The United Kingdom, which will begin this week with the first immunizations of its population, plans to test Pfizer’s vaccine in combination with AstraZeneca’s, in order to determine if it will generate a better response against the coronavirus.
Studies aimed at determining whether using the two injections together can improve immunity are planned for next year, according to the UK Vaccine Working Group.
The group unveiled the plans when it published a report on its work so far, which includes deals for 357 million doses from seven manufacturers and investments at three sites to expand the country’s manufacturing capacity.
The UK will start dosing Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech on Tuesday, making it the first Western country to receive a vaccine. The enormous logistical challenge of inoculating up to 67 million people is underway in some 50 hospitals.
Approval of the vaccine from AstraZeneca and its partner, the University of Oxford, could come before the end of the year. That would set the stage for combination trials, which will include initial injections of either vaccine, followed by a booster with the other.
“These will be relatively small studies,” said Clive Dix, vice-chair of the task force, at a news conference. “They will only be with the approved vaccines.” Dix will take over as chair of the task force on an interim basis when Kate Bingham leaves office this month.
The panel said there are plans to protect the UK from the consequences of vaccines if there is a no-deal Brexit. Some of the initial UK doses of the Astra-Oxford vaccine will be imported, although more than 80 million of the order for 100 million doses will be produced onshore, according to Ian McCubbin, manufacturing leader of the task force.
“The great, great, great majority of what AstraZeneca will produce for the UK will be in the UK,” McCubbin said at the briefing. “It’s just that the initial supply, and it’s a bit of a quirk of the show, actually comes from the Netherlands and Germany.”
The task force is also looking to build a bulk antibody manufacturing site in Britain. More than half a million people in the UK are highly immunosuppressed and potentially unable to get vaccinated, according to the report.
A cocktail of antibodies, such as the one Astra is developing, of which the task force has purchased up to a million doses, could be used to protect these individuals.