The United Kingdom has entered into advance Coronavirus vaccine deals with two more developers, securing a supply of another 90 million doses, should these vaccines become a reality. Before this, the UK had agreements with four other developers, for a combined supply of 250 million doses.
Friday’s deals were for 30 million doses of vaccine candidate being developed by Janassen, the pharmaceutical company of Johnson & Johnson, and 60 million doses of that being developed by the US biotech company Novavax. Its earlier agreements were for vaccines being developed by AstraZenca and Oxford University (100 million doses), Pfizer and BioNtech (30 million), GlaxoSmitKline and Sanofi (60 million), and French biotech company Valneva (60 million).
If all these vaccine candidates become successful, the UK would have a stockpile of 340 million doses of Coronavirus vaccines, more than five for each of its citizens. But vaccine development is an extremely uncertain process, and traditionally a very small percentage of vaccine candidates that started out have become a reality. Countries are therefore diversifying their stakes across developers and across the different types of vaccines that are under development. The six companies that the UK government has entered into agreements with are using four different methods to produce the vaccine.
Vaccine development is also a very costly affair. Richer countries are doling out billions of dollars to the leading contenders to fast-track the development process, and in return pre-booking their supplies.
The United States has got into multi-billion dollar agreements with several companies to secure at least 800 million doses of potential vaccines. That is more than two for each one of its 330 million people.
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On Friday, the European Union also entered into a deal with AstraZeneca for supply of 300 million doses of the vaccine it is developing in collaboration with Oxford University. The AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine candidate is one of the most in-demand. According to a Reuters report on Friday, the company has so far struck supply deals for about three billion doses.
Amongst the takers for that vaccine is India, which has already approved late-phase human trials for the vaccine, a regulatory requirement before it can be used in the country. The Oxford University vaccine is being brought by Pune-based Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines by volume.
Serum has also entered into a deal with Novavax for producing 100 million doses of its vaccine at its Pune facility. It is expected that 50 per cent of that would be consumed within India, the remaining going to other low and midlle income countries.
The Oxford University vaccine has been ordered by Mexico as well, which on Friday asked for 150 million doses.
Hunt for coronavirus vaccine: The story so far
(As on August 13; source: WHO Coronavirus vaccine landscape of August 13, 2020)