Even as it begins the first Covid immunizations with a shot from Pfizer Inc., the U.K. plans to test it in combination with another vaccine from AstraZeneca Plc.
Studies aimed at determining whether using the two jabs together can enhance immunity are planned for next year, according to the U.K. Vaccine Taskforce. The group disclosed the plans as it published a report on its work so far, including deals for 357 million doses from seven makers and investments in three sites to expand the nation’s manufacturing capacity.
The UK is set to begin administering doses from Pfizer and German partner BioNTech SE on Tuesday, making it the first Western country to receive a vaccine. The massive logistical challenge of inoculating as many as 67 million people is getting underway at about 50 hospitals.
Approval for the shot from Astra and its partner, the University of Oxford, could come by the end of the year. That would set the stage for the combination trials, which will involve initial shots from either of the two vaccines, followed by a booster jab with the other.
“These will be relatively small studies,” Clive Dix, taskforce deputy chair, said at a press briefing. “They’ll only be with the approved vaccines.”
Dix will take over as taskforce chair on an interim basis when Kate Bingham steps down this month.
The panel said plans are in place to protect the U.K. from any vaccine fallout if there’s a no-deal Brexit. Some of the initial U.K. doses of the Astra-Oxford vaccine are set to be imported, although more than 80 million of the 100 million-dose order will be produced onshore, according to Ian McCubbin, manufacturing lead for the taskforce.
“The vast, vast, vast majority of what will be produced by AstraZeneca for the U.K. will be in the U.K.,” said McCubbin at the briefing. “It’s just that the initial supply, and it’s a little bit a quirk of the program, actually comes from the Netherlands and Germany.”
The taskforce is also looking to build a bulk antibody manufacturing site in Britain. More than half a million people in the U.K. are heavily immunosuppressed and potentially unable to have a vaccine, according to the report. An antibody cocktail, like the one being developed by Astra that the taskforce has purchased up to one million doses of, could be used to protect those individuals.