Covid vaccine: Analysis: Why we will still hedge our bets with more than one vaccine

The race is on to produce a Covid-19 vaccine, and there is now a clear frontrunner.

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech have announced a “great day for humanity” as their Covid-19 vaccine has been shown to be 90 per cent effective in early trials.

Up to 50 million doses could be manufactured this year, and a further 1.3 billion in 2021. The UK Government said it has secured 40 million of these, with 10 million by the end of the year if the vaccine is approved.

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Bu the Pfizer vaccine, known as BNT162b2, is just one of more than 300 being developed around the world.

It is a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine, which uses the virus’s genetic code rather than any part of the virus itself, and as such has the potential to be quicker to produce on a large scale.

The UK Government has bought access to six vaccine candidates, representing 340 million doses, and has spread its interest across a selection of different types of vaccine, which will all work in slightly different ways and may be more appropriate for different sections of the population.

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A promising candidate is that from Oxford University and AstraZeneca, which like the Pfizer vaccine is in phase three clinical trials.

Head of Oxford’s vaccine trial team Professor Andrew Pollard said there is a “small chance” of it being ready by Christmas.

Called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, it uses adenovirus, a weakened version of a cold virus which causes infection in chimps.

Johnson & Johnson is developing a single dose adenovrial vaccine which is also in phase three.

Some way behind these three is a vaccine being developed by pharmaceutical companies Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline, which is in phase two of trials and expected to be ready by the middle of next year.

It uses an adjuvant that boosts the immune system to help it fight off a virus, which is particularly promised for older people, as immune systems weaken in older age.

The fifth candidate, from Novavax, is also an adjuvanted protein vaccine.

The only vaccine to be manufactured in Scotland is being developed by Valneva at the company’s Livingston site.

It is an inactivated whole virus vaccine, which has not yet entered clinical trials.

A vaccine usually takes years, often decades, to develop, but scientists working on potential coronavirus jabs are hoping to achieve the same amount of work in a few months.

Pfizer and BioNTech plan to apply to the US Food and Drug Administration – the US medicines regulator – by the end of this month for emergency approval to use the vaccine.

Kate Bingham, chair of the UK vaccine taskforce, said she has 50 per cent confidence that by Easter or early summer next year, all vulnerable people in the country will have a vaccine.

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