Talks have been held in the “last few hours” on how Britain will cope if a new Covid variant proves resistant to the vaccine, Boris Johnson has revealed.
The Prime Minister today declared regulators will be allowed to approve new variations of vaccine “as may be required” to ensure the public are protected.
He gave no detail of what this would involve. But Sky News reported the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) could give approval in as little as 40 days.
Mr Johnson spoke at Prime Minister’s Questions in response to a question from Tory MP Neil O’Brien.
The MP asked for “a new rapid pathway to allow the approval of new variations of the vaccines so that we can shut down any new strains.”
The Prime Minister replied: “Yes indeed.
“We’ve been talking about that with the scientists over the last days and weeks intensively, just in the last few hours.
“And we’re confident the MHRA will be in a position to turn around new applications for new variants of vaccines as may be required to deal with new variants of the virus.”
It came after new research today suggested the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine is likely to protect against the new UK mutant strain.
Research is still ongoing into whether other strains that began in Brazil and South Africa will provide any resistance to the vaccine.
There is not currently firm evidence that they do have resistance, but scientists at Porton Down are looking into the issue. There is also a concern about new variants that emerge in the future.
More than 4million first doses of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs have already been given out in the US.
People in the UK are controversially being told to wait 12 weeks before they receive their second dose, despite concerns they may not have maximum protection until then.
The chief scientific adviser today said the UK will have to look “very carefully” at the effectiveness of a single dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.
Sir Patrick Vallance’s comments came after reports from Israel suggested the protection it provides may be much lower than shown in trials.
Responding to Israel’s claims that efficacy from the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine may be as low as 33%, Sir Patrick said studies showed that from day 10 after vaccination to 21 days and beyond, it was “much more like 89%”.
However, he added that “when you get into real-world practice things are seldom quite as good as clinical trials”.
Sir Patrick told Sky News: “It probably won’t be as high as that in practice, but I don’t think it’ll be as low as the figures you’ve just given.”
According to reports, scientists in Israel – where around a quarter of the population has already been vaccinated – studied preliminary data from 200,000 vaccinated people.
The study reportedly suggests that a drop of 33% in positivity was seen in the vaccinated group on day 14 after vaccination.
Sir Patrick said clinical study studies suggest that if you look at data from day zero, then the overall figure is around 50%.
Elsewhere Boris Johnson refused Lib Dem calls for a public inquiry now to learn the lessons from coronavirus – saying “every arm of officialdom” is still working on the live response.
The PM said: “The NHS is under unprecedented pressure.
“The entire British state is trying to fight Covid and roll out the biggest vaccination programme in the history of our country. and that includes virtually every single arm of officialdom.
“The idea we should now consecrate vast state resources to an inquiry now in the middle of the pandemic does not I think seem sensible to me and I don’t believe it would seem sensible to members of the House.
“Of course we will learn lessons in due course and of course there will be a time to reflect and to prepare for the next pandemic.”