Scrapping Valneva Covid vaccine ‘not terribly clever’, warn scientists

Boris Johnson visited Valneva's Scottish factory in January, before Britain ordered about 100 million doses - Andrew Parsons/No10 Downing Street
Boris Johnson visited Valneva's Scottish factory in January, before Britain ordered about 100 million doses - Andrew Parsons/No10 Downing Street

The Government’s decision to scrap the French-made Valneva vaccine has been branded as “not terribly clever” by a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, as the jab likely offers good protection against Covid-19 variants, including omicron.

Boris Johnson visited Valneva’s Scottish manufacturing site in Livingston in January and the UK had ordered about 100 million doses. However, in September, the Government cancelled the deal, citing a breach of contract, but gave no specifics.

Prof Adam Finn, a member of the JCVI, is the chief investigator running Valneva’s clinical trials.

‘You don’t put all your bets on one horse’

“We ought not to be putting all our eggs in one basket and just going with one vaccine or one vaccine platform,” he told The Telegraph.

“I think that’s what we’re doing at the moment, and I don’t think that’s terribly clever. If it was up to me, I would be keeping my options open. It’s a bit like each-way betting on something. You don’t put all your bets on one horse.”

In October, phase three results from Valneva were published showing the vaccine produced roughly 40 per cent more neutralising antibodies than the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the drugs and vaccine regulator, is reviewing the evidence and is expected to rule on the vaccine’s approval by the end of the year.

Valneva’s jab design, a whole inactivated virus, produces high levels of antibodies just like all the other available vaccines But the ace up the sleeve of Valneva is that it also produces a wider-reaching, broader immune response.

The vaccines currently in use, such as Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca, target the spike protein. But if mutations emerge that alter its shape, then they are rendered less effective.

However, Valneva’s vaccine means the body develops more ways to recognise and attack the pathogen, such as T cells, that will likely work just as well on new variants.

Valneva ‘ought to be more resilient’ against variants

“A vaccine that contains the whole virus has got the theoretical advantage that it ought to be more resilient to variant change at least with regard to T-cell immunity,” said Prof Finn.

A Valneva spokesman told The Telegraph: “In contrast to other vaccines that target only the spike protein of the virus, VLA2001 is made with an inactivated form of the entire Sars-Cov-2 virus.

“Preserving the whole virus envelope may provide an advantage by boosting T-cell responses against additional Sars-Cov-2 proteins. In the Phase 3 Cov-Compare trial, VLA2001 induced broad T-cell responses against S, N, and M proteins.”

They added: “Valneva believes everyone should have access to the technology best suited to protect them against the virus and its inactivated whole virus Covid-19 vaccine candidate could make an important contribution to the global fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.”

A government spokesman said: “Our vaccination programme is continuing to make phenomenal progress, with over 80 per cent of the UK population now double vaccinated against Covid-19 and over 19 million boosters administered.

“Our independent medicines regulator, the MHRA, has not approved the Valneva candidate vaccine for use in the UK. We do not expect this to have any impact on our booster programme.”