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UK and four nations to fast-track COVID-19 vaccines modified to combat new variants

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A health worker holds a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as they are thawed in a lab at the UZ Leuven hospital in Leuven, Belgium, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020.
A health worker holds a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as they are thawed in a lab at the UZ Leuven hospital in Leuven, Belgium, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020.   -   Copyright  Frederic Sierakowski, Pool via AP
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The UK, Australia, Canada, Singapore and Switzerland plan to fast-track the approval of vaccines against new coronavirus variants.

The aim is to get modified versions of COVID-19 shots approved more swiftly, as flu jabs are every year.

The announcement comes amid concerns that a variant first discovered in Brazil may be more resistant to existing vaccines than other variants.

Previously authorised vaccines that are modified to target new variants "will not need a brand new approval or 'lengthy' clinical studies,'' Britain's Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said in a statement.

Under the new rules, companies developing the modified vaccines will be required to provide "robust evidence" that the jabs produce a strong immune response to a given variant, as well as data showing that they are safe and meet quality standards.

"Our priority is to get effective vaccines to the public in as short a time as possible, without compromising on safety," the MHRA's chief scientific officer Dr Christian Schneider, said in a statement.