In an effort to speed up the distribution of any potential new COVID-19 vaccine developed, the UK government has announced a new "rapid deployment facility" to open this summer – ahead of clinical trial results.
The £38 million centre was announced by Business Secretary Alok Sharma on Sunday, with the aim of allowing manufacture to begin “at scale” so that an effective vaccine could be widely available as soon as possible to the general public, the announcement said.
It is being planned in anticipation of a vaccine being shown to be safe and effective by the end of the year, a Guardian report notes. Although it is not yet known if that will be the case, the centre will be on standby for when it is.
As well as the rapid deployment facility, Sharma said that £93 million will also be invested to speed up the construction of a larger vaccine manufacturing centre that was started before the pandemic.
The planned Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre will be located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire, and was due to open in 2022 but is now being planned to open in 2021.
“As the biggest contributor to the international coalition to find a vaccine, the UK is leading the global response. Once a breakthrough is made, we need to be ready to manufacture a vaccine by the millions,” Sharma said.
This larger facility will have the capacity to manufacture enough doses of a vaccine for the UK’s entire population within six months, the government said, and it will be the UK’s first not-for-profit organisation established to develop and advance the mass production of vaccines.
The hope is that the centre will be a boost for the fast production of vaccines against future viruses and it will also accelerate the production of vaccines for existing illnesses such as the flu.
The UK is leading the way when it comes to supporting vaccine development — it has pledged £250 million to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), for example, and is hosting a a global pledging conference for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, on June 4.
Speaking to the Guardian about these new investments in facilities, Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “We do not yet know which, if any, vaccine will work. It is more than likely that at least one will prove effective and safe.”
He added: “The most important thing is to get the infrastructure in place to vaccinate tens of millions in the population, so it is simply unknown whether opening a vaccine manufacturing facility is the best use of the money.”
Meanwhile, just last week, more than 140 past and present world leaders — including former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown — signed a letter urging governments and the World Health Assembly (WHA) to rally behind a "people's vaccine" for COVID-19 — meaning to ensure that any vaccine developed will be made available for everyone worldwide.
The letter also warned that any future vaccines and treatments for COVID-19 must be distributed to everyone around the world — with the world only being as healthy as its most vulnerable citizens.