Health secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed that the UK has secured an initial agreement for 5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine.
The US company said earlier on Monday that its vaccine may be 94.5% effective against coronavirus in news that has been hailed as “tremendously exciting”.
Interim data suggests the jab is highly effective in preventing people getting ill and may work across all age groups, including the elderly.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Hancock stressed that the results from the Moderna vaccine breakthrough are preliminary. Should the vaccine be approved, the doses would be available from spring next year.
He said Pfizer’s vaccine, which was more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 in study participants, could come on stream potentially before the end of this year.
Last week, Boris Johnson said Britain was “ahead of the pack” with 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, for a third of the population.
Watch: UK will have access to 5 million doses of Moderna vaccine, Hancock says
Hancock was forced to defend ordering just 5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, enough for 2.5 million people.
When asked if he regrets not being able to buy any more, he said: “I pay tribute to the vaccine taskforce who have done this buying, even concluding the Moderna deal today.”
Business secretary Alok Sharma had worked “incredibly hard on getting this over the line, including today”, Hancock added.
He stressed that the Moderna vaccine would not be available until spring and said the UK had orders for others which could be in use earlier.
Hancock was joined by Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, and Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser to NHS Test and Trace.
Professor Van-Tam, who compared the Pfizer vaccine trial results to a goal in a penalty shoot-out, continued the comparison following the Moderna data.
“It’s the second penalty now, that’s also gone into the back of the net,” Van-Tam said. “So we’re starting to feel in a better position.
“While there is much uncertainty we can see the candle of hope and we must do all that we can to nurture its flame, but we’re not there yet.”
Moderna intends to submit an application for an emergency use authorisation with the US Food and Drug Administration shortly and will submit further data on the vaccine’s effectiveness and safety.
The firm’s final-stage clinical trial is ongoing and includes more than 30,000 people in the US.
Moderna said its available data does not indicate any significant safety concerns.
However, the 94.5% efficacy from this analysis could drop as further results from the clinical trial are announced.
Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be stored at -70C, presenting challenges to the task of distribution, the Moderna vaccine remains stable at -20C, equal to most household or medical freezers, for up to six months.
Dr Charlie Weller, head of Vaccines at Wellcome, said: “Hopes of ending this pandemic rest on having effective vaccines, treatments and tests.
“It is incredibly promising that the vaccines we urgently need are now on the horizon.
“To have multiple vaccine candidates with interim results that surpass our expectations is phenomenal, and testament to the incredible global research effort this year.”
Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said: “This news from Moderna is tremendously exciting and considerably boosts optimism that we will have a choice of good vaccines in the next few months.
“First we heard 90% efficacy from Pfizer and BioNTech, then the Russians said 92% and now Moderna says 94.5%.
“This latest press release is based on a study of 30,000 US adults, including many high-risk or elderly persons.
“This gives us confidence that the results are relevant in the people who are most at risk of COVID-19 and in most need of the vaccines.”
Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says more data is needed on the elderly “but this is definitely encouraging progress”.
Hancock also confirmed two new mega-labs that will open early in the new year, which will add another 600,000 capacity to the UK’s daily capacity, doubling the current capacity.
The average number of new cases each day is now 25,329, up from 22,443 last week.
There are now 14,915 COVID patients in hospital across the UK compared with 13,025 a week ago.
Watch: Thousands volunteer as third vaccine candidate begins clinical trials in UK
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