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UK government to invest £29.3 million on COVID-19 variant testing

Published on 05/05/21 at 10:37am
Photo by Martin Lopez from Pexels

The UK government has announced an investment of £29.3 million, on top of the £19.7 million already pledged, to be used to tackle COVID-19 variants through new state-of-the-art labs.

The funds will be invested through the Vaccines Taskforce in Public Health England’s new testing facilities at Porton Down, to assess the effectiveness of existing and new vaccines against variants of concern.

The money will help increase the site’s current capacity from 700 to 3,000 blood samples tested a week in order to fast-track variant vaccines, and will also help fund vaccine manufacture.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “The UK has proven itself to be a world-class force in the production of COVID-19 vaccines, with the Oxford/AstraZeneca, Novavax, and Valneva vaccines all researched, developed or manufactured on British soil.

“We’ve backed UK science from the very start of this pandemic and this multi-million pound funding for a state-of-the-art vaccine testing facility at Porton Down will enable us to further future-proof the country from the threat of new variants.”

“The UK remains at the forefront of vaccine research and development, and today’s announcement will further cement us as a global frontrunner in our future response to COVID-19.”

The tests at Porton Down will be used to measure the levels of COVID-19 antibodies that are produced by the respective vaccines with the hope that this will accelerate the pace and scale of specialised testing to support the ‘rapid development’ of COVID-19 vaccines designed to tackle specific mutations.

Existing vaccines still protect against variants, such as those identified in Kent and South Africa, but experts say it is also vital to stay a step ahead of a virus that keeps mutating.

The government is already making plans for a booster COVID-vaccine programme in the autumn, to protect the most vulnerable ahead of winter. Last week it ordered an extra 60 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which it said would be used alongside other vaccines for the boosters.

Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive at the UK Health Security Agency, said: “A new variant that can escape the current vaccines is the greatest risk of a third wave. This new investment will help us stay one step ahead of the virus by doubling our capacity to test vaccine effectiveness against emerging variants.

“While we expect the existing vaccines to offer protection against new variants, particularly preventing serious illness and death, it is important that we continue to monitor the picture as it develops.

“The best way to prevent the spread of variants is the same as always – follow public health advice and remember hands, face, space.”

Kat Jenkins

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