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Coronavirus vaccine: UK signs new deal for 60 million doses of potential COVID-19 solution

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Samples from coronavirus vaccine trials are handled inside the Oxford Vaccine Group laboratory in Oxford, England, Thursday June 25, 2020 (handout)
Samples from coronavirus vaccine trials are handled inside the Oxford Vaccine Group laboratory in Oxford, England, Thursday June 25, 2020 (handout)   -   Copyright  John Cairns, University of Oxford via AP
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The UK has signed a deal with GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi Pasteur for 60 million doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine, as it races with other world powers to secure supplies.

It’s the fourth deal of this kind the British government has signed in recent months, for a total of 250 million doses secured so far.

There’s no guarantee at this stage that any of these vaccines will work, but governments that can afford it are thinking it’s worth the gamble.

The United States, the European Union and the UK have been making pre-orders with pharmaceutical companies in the hope of protecting their populations from COVID-19 and shielding their economies from further costly lockdowns.

The latest deal signed by the UK is for an experimental vaccine could start to be rolled out in the first half of next year. It’s inspired by the DNA-based technology used to produce Sanofi's seasonal flu vaccine and is due to be tested in humans from September.

The British government said that if the vaccine proves successful, then priority groups such as health and social care workers could be given the first doses as early as the first half of 2021. Britain's GSK and France's Sanofi have the largest combined vaccine manufacturing capacity in the world.

Earlier this month, the UK confirmed it would not join the European Union's scheme for joint procurement of a coronavirus vaccine.

Meanwhile, Russia is reportedly on track to approve a vaccine as early as August, according to both Reuters and Bloomberg news agencies.

Vice Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said on Wednesday that Russia hopes to start manufacturing its two vaccines currently under development on an industrial scale by October.

Russia is the fourth country in the world with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 infections – after the United States, Brazil and India – and it has made it clear it wants to be among the first to bring a coronavirus vaccine to market. It now aims to produce 200 million doses by the end of this year.

Racing to get first in line

At a donor summit in May, EU and world leaders pledged billions to speed up the development of a COVID-19 vaccine and committed to ensuring it’s made affordable and available to all.

But health advocates have voiced concern that the scramble to snap up supplies could lead to poorer nations losing out.

The race for a vaccine is even starting to sound like spy fiction. The UK, the United States and Canada have accused Russian intelligence services of staging hacking attacks aimed at stealing information from researchers working on a coronavirus vaccine. US authorities have accused China of similar conduct. Moscow and Beijing deny the allegations.

The United States has itself enrolled the military in its drive to get hold of a COVID-19 vaccine. It launched "Operation Warp Speed," a private-public partnership funding pharmaceutical research that aims to secure at least 300 million doses of such a vaccine for Americans by January 2021.

The country has been pumping billions into research as part of its efforts, and Sanofi found itself at the heart of a political firestorm when it suggested it could get priority access as a result. CEO Paul Hudson was swiftly summoned by the French president to explain his comments.

Last month, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands signed a deal with British drugmaker AstraZeneca for up to 400 million doses of its potential coronavirus vaccine, which is currently being tested by the University of Oxford. The first deliveries are set to start by the end of this year.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is one of more than 150 being developed around the world, but it's considered one of the most advanced and is currently being tested in human volunteers. Early trial results suggest that the vaccine produces a good immune response in volunteers without serious side effects.

Now IRBM, an Italian company that previously joined the fight against Ebola, has joined the Oxford vaccine team.

While countries look like they're competing against each other for supplies, IRBM Managing Director Matteo Liguori says the race to develop a vaccine in the first place is more collaborative.

"Each candidate project is moving forward as fast as possible while cooperating and sharing information with others, which we would rarely see happen in the past," he told Euronews.

Watch Giorgia Orlandi's report in the video player above.