The UK government has announced a new partnership with German vaccine manufacturer CureVac to “rapidly develop” jabs to protect against new Covid-19 variants, taking the country’s total vaccine order to 457 million doses.

In a statement, the government said that the vaccines it is already administering – those developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca/Oxford University – are effective against variants currently dominant in the UK, but the new agreement focuses on responding “rapidly” to inoculate against newer viral strains not yet in circulation.

“The new agreement will utilise UK expertise on genomics and virus sequencing to allow new varieties of vaccines based on messenger RNA technology to be developed quickly against new strains of Covid-19 if they are needed,” the statement reads.

Under the partnership the UK will put an initial 50 million doses on order to be delivered in the second half 2021 if they are needed. The agreement takes the government’s total number of vaccine doses on order to 457 million – approximately nine times the adult population of the UK.

Commenting on the new deal, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there was a strong need to be “prepared for all eventualities” and be ready to tackle new Covid variants. 

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While the UK makes strides in its vaccination programme, many nations are being left behind as wealthy countries buy up vital doses.

Even France appears to have lost out to Britain’s zealous procurement of vaccines. On Thursday, President Emmanuel Macron came under fire after it emerged that France would not receive any doses from French company Valneva until 2022 after the UK increased its order to 100 million doses.

The British government financially backed the development of Valneva’s jab and supported the company’s rapid recruitment for its Scottish plant, as well as the enrolment of volunteers for its clinical study.

To date, only jabs produced by AstraZeneca and Pfizer have been administered in the UK, with deliveries of the Moderna vaccine expected in the spring. As of Wednesday, almost 10.5 million Britons had received at least one vaccine dose.

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