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UK to build more labs to test COVID-19 vaccine efficacy against new variants

London: The United Kingdom will invest 29.3 million pounds ($40.7 million) in building modern laboratories to test the effectiveness of existing and future COVID-19 vaccines against new coronavirus variants, the UK government announced on Wednesday.

According to the statement issued by the Department of Health and Social Care, the new facilities will be built in Porton Down, a science park in south west England which is also home of a secretive military research facility run by the ministry of defense.

“We’ve backed UK science from the very start of this pandemic and this multi-million pound funding for a state-of-the-art vaccine testing facility at Porton Down will enable us to further future-proof the country from the threat of new variants,” Health Minister Matt Hancock was quoted as saying.

The funding will allow scientists to increase from the current 700 per week to 3,000 the number of blood samples tested for the levels of antibodies to COVID-19 generated by vaccines so they can assess their effectiveness against the new strains of SARS-CoV-2.

“A new variant that can escape the current vaccines is the greatest risk of a third wave. This new investment will help us stay one step ahead of the virus by doubling our capacity to test vaccine effectiveness against emerging variants,” Jenny Harries, chief executive at the UK Health Security Agency, said.

Overall, the UK government has allotted more than 6 billion pounds to develop, manufacture and procure COVID-19 vaccines, and secured 517 million doses of the eight most promising jabs — Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford/AstraZeneca, Moderna, Janssen, Novavax, Valneva, GlaxoSmithKline/Sanofi Pasteur and Cure Vac.
According to official data, over 34.6 million people have already received a first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford/AstraZeneca or Moderna vaccine.

The government plans that by the end of July all the adult population, estimated at 53 million, had had the possibility of getting a jab against COVID-19.

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