Novavax Covid vaccine shows nearly 90% efficacy in UK trial

Government has ordered 60m doses of jab, which appears to work well against Kent variant

Another vaccine against Covid, trialled in the UK , has shown nearly 90% efficacy and the ability to work against the UK and South African variants of the virus.

The UK vaccines taskforce has bought 60m doses of the Novavax vaccine, one of seven in its portfolio, and it will be manufactured on Teesside in the UK. If it is given emergency authorisation by the UK regulator, it could boost the country’s immunisation programme and solve the potential problems over the supply of the other two vaccines in use.

Results show that the Novavax vaccine, which has been going through late-stage trials in the last few months, is highly protective against variant of coronavirus that emerged in Kent. It also gives some protection – though less – against the variant causing even more concern in South Africa, which scientists think may be capable of evading the vaccines currently in use.

Prof Paul Heath, the chief investigator of the UK Novavax trial, said he was delighted by the news and hailed it as a “great step forward”. He said the results indicated it would be possible to “keep up and in fact get ahead of” additional new strains of the virus in future.

“The technology … is such that they can adapt quickly,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday. “We can expect to see if required new vaccines, or bivalent vaccines where two different strains are joined together in one vaccine, and that now can be done at pace so that we can keep up with these variants should they prove to be difficult to prevent with the vaccine that we have at the moment.”

The US -based Novavax said the results of its phase 3 final trials in the UK, involving 15,000 people, showed 89.3% efficacy. Almost 4,000 people in the study (27%) were in the over-65 age group, who are most at risk from the virus. Half the cases of Covid in the trial were identified as caused by the variant that emerged in Kent, known as B117.

Half of those involved were given a placebo. Among the participants, there were six cases of symptomatic Covid in those given the vaccine and 56 in those who were not.

The vaccine had higher efficacy against the original coronavirus, 95.6%, and 85.6% against the UK variant – so 89.3% overall.

Clive Dix, the chair of the UK vaccines taskforce, said: “These are spectacular results, and we are very pleased to have helped Novavax with the development of this vaccine. The efficacy shown against the emerging variants is also extremely encouraging. This is an incredible achievement that will ensure we can protect individuals in the UK and the rest of the world from this virus.”

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said the vaccine was potentially another breakthrough against the epidemic in the UK.

Vaccines UK has bought

“This is positive news and, if approved by the medicines regulator, the Novavax vaccine will be a significant boost to our vaccination programme and another weapon in our arsenal to beat this awful virus,” he said.

“I’m proud the UK is at the forefront of another medical breakthrough and I want to thank the brilliant scientists and researchers, as well as the tens of thousands of selfless volunteers who took park in clinical trials. The NHS stands ready to roll this vaccine out as quickly as possible to those most at risk if it is authorised.”

UK coronavirus cases

The study in South Africa was an earlier stage 2 trial and did not show such strong results. About 90% of the cases identified among participants in the trial were caused by the variant. There were 15 cases identified among people given the vaccine and 29 in the placebo group, giving an efficacy of 60%. About a third of the participants had antibodies, believed to have been a result of previous infection by the original coronavirus, which had not protected them against the variant.

Novavax now plans to design a vaccine specifically to work against the variant in South Africa.

“The 60% reduced risk against Covid-19 illness in vaccinated individuals in South Africans underscores the value of this vaccine to prevent illness from the highly worrisome variant currently circulating in South Africa, and which is spreading globally,” said Prof Shabir Madhi of University of the Witwatersrand, principal investigator in the trial in South Africa.

The Novavax vaccine is different from the Oxford/AstraZeneca or the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines. It contains spike proteins, produced by moth cells infected with a genetically modified virus, together with a substance called an adjuvant which boosts the immune response. However, like the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab it can be stored at between 2 and 8C, meaning it requires only normal refrigeration, making it easier to deliver it to patients.

The vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, was one of the volunteers in the Novavax trial. He said: “I am particularly thrilled to see such positive results. I want to thank the thousands of trial volunteers, without whom these results would not have been possible.

“It will now be for the regulator to do its crucial work in assessing the efficacy and safety of this vaccine, but if approved it will be a further boost to our vaccination programme.”

Novavax, like the other manufacturers, has initiated a rolling review of its data with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority. The regulator has been scrutinising the data from lab work and early trials since mid-January, to speed up the approval process. Other vaccines have been approved within weeks of publication of their final results.

The supply of a third vaccine in the UK will be very welcome and may ease the row with Europe, which is demanding some of the vaccines being made in the UK by AstraZeneca after a plant in Belgium failed to produce as much as hoped. There have also been supply issues with the Pfizer jab.


Sarah Boseley, Nicola Davis and Archie Bland

The GuardianTramp

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