UK Launches World’s First Vaccine Booster Jab Trial As Indian Variant Cases Jump By 600 In Two Days
The UK is launching the world’s first clinical trial looking at the effectiveness of a booster jab to protect people from new variants of Covid-19.
It comes after the number of cases of Indian version of coronavirus registered in Britain has hit 3,000, an increase of 600 since Monday.
The health secretary Matt Hancock said in response surge testing and extra vaccine supplies were being deployed in a series of areas to try and prevent the spread of the new strain, which is highly transmissible.
There have long been suggestions a third dose of the vaccine may be required to prevent a new Covid wave in the winter, and almost 3,000 people aged 30 and older are being recruited by the NHS for a £20million trial at 18 sites around the UK.
Those who received their first dose of either Pfizer/BioNTech or AstraZeneca in December or January are being asked to sign up, and it will test the effectiveness of the jabs from Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax, Janssen, Valneva and CureVac.
The information will be fed to to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation at the end of August, with Hancock telling a Downing Street briefing: "The UK vaccination programme has been a phenomenal national effort, with seven in 10 UK adults now having had their first Covid-19 jab.
"It is vital that we continue to support the world-renowned British research sector that has contributed to its success.
"We will do everything we can to future-proof this country from pandemics and other threats to our health security, and the data from this world-first clinical trial will help shape the plans for our booster programme later this year.”
Earlier this afternoon in the Commons the health secretary said the rise in cases of the Indian variant meant “the race between the virus and the vaccine has got a whole lot closer”.
He revealed 2,967 cases of the B1617.2 variant had been identified, up from the 2,323 declared on Monday, with Bolton, Blackburn with Darwen and Bedford the main areas where large numbers of cases had been identified.
"The weekly case data in Bolton is now 283 per 100,00 and it doubled in the last week,” Hancock said.
"There are now 25 people in Bolton Hospital with Covid - the majority are unvaccinated, nearly 90% have not yet had two vaccines.
"This shows the importance of getting vaccinated, not once but twice."
The government said the existing vaccines appear to be effective against the Indian variant, but appearing at the televised briefing deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said scientists will know more about the transmissibility of it by next week.
"I think scientists are sure that this virus is more transmissible than the strain that it is beginning to replace, which is the old Kent B.117 strain,” he said.
"The million dollar question is how much more transmissible - we don't have that yet.
"We have a credible range that goes from a few per cent more transmissible through to 50% more transmissible - I think most people feel it is going to be somewhere in the middle... but it is just too early."
Professor Van-Tam described fighting the spread of the Indian variant as a "straight race" between the transmissibility of the virus and the vaccine rollout.
"The NHS is doing everything it can to turbo-boost that, and that is the challenge that's ahead of us in the next two to three to four weeks, to make sure that we outrun the virus through really vigorous pull-through on vaccine delivery,” he added.