Valneva Covid vaccine: Everything you need to know as UK deal falls through

Prime Minister Boris Johnson tries a test as he visits the French biotechnology laboratory Valneva in Livingston, Scotland (Picture: WATTIE CHEUNG/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

By now, we’re all incredibly familiar with the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines.

Along with the one-shot Janssen jab, these four vaccines are currently the only Covid-19 vaccinations approved for use in the UK.

But for some time, French biotechnology company Valneva has been working away in a Scottish laboratory on a new type of Covid vaccine – of which the UK government had ordered 100 million doses.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited them back in January this year, and in late August, Valneva began to seek approval from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Now, it’s been revealed that the UK’s deal has suddenly been cancelled.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is the Valneva vaccine?

Valneva SE Group’s headquarters in Saint-Herblain, France, in July 2020 (Picture: JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images)

The ‘Valneva vaccine’ – officially called VLA2001 – is a Covid-19 jab being created by a company called Valneva.

Though the company is French and headquartered in France, VLA2001 is being created at a site here in the UK – in Livingston, West Lothian, Scotland.

Valneva’s offering will be a different type of vaccine to what we currently have available in the UK.

It uses an inactivated version of the Covid-19 virus to help the body become immune.

Essentially, this means the virus’s genetic material has been modified – so it can’t infect you or make you ill, but does allow your body to recognise the virus and develop an immune response to it.

Perhaps the concept is best described by Valneva itself, which explains on its official website:

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the French biotech firm Valneva’s Livingston vaccine laboratory on January 28, 2021 (Picture: Wattie Cheung-WPA Pool/Getty Images)

‘VLA2001 is currently the only whole virus, inactivated, adjuvanted vaccine candidate in clinical trials against Covid-19 in Europe.

‘It is intended for active immunisation of at-risk populations to prevent carriage and symptomatic infection with Covid-19 during the ongoing pandemic and potentially later for routine vaccination including addressing new variants.

‘VLA2001 may also be suited for boosting, as repeat booster vaccinations have been shown to work well with whole virus inactivated vaccines.’

It’s important to reiterate that this is a different type of vaccine to Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford AstraZeneca.

Ingredients for each are available on the UK government’s website (or by clicking the names above).

Is the Valneva vaccine approved for use?

Unlike the aforementioned vaccines the UK has been using, Valneva is not yet approved for us by the MHRA.

A lab technician uses a multichannel pipette dropper while researching Covid vaccines (Picture: Akos Stiller/Bloomberg via Getty)

VLA2001 is currently being tested in what’s called a Phase 3 Clinical Trial – featuring 4,000 UK volunteers – and the results are expected back later this year.

The company’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Juan Carlos Jaramillo, said in an August statement: ‘We are pleased to begin the regulatory review process for our COVID-19 vaccine with the MHRA.

‘Valneva believes that everyone should have access to technology best suited to protect them against this virus. We are working hard to make our vaccine candidate available as soon as possible. 

‘We are grateful to the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), Public Health England (PHE), and other partners for their unstinting support and hard work.’

There are a few other Phase 3 trials happening with this jab, too – particularly looking at how it will react to new Covid variants.

The UK government – in addition to having ordered 100 million doses of Valneva’s vaccine – also included it in its trial searching for the best booster jab options.

But Valneva isn’t going to be used in the UK now?

What does the future hold for the Valneva vaccine? (Picture: Getty)

No, it seems not, according to Valneva itself.

The company released a statement on its website on Monday, September 13 – revealing the UK government had ‘terminated’ its order.

‘Valneva SE, a specialty vaccine company, today announced that it has received a termination notice from the UK Government (“HMG”) in relation to the Supply Agreement for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, VLA2001,’ the statement reads.

‘The contract provides HMG with the right to terminate. HMG has alleged that the company is in breach of its obligations under the Supply Agreement, but the company strenuously denies this…

‘Valneva has worked tirelessly, and to its best efforts, on the collaboration with HMG including investing significant resources and effort to respond to HMG’s requests for variant-derived vaccines.’

Originally, the UK expected 60 million vaccines from Valneva, but increased its order to 100 million in February this year.

And as a result of the order cancellation, BBC reports that the company’s shares tanked by 40%.

The Scottish Health Secretary, Humza Yousaf MP, called the move a ‘blow’ this morning.

But it’s still going to continue trialling its vaccine – with the aforementioned Phase 3 trials underway.

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