Updated vaccines for Covid variants will be fast-tracked through approval system - how it will work

Thursday, 4th March 2021, 10:38 am
Updated Thursday, 4th March 2021, 10:38 am
Updated vaccines to fight Covid variants will be able to be fast-tracked through the approval system (Photo: TIZIANA FABI/AFP via Getty Images)

Updated vaccines to fight Covid variants will be able to be fast-tracked through the approval system, the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has said.

Scientists are working on updating current vaccines which may not work against new variants of Covid-19, but MHRA chief executive, Dr June Raine, said there is no evidence that current vaccines lack effectiveness against known coronavirus variants.

Addressing new Covid variants During a briefing with Health Secretary Matt Hancock Dr Raine said “we’re well-prepared to look at, when it’s needed, updates to ensure the vaccines being used in citizens are fully effective.

“Our goal is to ensure that the vaccine modifications in future that respond to the new variants can be available in the shortest possible time but without compromising in any way on safety, on quality and on effectiveness.”

However, Dr Raine added that “we don’t have evidence at the moment that the vaccines in use in the UK are significantly lacking in effectiveness but we are now well-prepared.”

The fast-track approach will mean manufacturers will not need to seek brand new approval or do lengthy clinical studies, but they will still need proof that the Covid vaccines trigger protective antibodies in the blood.

“Alongside data on the immune response, the vaccine manufacturer would also be expected to provide evidence showing the modified vaccine is safe and is of the expected quality,” said the MHRA.

The overall aim of fast-tracking the vaccines is to shorten the process wherever possible, allowing vaccine approval to happen in weeks and months instead of years.

‘We will have a fast-track approach to safely approving future vaccines’

Health Secretary Matt Hancock also reiterated that new vaccines manufactured in response to newer Covid variants will be able to be fast-tracked through the system.

During a visit to Glasgow Lighthouse Lab, Mr Hancock said: “We will have a fast-track approach to safely approving future vaccines that work against a variant of Covid-19.

“The vaccine programme has clearly been a huge UK success story, and part of the reason that we have been able to develop the vaccines so far so quickly is because of the MHRA’s rigorous yet flexible approach, which has been based entirely on looking as quickly as possible at the safety and efficacy of vaccines.

“I’m delighted that they’re taking that same principled approach to the approval process for vaccines that may work against variants.”