The UK government’s announcement in September that it will allocate £200m in new funding to support frontline NHS services is intended to ensure preparedness for another difficult winter. For the last three years, Covid-19 has created an unprecedented level of pressure on NHS capacity and resources. While the pandemic phase may be over, Covid is still here, as demonstrated by a recent increase in hospitalisations linked with newly emerging strains.
To be ready for this new phase, it is important that we take onboard the lessons learned from the management of the pandemic and the delivery of a mass, national Covid vaccination programme in the past few years.
This new endemic phase will continue to require vaccination but, based on guidance from UK policymakers, will take a more targeted and seasonal approach, focusing on the most vulnerable populations including the elderly and people with underlying conditions. The UK’s ability to successfully protect the population in this new phase relies on three lessons.
First, we need to ensure ongoing and effective public communication about the importance of vaccination. The public needs to be aware of the ongoing need for Covid-19 vaccination, as vaccine-induced immunity wanes over time and new variants continue to emerge. Communications campaigns, especially targeted to those who fall into high-risk groups, are needed not only to increase vaccine confidence, but also to tackle complacency.
Second, the more a virus circulates, the more chances it has to evolve. To address this, in summer 2023, global regulators recommended that manufacturers adapt their vaccine to the latest XBB.1.5 sub-strain. In the future it is likely that manufacturers will be required to regularly update the strain composition of vaccines, just as they do for flu vaccines. This requires clarity from health authorities on the process and timing for updates. To ensure that vaccines can be available in time for a campaign, different technologies’ production timelines need to be taken into account and all relevant stakeholders need to have an opportunity to provide input.
Third, it is essential for the UK to offer a diverse portfolio of vaccines to bolster supply chain security and best meet the varying needs of an entire population. Regulatory authorities are reviewing updated vaccines that use different technologies – mRNA and protein subunit – each of which has its own unique characteristics, and governments should make multiple vaccine technologies accessible. Healthcare providers should be empowered to recommend the option that is best suited to an individual’s clinical needs and preferences. Such an approach is critical for optimising UK vaccine uptake and ensuring there is not an overreliance on one type of vaccine technology.
Novavax remains committed to partnering with the UK government in reaching the goal of a healthier, more resilient future. We have updated our vaccine to help protect against the latest strain mutations and we are expecting authorisation from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) later this autumn. We continue to advocate for the inclusion of our vaccine in the UK government campaigns in Autumn 2023 and Spring 2024.
As we look ahead to 2024 and the upcoming general election, it is vital that politicians and policymakers continue to prioritise efforts to protect the public. The UK’s Covid Inquiry provides an additional opportunity to not only evaluate the successes and failures of the government’s pandemic response, but to consider how the lessons learned can be applied to sustain and improve the country’s long-term management of this infectious disease and others. Ultimately, it is through collaboration, communication, and coordinated action that we can accomplish a successful transition out of the pandemic and move towards a healthier, more resilient future.
Novavax promotes improved health globally through the discovery, development, and commercialisation of innovative vaccines to protect against serious infectious diseases. Our protein-based Covid-19 vaccine has received regulatory authorisations across the globe, including in the UK. Novavax is a global leader in vaccine development and research. In the UK, the Novavax study supported by the National Institute of Health and Care Research, led by researchers at St George’s, University of London, was the largest double-blind, placebo-controlled vaccine trial to be undertaken, recruiting 15,203 participants from 33 research sites in just eight weeks between September 2020 and November 2020.
Our company’s vaccine combines the power of a well-understood approach with an innovative nanoparticle technology. It is intended to help protect against some of the world’s most pressing viral diseases, including Covid-19 and influenza.
Novavax is collaborating with leading organisations across the global vaccines landscape, including research institutions, government agencies, foundations, and industry, to help ensure access and increase uptake of vaccines worldwide.
Because protecting one of us can help protect all of us.