to, it makes sense to go toward our next age group, which is the 40- to 49-year-old age group.”
In his Sky interview, Dowden also played down a report that the UK was planning to offer 3.7m doses of vaccine to Ireland.
“Clearly, our first priority is ensuring we deliver vaccines in the United Kingdom,” he told the programme. “We clearly don’t currently have a surplus of vaccines. Should we get to the point where we have a surplus of vaccines we’d make decisions on the allocation of that surplus.”
The government has not said how many doses of the Moderna vaccine will arrive next month, but it has been reported that the initial supply will be in the hundreds of thousands.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “The UK’s vaccination rollout continues at pace, with over 31m total vaccines administered so far.
“We have purchased 17m doses of the Moderna vaccine and the manufacturer is currently scaling up their European supply chain, which means these doses would become available in spring 2021 in the UK at the earliest.”